Q: What is a guardian ad litem?
A: A guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed to assist a domestic or juvenile court in determining what is in a minor child’s best interest.
Q: Who pays for the GAL?
A: The court order will assign a percentage of the GAL’s fees to each party, allocating them equally or basing them on the parties’ relative incomes. After making an initial deposit, the parties will receive a monthly statement from the GAL’s office.
Q: What if I don’t want a GAL?
A: Because the appointment of the GAL is a court order, you could be held in contempt of court if you do not agree to involve a GAL in your case. Also, your underlying motion may be dismissed or evidence limited at trial.
Q: Is the GAL also my child’s attorney?
A: The court can appoint a GAL to also act as your child’s attorney, but the court appoints a GAL to represent the child’s best interest. The GAL must consider the child’s wishes, but the GAL’s role is to represent the child’s best interest. If the GAL identifies a conflict between the child’s wishes and the child’s best interest, then the GAL will notify the court, where further orders may be made.
Q: What happens after the GAL is appointed?
A: You likely will have an initial meeting in the GAL’s office and will complete an intake form. After that, you should expect a home visit where the GAL can see you interact with the child. In the meantime, the GAL will review court pleadings, request records regarding the child, speak to witnesses and gather other information for an investigation.
Q: Who may serve as a GAL?
In many jurisdictions, court-appointed special advocates (CASAs) may serve as GALs in dependency, neglect or abuse cases. Attorneys also may serve as GALs. Specific GAL training requirements are discussed in the Ohio Rules of Superintendence, Rule 48 Section E: www.ohiocasa.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=page&page_id=5022
Q: Who appoints a GAL?
A: The judge or magistrate will appoint a GAL. The attorneys for each party may agree on a GAL or ask the court to appoint one. When the interests of several children must be protected in a particular case, one GAL is usually appointed to represent all of the children’s interests.
The court must indicate whether an attorney is being appointed as both a GAL and as attorney for the child, or as a GAL only. Whenever feasible, the same GAL is reappointed to represent the best interest of a specific child in any subsequent court case.
Q: What are the GAL’s responsibilities?
A: The Supreme Court of Ohio outlines the GAL’s responsibilities, but a court’s local rule may also address specific criteria. A GAL must:
1. represent the best interest of the child;
2. maintain independence, objectivity and fairness;
3. act with respect and courtesy to the parties;
4. appear and participate in all hearings and at “in camera” interviews between the judge or magistrate and the child;
5. ask the court, in writing, to resolve conflicts by entering appropriate orders;
6. request psychological, mental health or substance abuse assessments regarding the parties;
7. avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest that may arise from any relationship or activity;
8. make reasonable efforts to learn about the facts of the case by:
• observing the child with each parent, foster parent, guardian or physical custodian and conducting at least one interview with the child where none of these individuals are present;
• visiting the child’s residence in accordance with any court-established standards;
• ascertaining the child’s wishes;
• interviewing the parties, foster parents and other individuals who may have relevant knowledge of the case;
• reviewing pleadings and other relevant court documents;
• reviewing criminal, civil, educational and administrative records pertaining to the child and, if appropriate, to the child’s family or other parties;
• interviewing school personnel, medical and mental health providers, child protective services workers and relevant court personnel, and obtaining copies of relevant records;
• recommending that the court order psychological evaluations, substance abuse assessments or other evaluations or tests that would be helpful to the court;
9. provide the court with a written report of the activities listed above.
Q: Does the GAL’s recommendation become a final order?
A: The GAL must give the court a written report seven days before the final hearing so that the report can be admitted into evidence. The GAL also must be available to testify at the hearing. If these requirements are met, the court will consider the GAL’s recommendation before giving its final order.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Amanda L. Sims, Esq., at Poling Law.