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What is a Guardian ad Litem?

Family husband wife and child and judgment in divorce. Cash payments to children through court concept

Divorce, child custody, guardianship, dependency. Many aspects of family law directly impact the rights and living situations of children, but these matters are handled by parents and other adults, and the children themselves often don’t have a say, let alone a voice. That’s where a guardian ad litem comes in. In any proceeding in which the rights of a minor may be impacted, the court can appoint a professional to look out for the child’s interests. Either or both parents can request the appointment of a guardian ad litem in a legal proceeding, or the court might decide on its own that a guardian ad litem is needed. Read on to learn more about what a guardian ad litem is and does. For help with a divorce, child custody dispute, or other family law matter in Union, Essex, or Middlesex County, contact the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro to share your concerns with a skilled and experienced Union, New Jersey, family law attorney.

Guardian ad Litem Explained

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a person appointed by the court to represent the interests of a child in a New Jersey divorce, custody dispute, dependency hearing or other legal matter which could impact the child’s rights. The judge in a family law matter has the authority to appoint legal counsel for a minor who will represent the child’s legal interests and advocate on the child’s behalf. A GAL is something different. Instead of directly representing the child like an attorney would, the GAL works for the court and serves the court, but the GAL’s role is to inform the court about the child and make recommendations regarding what decisions might or might not be in the child’s best interests.

A GAL is invested with authority to gather information about the child. For instance, the GAL can obtain the child’s school records or medical records, and talk to teachers, therapists and family members. The GAL can communicate directly with the other attorneys in the case, such as those representing the parents or the state, depending on the matter. The GAL might interview the child as well, depending on the minor’s age and maturity level. In addition, the ad litem has the power to get assistance from independent experts or a lawyer for the child, subject to court approval.

When Is a GAL Appointed?

New Jersey judges have broad authority to appoint a GAL in any custody case. Specifically, New Jersey Court Rule 5:8B states:

“In all cases in which custody or parenting time/visitation is an issue, a guardian ad litem may be appointed by court order to represent the best interests of the child or children if the circumstances warrant such an appointment. The services rendered by a guardian ad litem shall be to the court on behalf of the child.”  

Who Serves as a Guardian ad Litem?

Often the court will appoint an experienced family law attorney to act as a GAL, but a GAL could also be a social worker or mental health professional. After gathering information and conducting necessary interviews, the GAL presents a report to the court with findings and recommendations. If a higher level of expertise is needed, the court might order a custody evaluation conducted by mental health experts. A GAL’s report, although it can be highly influential, is not typically as weighty as a formal custody evaluation ordered by the court.

John B. D’Alessandro: Your Advocate in Family Law Matters in Union, New Jersey

Hopefully, your interests and your child’s interests align in any divorce or custody dispute, and hopefully any guardian ad litem appointed by the court will be diligent and competent in preparing an accurate and helpful report to guide the court. In the end, though, it’s essential to have an attorney on your side whose sole loyalty is to you and looking out for your best interests in all matters, including those affecting your kids. For help with divorce, child custody, and other family law matters in Union, Essex or Middlesex County, call the Law Offices of John B. D’Alessandro at 908-964-0102 to speak with a compassionate and dedicated Union family law attorney.

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