What Is a GAL and When Do New Jersey Cases Use Them?
GAL stands for guardian ad litem. “Ad litem” means “for the suit,” meaning for the lawsuit. A guardian ad litem is an advocate appointed by the court to act on behalf of another party. Guardians ad litem are sometimes used in child custody and divorce cases, though less commonly in New Jersey than in other states.
New Jersey law distinguishes between a guardian ad litem and a “law guardian.” Any child who is the subject of child abuse, child neglect, or termination of parental rights must be appointed a law guardian. A law guardian must be an attorney admitted to practice law in New Jersey. The law guardian’s role is to “protect the child’s interests and help him express his wishes to the court.” N.J. STAT. §§ 9:6-8.23, 30:4C-15.4(b) (2004).
In New Jersey, a guardian ad litem is not a direct representative of the child. Instead, the guardian ad litem is charged with representing the child’s best interests and his or her services are to the court on behalf of the child. A guardian ad litem may be appointed by the court, either on its own motion or at the request of either parent, in any court case where custody, visitation, or parenting time are contested.
According to New Jersey Court Rule 5:8B, the GAL’s job is to investigate and then make recommendations to the judge about custody and visitation. The GAL makes his or her recommendations based on:
- Interviews with the children and parents
- Interviews with other people with relevant information, such as teachers, social workers, friends and family
- Documentary evidence, which could include reports from social workers, child psychologists, doctors, teachers, and so forth
- The parents’ lawyers’ arguments, as made to the GAL
- Discussions with the judge in the case
- Reports and recommendations of independent experts, such as child custody evaluators or family psychologists
- Assistance from a law guardian, if the judge agrees to the appointment of one
Guardians ad litem are not used frequently in New Jersey child custody disputes. They can be of assistance in very high-conflict child custody fights, however, since their role is to serve as an independent voice for the interests of the child.
Concerned About a High-Conflict Child Custody Fight? Contact the Law Office of Lyons & Associates
At Lyons & Associates, we bring a high level of personalized service and attention to men and women in New Jersey. To schedule an appointment regarding divorce or child custody conflicts, contact us online or call our office at 908-575-9777.