What Does a Guardian ad Litem Do?

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?

What Is a Guardian ad Litem?

The Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) plays a pivotal role in many parenting plan disputes, arising from either a divorce, unwed parents, or post-divorce modification cases. The GAL is designed to protect the best interests of children involved in legal disputes. If you have a GAL assigned to your case, or there is consideration to a GAL being appointed, it’s important to know their role.

Understanding the Role of a Guardian ad Litem

The GAL is an impartial individual appointed by the court to advocate for the best interests of a child during legal proceedings, such as divorce, parental rights and responsibilities cases, and other matters affecting children’s welfare. In New Hampshire, GALs are governed by RSA 490-C, which outlines their qualifications, appointment process, and duties.

Qualifications and Appointment

GALs in New Hampshire are required to undergo comprehensive training and must possess a thorough understanding of child development, family dynamics, and the legal system. While GALs often come from legal or social work backgrounds, the primary criterion is their ability to advocate effectively for the child’s best interests.

The appointment of a GAL typically occurs early in the proceedings. Either party in a case or the judge themselves may recognize the need for a GAL to ensure that the child’s voice is heard and considered in decisions that profoundly impact their life. The judge also decides how payment for the GAL will be apportioned. This may be allocated according to the income of the parties, based on which party requested the GAL, which party is requesting a modification to the plan, or other facts that the Judge deems fair.

Duties and Responsibilities

The duties of a GAL in New Hampshire are multifaceted and require a balanced approach to gathering information, assessing the child’s needs, and making recommendations to the court. These responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  1. Investigation: A GAL conducts a thorough investigation to understand the circumstances of the case. This may involve reviewing documents, such as school records and medical reports, and interviewing the child, parents, teachers, and other individuals who have significant interactions with the child.
  2. Advocacy: Based on their investigation, GALs advocate for the child’s best interests. This advocacy is not limited to court appearances; GALs also work to ensure that the child’s needs are met throughout the legal process, including their living situation, education, and healthcare.
  3. Reporting: They are required to provide the court with detailed reports of their findings and recommendations. These reports play a crucial role in the court’s decision-making process, offering insights into the child’s needs, preferences, and the potential impact of various outcomes on their well-being.
  4. Recommendation. The GAL is usually called upon to make a recommendation regarding what result is in the child’s best interest.
  5. Mediation. Occasionally, but not always, the GAL will be involved in attempting to settle the case prior to trial.
  6. Testimony. If the case goes to trial, the GAL often must testify in Court to explain their recommendation. They can be questioned by the lawyers just like any other witness and must be prepared to defend their reasoning.
  7. Monitoring: Even after the court makes a decision, they GAL sometimes may continue to monitor the child’s situation to ensure that court orders are implemented and the child’s circumstances remain conducive to their best interests.

The Impact of a Guardian ad Litem’s Work

The involvement of a GAL can significantly influence the outcome of family law proceedings. By focusing on the child’s best interests, GALs help the court navigate the complexities of family dynamics and make decisions that promote the child’s welfare. Their impartiality and dedication to the child’s needs can bridge gaps between legal processes and the nuanced realities of children’s lives.

Challenges and Considerations

The work of a GAL is not without its challenges. Balancing the diverse perspectives of parents, the child’s desires, and legal standards can be daunting. Moreover, GALs must navigate the emotional terrain of family disputes with sensitivity and professionalism. Their recommendations may not always align with the wishes of the parents or the child, but they are guided by an overarching commitment to the child’s best interests.

In New Hampshire, Guardians ad Litem play a critical role in ensuring that children’s voices and needs are central to family law proceedings. Through their diligent investigation, advocacy, and reporting, GALs contribute to more informed and compassionate legal decisions affecting children’s lives. For parents navigating the complexities of legal disputes involving their children, understanding and cooperating with the GAL process is essential. As family law attorneys, our role includes guiding our clients through this process, emphasizing the importance of the GAL’s role, and working collaboratively towards outcomes that serve the child’s best interests. The work of a GAL embodies a commitment to protecting the most vulnerable among us, ensuring that their welfare remains a paramount concern within the legal system.

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