Guardian Ad Litem: Investigators and Reporters for the “Best Interest of the Child.”
Guardians ad litem are, in most cases, court-appointed individuals, usually attorneys, who are assigned to represent “the best interest of the child or children” in court proceedings. In family court, guardians ad litem are often appointed in causes connected to visitation, name changes, abuse and neglect, adoptions, guardianships, and termination of parental rights. In some cases, the guardian ad litem is selected by the parties’ attorneys; more often, however, the child’s representative is appointed by the court.
The guardian ad litem’s role involves serving the child or children as an investigator and reporter, and he or she advocates what future actions will be in the child’s best interest. The guardian investigates the situation and reports his or her findings to the court. Some guardians ad litem give more weight to their investigating roles than to their reporting roles.
The guardian ad litem who acts as an investigator and reporter must pursue an understanding and general overview of the child’s life and his or her personal needs. To gain this knowledge, the guardian ad litem must investigate each parent’s or guardian’s life and each person’s relationship and involvement with the child. To fully come to understand the situation, the guardian ad litem can legally interview the parents and child, observe the child with the parents, conduct interviews, and perform home visits. In this role as an advocate for the child, the guardian ad litem is tasked to present the court sound, unbiased information that a judge would desire in order to make an objective decision concerning, among other issues, custody and visitation disputes.
Guardians ad litem cannot provide written custody recommendations in their final reports to the court and their giving oral recommendations on custody before a judge is limited. The guardian ad litem’s written reports or recommendations must be submitted in a manner consistent with the Alabama Rules of Evidence and other state law guidelines.
Even though the guardian ad litem cannot make specific custody recommendations in a written report to the court, his or her view typically carries significant weight with the court. Therefore, all parties in a custody or visitation dispute should cooperate completely with the guardian ad litem. Those connected to the case should be honest and straightforward with the guardian ad litem. Further, they should provide the guardian ad litem guidance towards uncovering the facts that they believe need to be taken into consideration to support the parties’ positions on the issues relating to the child.