By Attorney Jennifer Schulte: Depending on where your case is conducted, you may want to consider a guardian ad litem. When parties are going through a dissolution of marriage, a paternity action or attempting to modify a parenting plan there may be an opportunity to ask for a guardian ad litem (GAL) to enter the case. A GAL is a person certified to review the pleadings, interview the parties and witnesses, provide testimony, and write a report and recommendation related to the best interest of the children. In some counties the GAL must be an attorney and in some counties the GAL is a volunteer. The GAL does not work for the parties (though they often are the financially responsible party) but rather works for the children.
The GAL can be appointed by motion from either party or the court can directly appoint one. The GAL does not speak on behalf of the children (like an attorney ad litem) but rather has the responsibility to recommend to the court what would be in the best interest of the children. The court is not required to order what the GAL recommends, yet many judges will put significant weight on the GAL report. It is important to discuss with your attorney the pros and cons of hiring a GAL. If the GAL report and recommendation is not in your favor you may want a second opinion or may need additional time to prepare for the hearing/trial. Because the GAL can become your friend or foe, you should do the research on what the GAL stands for and carefully consider whom you are asking the court to appoint for such a critical position in your family law matter.