A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an individual appointed by the court to represent a minor child or incompetent person in a court hearing. This person is usually an attorney but can be another advocate or representative. In divorce or other custody actions, a GAL may be appointed to protect a child’s interests.
Why a Judge May Appoint a GAL in a Divorce or Custody Proceeding
In a divorce or custody action, a judge may select a GAL if custody of a child or visitation is being contested. In making his decision, the judge must be guided by the best interests of the child. The role of the GAL would be to help the judge make his decision.
In addition, courts in Virginia prefer that children not testify in open court in family law matters. A GAL can represent them at court hearings so that they do not have to go to court.
In certain cases involving children, the judge must appoint a GAL. These include:
- The child was abused or neglected.
- A parent wants to give up custody of a child.
- A parent’s parental rights may be terminated.
- The child is requesting to be emancipated.
- A foster care plan for a child must be reviewed.
- The parents are trying to involuntarily commit a minor who is 14 years old or older to a psychiatric facility.
What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?
The GAL has duties to the child both in the courtroom and outside of it. In order to fulfill his obligations, he is expected to do the following:
- Interview the child about his family situation, relationship with his parents, and preferences on custody
- Explain the court proceedings and why he was appointed to the child if the child is old enough to understand this
- Interview the parents
- Interview other adults involved in the child’s life, such as teachers, babysitters, and other family members
- Conduct home visits
- Investigate any reported problems involving the child
- Report to the court regarding his investigation and recommendations regarding the child’s custody, visitation, or other issues in the case
- Represent the child at court hearings
- File necessary motions and other pleadings
Do you need legal assistance in a divorce or other child custody matter? Attorney Stephen Bloomquest is an experienced divorce lawyer in Midlothian who can answer your questions and help you take the necessary steps that are right for your children and you. Start an online chat or call 804-396-3329 to schedule an initial appointment to learn more about your options.