Guardian Ad Litem and Their Role in Custody and Divorce Proceedings
Divorce and Child Custody Attorneys serving Linden, Rahway, Clark, Roselle, and throughout Union County.
A guardian ad litem is a person appointed by the court to protect the best interests of a child in a legal proceeding that involves them. The court proceedings that usually require the presence of a guardian ad litem (GAL) are juvenile or family court cases, including divorce and child custody hearings.
What is a guardian ad litem’s role?
A guardian ad litem serves the court on behalf of the child. They are responsible for providing information about the child that will support the judge in reaching their decision; only recommendations that are objective and information-based in their nature are provided to the judge in service of reaching an outcome that is in the best interest of the child.
According to New Jersey Rule 5:8B, the GAL “acts as an independent fact-finder, investigator and evaluator as to what furthers the best interests of the child.” The means by which a GAL obtains this information could be various and may include
- interviews with the child and family;
- interviews with or procurement of reports from relevant relations to the child, including teachers, social workers, psychologists, etc.;
- the procurement of documents pertaining to the child and case; or
- conference with the judge.
The court may prefer to appoint a guardian ad litem to obtain information that the court legally cannot. For example, in the case that the child custody hearing involves allegations of drug or alcohol abuse, the GAL may investigate these allegations outside of the court. Additionally, they may review evidence that is inadmissible in court like hearsay, and obtain information from sources such as Child Protective Services that the court does not have access to.
Upon completion of their independent research, a GAL submits a report to the court regarding the child in order to provide as much information as the judge would need to make a ruling that most benefits the wellbeing of the child.
Guardian Ad Litem may be asked to testify
In addition to the report provided to the judge, there are a number of other roles a GAL may be asked to play throughout the course of the proceeding. A GAL may also be summoned to testify during the court proceedings. Additionally, according to New Jersey Rule 5:8B, a GAL may be asked to seek additional information from independent experts, speak to the council working on behalf of the parents, or obtain a lawyer for the child, if necessary. In many cases, a GAL is a licensed attorney, but social workers and volunteers may also serve as a GAL for child custody and other hearings.
Is a GAL or a law guardian appropriate?
According to New Jersey law, there is a difference between a GAL and a law guardian. As noted above, the court proceedings that usually require the presence of a GAL are juvenile or family court cases, including divorce and child custody hearings. Because a GAL is not always a lawyer, and because, due to the nature of their expanded investigations, they often deal with personal perspectives, they may be more swayed by personalities, and their recommendations to the court may hold somewhat subjective or personally touched considerations.
Contrarily, a law guardian appointed in the case that a child is the victim of sexual abuse, neglect, or a parent’s rights have been terminated. They must hold a legal license in the state of New Jersey to be appointed and are responsible for informing the court judge of the child’s wishes.
A guardian ad litem represents the child in the custody of divorce hearing throughout its entirety and ends when the court has awarded custody, judged divorce, judged dissolution of a civil union or domestic partnership, or provided an order terminating the GAL’s appointment.
Contact a skilled custody and support attorney today to protect your rights
At The Law Office of Edward S. Cooper, we have extensive experience advising and guiding parents through the entire child custody evaluation process in Elizabeth, Summit, Union, Linden, Scotch Plains, and the greater Union County area.
To speak with Edward Cooper and our family law firm today in a confidential consultation regarding your custody and/or divorce case please contact us online, or through our Linden, NJ office at (908) 481-4625.