In a contested family law case, there may be large disagreements about what is in the best interest of a child. The Court may decide that a third party is needed to help answer this question.
In the legal world, many words attorneys use stem from the Latin language. The Latin phrase “Ad Litem” means “for the lawsuit” or “for purposes of legal action.”
Ad Litem is a term used to describe someone who is appointed by the Court to act on behalf of someone. When trying to determine what is in the best interest of a child, the Court may appoint an Ad Litem. There are two different individuals that the Court could name as an Ad Litem – a Guardian Ad Litem or an Attorney Ad Litem.
What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian Ad Litem, often referred to as a GAL, is a court-appointed individual who objectively represents a child’s best interest. The role of a GAL is to provide a voice for the child and to advocate for the best interest of the child. A GAL is tasked with evaluating a child’s situation and presenting an unbiased view of the child’s circumstances to the court. The GAL also provides recommendations for what he or she believes would be in the best interest of the child. It is important to note that a GAL is not required to be an attorney.
A Guardian Ad Litem could be:
- a volunteer advocate (like a court-appointed special advocate or CASA volunteer);
- a professional with a professional license and who has training that relates to the determination of a child’s best interest (like a teacher);
- an adult the Court deems competent to represent the child’s best interest; or
- an Attorney Ad Litem who can serve in a dual role.
A GAL is not a party to a lawsuit, however, he or she may have certain powers and duties. A GAL can investigate anything he or she believes is necessary to determine what is in the best interest of a child. A GAL can also obtain and review a child’s medical, psychological, and school records.
What is an Attorney Ad Litem?
An Attorney Ad Litem, often referred to as an AAL, is legal counsel for the child. Like the parties to a lawsuit, an Attorney Ad Litem has a client – the child. The AAL represents the child’s wishes and fights for what the child wants. To become an AAL, an attorney must be trained in child advocacy and become certified to be an AAL. An AAL provides legal services to the child and owes the child their undivided loyalty, confidentially, and competent representation. In short, an AAL is a child’s attorney.
How do AALs and GALs Differ?
An Attorney Ad Litem:
- Is a licensed attorney appointed to represent the legal rights of a child
- Provides legal advice to the child and advocates for the child's best interests
- Represents the child as an attorney and serves at the child's direction
- Investigates the facts and litigates the case
- Interacts with the child to incorporate the child's wishes into their legal representation
- Focuses on legal aspects to ensure a child's rights are upheld and represented in Court
- Is an individual appointed to be a voice for the child
- Investigates the child's situation to provide a recommendation to the Court on children's issues
- Voices their opinion to the Court on what they believe is in the child's best interest
- Conducts investigations and interacts with the child to provide objective insight to the Court
- Interacts with the child to understand their emotional, educational, and physical needs
- Focuses on the child's well-being to make recommendations that go above legal matters
What do AALs and GALs Have in Common?
- Interviews the child, the parties to the lawsuit, and anyone else with information about the child
- Encourages settlement and the use of alternative dispute resolutions
- Receive copies of pleadings or other information filed with the Court
- Participate in DFPS case staffings concerning the child
- Attends all legal proceedings. However, GAL does not provide legal services to a child unless they serve a dual role as an AAL
- Review and sign, or decline to sign any agreed orders affecting the child. A GAL may explain the basis of their opposition for declining to sign an agreed order
In cases involving the Department of Family and Protective Services, both GALs and AALs can:
- Review the medical care provided to the child
- For a child over the age of sixteen, seek information to determine if the child has a driver’s license, social security card, birth certificate, or any other personal documents DFPS deems appropriate for the child to have
- Elicit information about how the child feels about their medical care
Want More Information?
If you have any further questions about an Attorney Ad Litem, a Guardian Ad Litem, or protecting the best interest of your child, contact Hunt Law Firm, PLLC today to schedule a consultation.