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What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

guardian ad-litem

Some divorces are so negative and so filled with accusations that the court may not know whom to believe.  Unfortunately, this is most common when children are involved.  Each parent may accuse the other of abuse, neglect or manipulation.  In order to protect the interests of the child, the court may decide to appoint a guardian ad litem.  This person will oversee proceedings that involve the welfare of the child and stand up for the child’s rights in court.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?

A guardian ad litem is a temporary legal guardian for a minor child or someone who is incapable of making his or her own decisions, such as a disabled adult.  The term ad litem means “for the lawsuit” and is a special legal designation that only exists when there is a pending court action.

The guardian ad litem is often an attorney or other person who does not represent either parent.  This guardian has a single job:  ensuring that the child’s best interests are protected in any court proceedings.  He or she is held responsible for standing up for the child and does not represent or even discuss the matter with either parent.

Some of the normal tasks of a guardian ad litem include:

  • Appearing at any court proceedings or hearings in which the child may be involved or have an interest. This could include child support hearings, custody hearings and property settlement hearings.
  • Contacting the court with any concerns. The guardian ad litem has a legal right and responsibility to file motions and other pleadings on behalf of the child.  This often happens when the guardian is concerned about some aspect of the divorce or property division.  In many cases, the ad litem’s motions are heard separately from the other motions pending in the case and addressed as different issues.
  • Protecting the child’s safety and welfare. If the guardian ad litem has reason to believe the child is in physical or emotional peril, he or she has the responsibility to report this to the proper authorities and to the court.  The guardian may petition for a change of custody based on these concerns or even ask the court to remove the child to foster care.

It is important to note that most divorce cases do not involve a guardian ad litem.  However, when one is appointed, it is often a sign that serious accusations have been made against one or both parents.   As a parent, there are things you can do to defuse these types of situations and avoid the need to have a guardian ad litem appointed, such as:

  • Avoid arguments that can spin out of control. Avoid contact with your ex if that is what it takes to remain calm.  Stalking or threatening the other party will not help your case.
  • Stay calm. It may be difficult to stay in control when your children are being affected, but there is a proper way to address any situation.  If you suspect your children are being abused, contact your attorney immediately to schedule an emergency hearing.
  • Hire an attorney. Trying to handle a complicated divorce alone is not usually wise.  Instead, contact an attorney with experience in handling these types of cases.

The family law attorneys at Men’s Legal Center in San Diego are here to help.  Call us today about your divorce and custody matters.