A Guardian ad litem is a professional (often an attorney or social worker) appointed by a court to represent a child's interests in a legal proceeding or custody dispute. The Latin term ad litem literally means "for the trial" or "for the proceeding"
Since children are often regarded as the innocent victims in custody cases, most family courts bend over backwards to make sure that their voice is "heard" and that the final ruling is "in the best interests of the minor children".
It's common for the judge to appoint a Guardian ad-litem or other children's advocate to be the children's representative in court. This person may be an attorney, social worker or other court appointee who, depending on local laws, may question witnesses in court, testify on the children's behalf in court, may subpoena witnesses, access to documents and other evidence related to the children's custody and well-being.
Typically, a guardian will want to interview the following people in a custody case before trial:
- The minor children
- Both parents
- Other family members involved, including grandparents, siblings, step-parents etc.
- Professionals who have knowledge of the children's well-being including school teachers, child care providers, pediatricians, health care providers, social workers, therapists etc.
The guardian is typically regarded by the court as a neutral, objective party who has the best interests of the children in mind. Therefore, guardians can wield extraordinary influence over how your case will be resolved.
It is crucially important to speak to your attorney in advance about what can be done to ensure that a reputable, competent guardian ad litem or other representative is assigned to your case. In some cases, your attorney can negotiate with your ex's attorney to find a guardian who all parties are agreeable with and a motion can be submitted to the court requesting a particular guardian be assigned to your case. Most judges will agree to any request that all parties are in agreement with.
It is normal for the guardian's fees to be charged to the parents involved. The guardian may require a retainer to be paid before they will open an investigation.