What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A “guardian ad litem” is a trained volunteer (sometimes an attorney) who advocates on behalf of the child or children involved in a case that includes allegations of child abuse or neglect, or that affects the guardianship or custody of a child. However, not all guardianship or custody cases will involve a guardian ad litem.
A judge has the discretion to appoint a guardian ad litem at any point in the legal proceedings if the judge finds that the best interests of the child are not being adequately protected by the parties in the case. This gives the child their representation and provides the court with someone unbiased to speak for the child’s best interests, regardless of the opinion of the involved parties. Further, for a guardian ad litem to be appointed to a case, the Department of Social Services must have opened a case concerning the safety of the child.
A Guardian Ad Litem can also be appointed in an adult guardianship case to protect and represent the interests of an adult who may not be capable of caring for themselves due to some type of incapacity. In such cases, the guardian ad litem still advocates for and represents the best interest of the adult.
Who can be a Guardian Ad Litem?
In North Carolina, there is no set experience or educational requirement to be a guardian ad litem. Someone who wants to volunteer to serve as one must submit an application, go through a screening interview, undergo a criminal background check, and go through 30 hours of training before they will be accepted into the Guardian Ad Litem Program. Most importantly, a guardian ad litem must truly care for the well-being of the child they are representing to ensure that their best interests are properly advocated for.
What does a Guardian Ad Litem do?
The guardian ad litem that is appointed for your child will investigate matters related to the case and interview the people in the child’s life, such as the parents, the children themselves, relatives, or teachers. Such investigation may include reviewing the child’s medical or school reports, making home visits to assess the child’s living situation, and other investigations that the guardian ad litem feels are necessary to determine what they believe is in the child’s best interest.
After investigating the child’s situation and determining what they believe is in the child’s best interest, the guardian ad litem advocates for the child in court. The guardian ad litem gives their recommendation to the judge and the judge considers their opinion when deciding the outcome of the case.
The guardian ad litem serves on the child’s case until there is a permanent plan put in place for them by the court. An order for temporary custody or guardianship does not terminate the involvement of the guardian ad litem in the case, only the establishment of a permanent plan.
The guardian ad litem must also follow confidentiality rules regarding the cases they are appointed to. This means that the guardian ad litem may not disclose any protected information regarding the case to anyone unless they are ordered by the court to do so.
Who pays for the Guardian Ad Litem?
In North Carolina, guardians ad litem are attorneys who volunteer to do this work pro bono. This means that they are not paid for their services and that neither party will be required to pay for the child’s guardian ad litem. However, this may differ in other states.
At King Law Offices, we understand the challenges involved in any family law matter. Our goal is to help guide you through this process and listen to your concerns. If you need help regarding a family law matter, contact King Law at 888-748-KING (5464) for a consultation. We have offices located across western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina. We are here to serve you and to guide you as we navigate this journey together.