Many of my clients will say “I want a guardian ad litem for my children”, but most don’t really know what a guardian ad litem truly is or what they actually do. The legal definition for a guardian ad litem is that they are appointed to act as a “next friend of the child(ren)”. Actually the best way to describe a guardian ad litem is as an investigator and evaluator. Their job is often to expresses the wishes, preferences and thoughts of a child. Most importantly their job is give a recommendation to the court regarding what is in the best interests of the children, from a neutral perspective since the guardian ad litem is not aligned with either parent.
A guardian ad litem is often times a lawyer but is required to be. The parties can agree to the appointment of a guardian ad litem but the judge also has the discretion to appoint one if one of the parties requests. Often times the biggest benefit from the guardian ad litem is all of the background work and investigation that they do, which the judge cannot actually perform themselves. The guardian ad litem will of course talk to the children and the parents but will also talk to other important persons in the children’s life such as close family members, friends, teachers, counselors, health care providers, etc. Because of the time, expense and inconvenience often involved in calling teachers, doctors into testify, the guardian ad litem can be a way to bring the opinions of these professionals before the Judge.
Once the guardian ad litem has finished their investigation, they will submit a written report to the court. While a court is not automatically bound by the recommendations of the guardian ad litem , in many cases they can be very persuasive upon the judge because of the time and energy put into the investigation.