Sunday, January 25, 2009

What is a Guardian or Attorney Ad Litem in a family case?

A Guardian Ad Litem (“Ad Litem,” meaning for purposes of the litigation) is appointed by the Judge in family law cases and will attempt to inform the Court as to what he or she believes is in the “best interests” of the child. In situations where legal action may be required, the Court can also appoint an "Attorney Ad Litem."

The Guardian Ad Litem usually has an advanced degree in either sociology or psychology and has special training in assisting children. The Guardian is usually appointed in termination or adoption cases, but, in special circumstances, also can be appointed in contested child custody cases.

In contested child custody cases, upon the appointment of either (or both) a Guardian / Attorney Ad Litem, the parties will lose some degree of control over what goes on at hearings and at trial. However, when a party is convinced that greater disclosure and investigation will be advantageous to his / her side (and, of course, the "best interests" of the child), then the appointment may be requested. These factors (and others) should be carefully weighed and it is recommended that you consult with an experienced family law attorney. Some of the things that the Guardian / Attorney Ad Litem can / may do are:

1) meet with and interview the child(ren);
2) interview the parents and other family members;
3) interview teachers, counselors, neighbors & others involved with the children;
4) interview other witnesss / third parties;
5) request that the Court order a home study and/or investigate the neighborhood;
6) collect evidence by serving subpoenas on schools and medical or psychological providers;
7) suggest (or request in Court) that the child (and/or parents) see a qualified psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor for evaluation and/or treatment;
8) initiate (or merely attend) depositions in the case;
9) the filing of Motions concerning matters such as child support, visitation, conservatorship, temporary injunctive relief, health or psychological problems with the children, abuse or neglect of the children, or other matters that have not yet been brought to the attention of the Court;
10) the filing of a formal report to the Court;
11) initiate meetings between the Judge and the child(ren);
12) subpoena witness to hearings and trial;
13) attend hearings and trial; and/or
14) the making of formal or informal recommendations to the Court concerning custody, visitation, powers of conservatorship or other matters.