The Role of the GAL

One of the most common questions I get about the divorce process is what the role of the Guardian ad Litem is. The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is an attorney, appointed by the court, whose sole responsibility is to present the kid's perspective in domestic relations proceedings. A GAL may be appointed in any domestic relations case involving a child; abuse, custody, visitation, and support. One may also be appointed in a criminal trial to represent a child who cannot afford an attorney. The GAL is not an attorney for any of the other parties. They are not there to help with your case. That is the role of retained counsel. It is important to understand the duties the GAL owes you, the child, and the court.

The first important responsibility of the GAL is to the court. Virginia created the role of the GAL by passing a law. The law mandates that the GAL perform a number of responsibilities during a juvenile proceeding. First and foremost, a GAL is obligated to come and speak with the child at their home. A GAL may then choose, and has the power, to speak with the child's teacher, coaches, or any parties the GAL thinks may have insight on how the child is living. It is important that you do not attempt to interfere with the GAL's work. The GAL must also report these findings to the Court. The GAL will typically appear in any contested matter to tell the Court what is in the best interest of the child. This may not always be what you or the child want.

The second responsibility of the GAL is to the child. The GAL is obligated by law to explain the process to the child in terms that they may understand. The GAL must listen to the wishes of the child in weighing what is in their best interest. However, they may not always listen to the child.

The final responsibility of the GAL is towards the parents. A GAL appointed to your child's case owes little responsibility to the parents. They are not your attorney nor do they help you with the case. The only real responsibility of a GAL to a child's parents is to listen to what they have to say and take that into consideration when making a recommendation to the court.

These are the three roles of the GAL. They are, first and foremost, an appointed agent of the Court. They are an attorney for the child and are there to help the child. They are not there to cause you harm or hurt your case. It is best you cooperate with the GAL.