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What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem is appointed by a court in order to represent the best interests of the child. Either parent can request that a guardian ad litem be appointed for their child, or the court can appoint a guardian ad litem for the child. While some states require that a guardian ad litem be an attorney, other states’ courts will appoint guardian ad litems who are not attorneys, but who have specialized training. A guardian ad litem’s role is to investigate and recommend the child custody and/or visitation arrangements that are in the best interest of the child.
The investigation performed by a guardian ad litem is typically not as extensive as that which would be performed by a custody evaluator, but will involve interviews with the parents, children, and any other relevant family members, caregivers, or teachers that have frequent contact with the child. The guardian ad litem is also likely to investigate the criminal background of both parents, as well as information related to any complaints that the parents have about one another. For instance, if mother is complaining that father should not visit with the children overnight because he is using drugs, the guardian ad litem can recommend that the court order drug testing for one or both parents. Likewise, if one parent is complaining that the other parent does not ensure that the child’s schoolwork is completed, or that the child gets to school on time, the guardian ad litem is likely to look at the child’s grade reports and attendance records, and perhaps follow up with school teachers or counselors. 
Contact between a child and a guardian ad litem often depends on the age of the child. A guardian ad litem is more likely to simply observe younger children with each of their parents. On the other hand, older children will have the opportunity to speak with a guardian ad litem about their concerns, wants, and needs. While a guardian ad litem advocates for the children’s best interest, however, a guardian ad litem does not necessarily advocate for what the children want, which can be a major difference.
A guardian ad litem also has the power to submit written information to the court, make home visits, and subpoena and question witnesses during court hearings. In any child custody or visitation hearing, the guardian ad litem is an important witness, and will typically submit a written recommendation to the court prior to the hearing for everyone’s review. While the court is not required to follow the recommendation of the guardian ad litem, his or her recommendation can often carry a lot of weight with the judge. 
Although a guardian ad litem is appointed by the court, the court may order one or both parents to contribute to the cost of the guardian ad litem, which may be several hundred dollars. The cost for a guardian ad litem, however, is much less than would be paid for a custody evaluator.

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