One of the terms that comes up fairly often in Georgia custody disputes is guardian ad litem. Despite our best efforts to use more everyday English in legal proceedings, some old terms hang on; guardian ad litem is one of those. Ad litem means for the lawsuit. In this context, it means that the person is a guardian of a particular ward for a particular legal action. That is as opposed to a regular guardian who has a responsibility to take care of a child or disabled ward generally. In the family law arena, one will most often encounter guardians ad litem or GAL's in custody actions.
Role of a Guardian ad Litem
A Guardian ad litem (GAL) is a person, usually an attorney, appointed by the court to represent “the best interests of the child” in court proceedings. The GAL acts as an investigator for the court and as an advocate of his or her view of “the best interests of the child.” The best interests of the child is the number one priority for the guardian. The guardian is not required to accept the position that the child states that the child wants.
Guardians ad litem can be appointed to represent the best interests of adults deemed incompetent to assist their attorneys in litigation.
Selection and Payment of the GAL
The guardian is is selected by the judge, who may allow input from the parties' attorneys. In private custody cases, the parties are responsible for paying the GAL fees, although it is up to the court to allocate the amount each side should pay. The judge usually sets the GAL's hourly rate and retainer fee. The guardian is responsible for submitting an itemized billing statement of hours and expenses.
Duties of the GAL
The GAL collects factual information to better understand the child's life, the parents' lives, and the child's relationship with his or her parents, extended family, and care providers. The GAL can interview the parents and the child, observe the child, and conduct home inspections. Statements from witnesses and the child are also taken into consideration. The GAL may collect school and daycare records, medical records, Child Protective Services reports, counseling and therapy records, criminal records of the parents, step-parents or anyone residing in the home with the child. The GAL may also request that the parents undergo a psychological evaluation or a drug screen.
At some point, the court will call upon the guardian to make a report to the court. That report may be in the form of a written report or an oral report in court. The guardian may be subject to examination by the parties' attorneys. The Guardian does not determine the outcome of a custody dispute. The GAL simply provides a report for the judge to consider, which contains a recommendation for the resolution of the matter. The judge can accept the recommendation entirely, accept portions of the recommendation, or reject it in its entirety.