In some divorce cases and child custody cases, you child or children could be assigned a guardian ad litem by the court. But what is a guardian ad litem, and how can they affect your Washington State divorce?

What Is A Guardian Ad Litem?

In some divorce and child custody cases in Washington State, a specially-trained guardian ad litem (GAL) is assigned to the case by the court to investigate and determine what the best interests of the child or children is. Guardian ad litem is Latin for “Guardian for  law .” GALs are either employed by a county, self-employed, or act as volunteers. A guardian ad litem may interview the child, the child’s parents, the child’s teachers, and other important figures in the child’s life. The guardian ad litem will also often visit the child’s home and other significant environments. After the investigation and interviews are complete, the guardian ad litem will report back to the judge what the best interests of the child are and give his or her recommendations. In addition to acting as an advocate for minors, a guardian ad litem may also represent the interests of adults who are incapacitated. In addition to being used in divorce and child custody cases, a guardian ad litem may also be used in child abuse cases, child neglect cases, adoption cases, and juvenile delinquency cases.

How Can a Guardian Ad Litem Affect A Divorce or Custody Case?

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.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington