What are a Guardian Ad Litem's responsibities?
A guardian-ad-litem (GAL) is a person appointed by the court to represent the interests of children in family law proceedings. A GAL makes a non-binding recommendation to the court on custody and visitation issues. They do an independent investigation and make a written confidential report to the court stating what they think the judge should order regarding the children. They will talk to the parents, other care givers, and the child if the child is old enough. Frequently, the GAL can make their decision based on these interviews alone. If still uncertain, they can, but are not required to, talk in private to counselors, teachers, family members or anyone else the GAL believes might be able to provide helpful information. The GAL makes their own decision about what is best for the child and it does not have to be what the child wants.
The judge does not have to do what the GAL recommends for the children. However, the judge will consider the GAL report very seriously. GAL attorneys are selected because the judge respects their work and opinions. Therefore, you should cooperate with the GAL during the investigation and comply with any reasonable requests. Making these tough decisions will occasionally result in a disappointed parent becoming disgruntled with the GAL when the recommendation goes against them. Complaints about the GAL from such a parent is not unexpected.
Factors the GAL can consider include:
- The age and sex of the child.
- The wishes of the child’s parent or parents.
- The wishes of the child, with more consideration given to the child’s wishes if the child is at least fourteen (14) years of age.
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child’s parent or parents; the child’s sibling; and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests.
- The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school, and community.
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
- Evidence of a pattern of domestic or family violence by either parent.
Steven Knecht has been appointed by numerous judges in multiple counties to serve as a GAL of minor children in family law cases. He has successfully completed Indiana’s training program for GAL attorneys representing children in juvenile courts.