Guardian ad litem is Latin for “Guardian for law.” In Washington courts, a guardian ad litem may be assigned to a case involving a child or a person who is incapacitated. GALs are either employed by a county, self-employed, or act as volunteers.
In many instances involving family law, a guardian ad litem may be assigned to divorce cases, child custody cases, domestic violence cases, and adoption cases. The main responsibility of the guardian ad litem is to investigate the case and report back on what he or she believes are the best interests of the person in question, with the understanding that sometimes the wishes child in question and other parties’ wishes may unfortunately not also be in their best interest. A GAL advocates for what a child most needs, not necessarily what a child wants.
During an investigation, a guardian ad litem will often interview the child, the child’s family, the child’s teachers, and anyone else that the child has regular contact with. In addition, the GAL will often visit a child’s home and other environments and collect any other information that may shed light on what is best for the child in the future. Finally, the GAL will record his or her findings and report back to the court with recommendations.
The GAL is not in any way a legal guardian of the child and does not provide any services to the child. While a GAL may take a position in court regarding the child’s placement, the GAL does not make the final decision regarding the outcome of the case. Very simply, a guardian ad litem serves as the child’s advocate and looks out for the child’s rights throughout a court case as an objective observer.