What is a Guardian ad Litem?
What is a Guardian ad litem?
A Guardian ad litem (GAL) is a person the court appoints to represent the best interests of a child in a divorce or parental rights and responsibilities case. The GAL will investigate the family situation and advise the court about where a child should live and what type of contact parents should have with their children.
What does "best interests of the child" mean?
The Maine Legislature has directed GAL's to use the "best interest of the child" standard when making recommendations to the court. The standard includes many different elements. For example, when making a recommendation about where a child should live, the GAL should consider the age of the child. A five year old may have different needs than a 15 year old. So the court expects the GAL to consider the child's age . Other factors include:
- the child's current relationship with parents,
- the stability of each parent's living situation, and
- the parent's ability to cooperate or learn to cooperate in caring for the child.
There are many other factors to be considered. You can ask the GAL or the court for a copy of the law. Overall, the GAL must look at all the different things that could affect the nature of the parent-child relationship. Then the GAL makes a recommendation that protects the child's right to have a meaningful, strong relationship with his or her parents.
Who can be a Guardian ad litem?
GAL's can be attorneys or mental health professionals (like a social worker or doctor).
What does a GAL do?
By law, the GAL must do certain things. The GAL must meet with the child/children. The GAL may meet with the child alone or with another adult present. The GAL must also make a written report of his or her investigation and recommendations. Each parent is entitled to a copy of this report.
The court may specifically order the GAL to do other things. Those duties may be listed in the court order that appointed the GAL in your case. Read that document to understand the duties of the GAL in your case. Generally speaking, however, a GAL will meet with and interview parents and children in the family. The GAL will interview (by phone or in person) teachers, doctors and other people who have knowledge of the child or family.
The GAL also can review mental health and medical records of the child and parents, request children or parents obtain medical and mental evaluations, or recommend counseling for any member of the family.
Does the GAL come to court?
The GAL should attend all court hearings, unless excused by the court. In court, the GAL may make oral recommendations or submit a written report with recommendations.
What should you do if you have a problem with the GAL?
If you are concerned that the GAL is not representing your child's best interest, you can always speak with the GAL directly to discuss your concerns. If you are not comfortable speaking with the GAL, you can inform the court in writing or speak with the magistrate at your next status conference. You can also file a grievance with the:
Office of the Chief Judge of the District Court
65 Stone Street
Augusta, ME 04330
Updated April 2002
PTLA # 390