What Is Guardian Ad Litem?

Guardian ad litem (GAL), or child’s counsel, is an individual who can provide outside help during a complicated divorce or custody case involving minor children. The GAL may be a family member or an unbiased third party such as an attorney. These individuals offer temporary assistance in ensuring that a child’s needs and best interests remain at the forefront of the decisions being made. 

What Is Guardian Ad Litem?

Guardian ad litem is a court-appointed representative of a child’s best interests. It is someone whose sole priority is to preserve a child’s best interests, meaning what is best suited to protect the child’s physical, emotional and psychosocial well-being. In a contested divorce case, emotions can run high. Maintaining a reasonable perspective regarding child custody or relocation that puts the child first can be difficult, especially when two parents get angry at each other.

In these situations, the courts may appoint a guardian ad litem to advocate for the best interests of the child. The GAL’s primary responsibility will be to offer independent recommendations to a judge regarding child custody and visitation decisions. In a child relocation case, a GAL may be appointed to assess the child’s current living situation and how the move might impact the child mentally and psychologically. 

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?

A child relocation case means one of the custodial parents is seeking permission – either from the other parent or the courts – to move away with the child. Typically, relocation cases are only necessary when the proposed move is not local, such as a relocation out of the State of California or the country. If the move is likely to impact the child custody arrangement, a guardian ad litem may be used to assess the situation and provide insight as to what would be best for the child.

The tasks generally appointed to a GAL during a relocation case include:

  • Conducting a thorough investigation to understand the needs of the child. This may include interviews with the child and both parents, as well as speaking to relevant third parties, such as child psychologists or family members.
  • Assessing the child’s best interests. Analyzing factors such as the strength and nature of the child’s relationship with each parent, how the child is adjusting to his or her current environment and the divorce, the nature of the proposed move, and potential impacts on the child.
  • Providing a written report to the courts summarizing findings and recommendations. This document can become a key piece of evidence during a child relocation case to help the courts determine if the proposed move would harm the child’s well-being.

The guardian ad litem is responsible for analyzing the child’s best interests; he or she does not work for or provide legal representation to either parent. A GAL is not an advocate of one side or the other. His or her job is to provide an accurate, impartial assessment of what would be best for the child during a custody, visitation or relocation case. Both parties involved have the opportunity to challenge or cross-examine the GAL’s findings. A judge can take the GAL’s recommendations into account but is not bound by these findings.

To learn more about the potential role of a guardian ad litem during your child relocation case in California, contact a San Diego child custody attorney for a free legal review.