What is a Guardian ad Litem (GAL)?

Have you ever heard the term GAL or Guardian ad litem? Well, if you haven’t let me explain. And, if you have, hopefully you will find this a useful refresher.

A Guardian ad litem or GAL is an individual, typically an attorney or a social worker, but in some cases a specially trained volunteer, who is ordered by the court to conduct an independent and neutral investigation of the family and the relevant circumstances. The role of a GAL is an important one. A GAL represents the best interest of the children involved. It is important to note here that there is a difference between the legal concept of the best interest of the children and that of the moral, ethical, or parental interpretation of those words. The State of Maine Legislature has provided 19 factors that may be considered when determining what is in a child’s best interest. It can be confusing, and sometimes frustrating for parents when a GAL’s determination of what is in the children’s best interest differs from what one, or both parents feel is in their child’s best interest.

To determine what is in the best interest of the children the GAL will conduct interviews with the parties and children involved, and possibly with other witnesses. They also examine court documents and other evidence that is relevant to the situation. A GAL will then take the information they have gathered, consider the legal best interest factors, and make recommendations to the court regarding the issues on which they were asked to weigh in.

Involving a GAL in your case is not free - unless you are involved in a protective custody proceeding, in which case the cost of a GAL is covered by the State. Consequently, this means that you are adding to your litigation costs. Additionally, a GAL may bring to the court’s attention information or evidence that you would prefer the court not consider. However, in the right circumstances, they can be an invaluable tool to your case.

In the end, while a GAL can be an invaluable asset in a family law case, it is important that you understand both the risks and the limitations of their advocacy.