What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

Guardian Ad Litem in OhioIf you have a minor child who is a part of a custody battle, and other some other circumstances, a court may appoint a separate attorney or other capable party to represent the child’s interests.

This court- appointed protector for the child is called a “Guardian ad Litem,” or “GAL, which means “guardian for the lawsuit.” A GAL is often an attorney, in which case that person may also be appointed as an “Attorney Advocate,” but does not have to be a lawyer.

The role of a guardian ad litem (sometimes called a “next friend,” or “GAL”) is more specialized than that of a “regular” guardian. A GAL is specifically responsible for protecting the interests of a minor who is in some way involved in a lawsuit, generally only until the legal proceedings are completed.

In domestic relations cases, where custody of a minor child or children is an issue, the attorneys may agree that a GAL should be appointed, and then will ask the court to appoint one. A court may also appoint a GAL on its own initiative.

GALs can be appointed in any number of circumstances and in other kinds of cases outside of divorce.

Any cases involving a child who has been neglected or abused, or is considered dependent (e.g., one whose parents are unable to provide care due to mental or physical illness) may result in the appointment of a GAL.

GALs can also be appointed in cases involving custody disputes between parents or other family members, or in cases involving visitation problems or reunification of parents and children after an absence.

The appointment, training, and actions of GALs are all controlled by Ohio Supreme Court rules.

Until a couple of years ago, each court had its own set of rules regarding these appointments. But in 2009, the Ohio Supreme Court adopted state-wide, mandatory rules concerning the appointment of a GAL for a dependent child.

These rules lay out seventeen responsibilities that a GAL has in a case, including:

  • represent the best interest of the child or children
  • maintain objectivity and fairness in the proceedings
  • act with respect and courtesy
  • participate in any and all hearings that involve the child or children
  • file pleadings and motions as appropriate
  • become informed of the facts involved in the case with reasonable investigation
  • interview the child or children
  • interview the parents
  • visit the child or children at their residence
  • other investigative duties.

When the court appoints a GAL, it must formally enter an Order of Appointment, declaring that the individual shall serve as only a Guardian ad Litem or as Guardian ad Litem and Attorney Advocate for the child in the custody case.

All GALs must have training specific to their role in representing a child’s best interests, although they can come from any area (attorneys, social workers, teachers, business professionals, etc.). There is now a six-hour pre-service training course that must be completed before an individual may serve as a Guardian ad Litem.

Reports: Guardians ad Litem are required to file a written, final report at least seven days before the final hearing, which has to contain the GAL’s investigative findings, as well as recommendations to the Court.

When a GAL concludes the investigation and is prepared to make a recommendation to the court, IF the GAL’s recommendation differs from the wishes of the child, the GAL must disclose this fact to the court.  If that happens, then the court will appoint a separate attorney to represent the child on an individual basis.

That seven-day deadline for filing may be extended by agreement of the parties or by leave of the Court.

Who pays for the GAL? This depends on what kind of case it is and what the nature of the appointment is. A privately-appointed GAL will be paid for by the parties. Some courts have a fund to pay GALs. And there are also many volunteers who undertake these tasks, as well as many attorneys who volunteer to represent children for free (pro bono).

The appointment of a Guardian ad litem is an issue that any divorcing coupe with children will need to discuss with their attorney. The divorce attorneys at Slater & Zurz LLP have decades of experience in the area of child custody battles, and will be very happy to talk with you about this sensitive and important issue. Please contact us at 1-800-297-9191 for a FREE consultation or send us a Blog Message to schedule a time to talk. Learn more by visiting http://www.dissolutionanddivorce.com.

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About slaterzurz

Slater & Zurz LLP is an Ohio law firm of highly experienced and respected attorneys. Over the last 40 years, we have developed a reputation for getting positive results for clients. We've been trusted with handling over 20,000 personal injury cases and our clients have received more than $120,000,000.

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One Comment on “What is a Guardian Ad Litem?”

  1. Louie Gamma Says:

    Thank you for your review! I really enjoyed it.

    Reply

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