What is the Definition of a California Guardian Ad Litem?
If you have experience in a family law case or have witnessed such a case, you may be familiar with the legal role of a guardian ad litem.
A guardian ad litem (sometimes referred to as a GAL or a minor’s counsel) is a court-appointed representative for either minor children or incapacitated adults. Guardians ad litem look out for the best interests of the child or incapacitated adult during legal proceedings in CA. They act when parents or guardians are unable to do so or when an incapacitated adult cannot speak for themselves.
Family law cases sometimes have a GAL when there is a dispute over child custody or visitation rights. However, a guardian ad litem is not always required for such cases.
What Does the Guardian Ad Litem Do?
The guardian ad litem has a wide range +f duties and responsibilities. It should be noted that these services and responsibilities will vary from state to state.
The many responsibilities of a guardian ad litem in your case may include:
- Advocating for the best interests of a child.
- Advocating for the best interests of an incapacitated adult in a divorce case.
- Determining whether a minor child should have their own legal counsel in a divorce case.
- Making courtroom appearances to present recommendations to the family law judge.
- Meeting with the child or incapacitated adult to determine their needs and their legal capacity to make decisions. Interviewing various subjects to determine what is in the best interest of the child or incapacitated adult.
- Thoroughly researching and organizing a report of their findings, then presenting this report to the family law court.
- And more.
When is a Guardian Ad Litem Considered Necessary in a California Divorce Case?
A guardian ad litem is not recommended for every legal case. They may only be required for cases involving children or adults who cannot legally represent their own interests in a court of law. And even in these circumstances, guardians ad litem are not always required.
There are a number of scenarios in which a guardian ad litem may be recommended to represent an individual or a child in court. These include:
- Certain child custody cases.
- Estate plan legal matters.
- Family law cases where a child or incapacitated adult faces neglect.
- Instances where an adult is unable to advocate for themselves because of illness, injury, or age.
- Juvenile law cases involving minors under the age of 14.
- The child expresses a personal preference that the court believes should be heard.
- The child or adult has demonstrated at-risk behavior.
- The suspicion of child abuse.
- The suspicion of domestic violence.
The appointment of a GAL usually goes unopposed and unchallenged. However, if adults for whom the GAL has ordered decide they do not need a GAL, they may raise a legal challenge.
Is a Guardian Ad Litem Appointed in Every CA Divorce Involving Child Custody?
No. In fact, many child custody cases do not have the appointment of a guardian ad litem.
Usually, a guardian ad litem is court-appointed by family law judges. However, adults in this case may request the presence of a guardian ad litem.
What Are the Requirements of a California Guardian Ad Litem?
Not everyone can serve as a guardian ad litem in California.
Legal professionals such as family law attorneys can serve as guardians ad litem. In fact, this is most often the case. However, each attorney must have the necessary qualifications and experience in order to represent the best interests of minor children or incapacitated adults.
Sometimes, licensed mental health professionals are deemed the most appropriate guardian ad litem for a child custody case. Mental health professionals have more experience in dealing with the psychological and emotional well-being of children or disabled adults. They can provide valuable insight into the child’s needs when it comes to child custody, visitation rights, and a parenting plan.
Court-appointed special advocates (CASAs) are highly trained and qualified volunteers who get appointed by family law courts to represent the interests of abused or neglected children involved in divorce proceedings.
What Does the Guardian Ad Litem Investigate?
First on the GAL’s agenda should be interviewing all relevant parties involved with the divorce case. This usually includes talking with the children, their parents, siblings, and any other important adults in a child’s life who may be able to provide unique insight into the case. Adults that may be considered for interviews include friends of the family, extended family members, teachers, child therapists, family therapists, school counselors, and neighbors.
The guardian ad litem must also review all court documentation and relevant paperwork involved in the divorce case.
The purpose of the investigation is to determine what is in the best interest of the child or the adult who is either disabled or incapacitated.
Factors that the guardian ad litem may consider include:
- The age of the child and their emotional maturity.
- The child’s personal wishes.
- The personal wishes of either parent.
- The physical, medical, developmental, and educational needs of the child.
- The special needs of an incapacitated or otherwise disabled adult.
- And any other factors which may be relevant to the well-being of the subject.
Can the Role of a GAL be Terminated in a California Divorce Case?
A guardian ad litem’s role can be terminated in certain circumstances. Once the GAL has completed their investigation, advocated for the child’s best interest, and submitted their report to the family law court, it may consider its duty fulfilled. In other cases, there may be a conflict of interest that develops between the GAL and the case. Finally, in certain situations, a GAL may be removed or forced to resign from their role if it is determined that they have violated their ethical responsibilities to the case.
Can You Challenge the GAL’s Report?
If you are concerned that the guardian ad litem is not looking out for the best interests of the subject, you can raise this concern with either the guardian ad litem themselves or the family law judge.
If you wish to challenge the report of a guardian ad litem, it is highly recommended that you first consult a legal professional for advice. An experienced family law attorney will know if a guardian ad litem has violated any norms or committed any errors that may be worth challenging.
Contact Us for an In-Depth Case Evaluation
The Law Office of Patrick O’Kennedy has years of experience representing Californians in complex child custody issues and divorce cases. We would be proud to lend our legal guidance to you during this challenging time.
Please call us at (714) 701-6356 to schedule your initial consultation. We look forward to speaking with you.