A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a special representative appointed by the court to act on behalf of another party. It could be for an infant or minor or another person who has been determined to be incapable of making important life decisions as these parties need help protecting their rights in court. The guardian ad litem relationship is unique in that it lasts only for the duration of the legal proceeding.
In New Jersey, guardians ad litem are sometimes used in high-conflict child custody disputes. The law distinguishes between a “law guardian” and a guardian ad litem. A law guardian must be an attorney licensed to practice law in the state of New Jersey. They are appointed to a child who is the subject of child abuse or neglect, or where parental rights are being terminated. The role of the law guardian according to NJ statute is to “protect the child’s interests and help him express his wishes to the court.”
By contrast, the guardian ad litem in New Jersey is not a direct representative of the child. The guardian ad litem serves the court on behalf of the child. He or she is charged with representing the child’s best interests by investigating and then making recommendations to the court about custody, parenting time/visitation or whichever issue is being contested.
A guardian ad litem may be appointed by the court itself, or by the application of either or both parents. They can be of assistance because their role is to serve as an independent voice for the interests of the child.
Duties of the Guardian Ad Litem
Once appointed guardian ad litem, this person must prepare for the court a written report with their findings and recommendations. They must also testify about their findings if necessary and may be cross examined about them. In order to make a recommendation to the court the GAL will :
- Interview the children and parents
- Gather documentary evidence from social workers, child psychologists, doctors, teachers and other experts
- Interview other people with relevant information such as friends, family, teachers and social workers
- Get recommendations from independent experts such as child custody evaluators or family psychologists
- Consult with the lawyers for the parents
- Consult with the court
- Obtain assistance from a law guardian if the court approves
The GAL is an independent investigative party on a fact-finding mission to determine what will further the best interests of the child. The GAL can be a social worker, mental health professional, an attorney or other appropriate person. Usually if the GAL’s primary function is in the capacity of an expert, which will lead the court to appoint a GAL from that area of expertise. Parents are free to dispute the testimony of a GAL, or clarify and supplement it. The court is not bound to accept the recommendations of the GAL and the GAL does not make any final decisions about custody or parenting time/visitation.
The role of guardian ad litem comes with great responsibility. In addition to carrying out an investigation, they often monitor the child’s family and attend to the child’s emotional as well as legal needs. They act as a shield protecting the child from the brutal stress of the lawsuit. In addition to their work preparing a report for the court, they also ensure that all parties comply with court orders.
New Jersey Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Children’s Welfare
If you have further questions about the function of a guardian ad litem or how it could pertain to your case, contact the experienced New Jersey child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. We are dedicated to resolving family issues in a personal way and will take on complex family law cases. Contact us online or call 908-575-9777 for a free and confidential consultation. Our offices are in Somerville, New Jersey, serving clients throughout the state including those in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.