Kevin Qualls Family Law
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What is the role of a guardian ad litem?

Orange County, California, custody disputes can be difficult. For one, even the best of intentioned parents may find it difficult to agree on how to resolve their case, as it is difficult to divide a child the way one would money or even a piece of property. In other cases, there are very sensitive issues like child abuse or domestic violence in play. Finally, there are some situations, such as when a child has some special needs, where it just makes sense for a child to have someone on their side representing their interests in custody litigation.

In such cases or in other special situations, a California court may appoint what is called a "guardian ad litem." Unlike other guardians, the guardian ad litem, or GAL, does not have any real power to make decisions for the child; parents aren't being punished or having their rights taken away when a GAL gets involved in a case. The GAL may have power to conduct an investigation in to the child's well-being, but that is really all he or she can do.

The role of the GAL is, basically, two-fold. First, the GAL has a duty to investigate the child's circumstances and determine what sort of custody or visitation arrangement will serve the best interests of the child. Then, once the GAL has done his or her investigation, the GAL reports his or her conclusions to the court and may have a recommendation as to what should happen with regard to custody and parenting time.

The word of the GAL is not necessarily gospel truth though. Parents should be allowed to see what the GAL wrote in the report and to make objections, corrections and additions. Generally speaking, a GAL also can be questioned at a court hearing by both parents and their attorneys.

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