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Guardian ad Litem

A Guardian ad Litem (or GAL) is an attorney who is hired or appointed to represent the best interests of an individual who may not be competent to determine or communicate his or her own best interests. A GAL is always required in guardianship and protective placement proceedings in order to ensure that the rights of the proposed ward are respected, and that the ward retains as much freedom as possible consistent with his or her particular needs. A GAL is sometimes required in family matters when parents cannot agree about legal custody or physical placement of their child(ren). And a GAL is always required to represent the best interests of children in CHIPS and Termination of Parental Rights matters.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to represent a person’s best interests?
A guardian ad litem always asks the person about their wishes. However, a person may wish for a result that could be harmful to their wellbeing. For example, a person who is subject to guardianship proceedings may wish to continue to make his or her own financial decisions, but may be vulnerable to exploitation or incapable of managing money. Or a child who is subject to CHIPS proceedings may express a wish to stay with a parent who has neglected the child. A good GAL will consider these wishes, but will conduct more investigation in order to determine what is the best course of action under the circumstances.

Who hires a GAL?
It depends. The GAL is always ultimately appointed by the court in order to ensure that the selected GAL has attained the necessary qualifications. In some cases, the court will select the GAL. However, increasingly, courts are allowing and even requiring parties to select their own GAL. In a divorce or other family matter, the parents may try to agree on one GAL, or each may nominate one and allow the judge or court commissioner to choose. In a guardianship or petition to terminate parental rights, the petitioner is usually responsible for finding a GAL who is qualified and who would consent to serve in that case.

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