What Do You Call an Attorney Who Represents a Child in a Custody Case?

By Beverly Bird

When it comes to custody disputes in divorce, some attorneys represent the grownups, and others look out for the interests of the children. The latter is called a guardian ad litem, or GAL, and it's a bit of a misconception that he "represents" the children. His role is to investigate and help the court determine what's best for them.

When it comes to custody disputes in divorce, some attorneys represent the grownups, and others look out for the interests of the children. The latter is called a guardian ad litem, or GAL, and it's a bit of a misconception that he "represents" the children. His role is to investigate and help the court determine what's best for them.

The Investigation

GALs are typically used if custody is a highly contentious aspect of your divorce. They're appointed by the court, or at the request of either parent, usually when allegations of abuse or unfitness are involved. The attorney's role is to uncover and ascertain the facts. He will typically interview both parents, all siblings, extended family members, and possibly even teachers or pediatricians.

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The Report

After his investigation, a GAL reports to the court, detailing his findings. The GAL can't actually be your child's lawyer because he can't be restrained by attorney-client privilege; he may have to divulge things to the court that your child has told him. He'll recommend a custody arrangement to the court that he believes is in the best interests of the child.

Older Children

Some states, such as Connecticut, will appoint an attorney to represent older children, but this isn't technically a GAL. This attorney can present your child's wishes and feelings to the court and fight for them, whereas a GAL is neutral and concerned only with what's in the child's best interests.

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Does a Child's Attorney Need Permission From the Parents or Guardian to Speak With the Child?

References

Related articles

How to File a Motion to Change Guardian Ad Litem

When a judge appoints an individual to serve as a guardian ad litem, this is because the court has confidence in the party’s competence, ability and integrity, explains attorney Vic Brown Hill. Thus, the court may look negatively upon requests to change a GAL. In certain instances, it may be possible to request a change in GAL, however. This will generally require the party objecting to the GAL to file a motion with the court.

Responsibilities of a Guardian ad Litem in Maine

Maine law provides for appointment of a guardian ad litem, commonly referred to as GAL, in court cases where the outcome may affect a child. The appointment of a GAL is typically done in cases involving divorce and custody. GALs are responsible for advocating the best interests of the child and to act as an objective and independent voice in the case.

Child's Preference in a Divorce

During a divorce, children often want to express their wishes about custody, especially if they have a stronger preference to live with one parent instead of the other. Depending on the child’s age, his maturity and your state's laws, your divorce court may consider your child’s preferences. However, laws vary among states, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

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