What is a Guardian Ad Litem and what do they do?
What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
Pursuant to Indiana Code § 31-9-2-50, a guardian ad litem (“GAL”) is “an attorney, a volunteer, or an employee of a county program who is appointed by a court to: (1) represent and protect the best interests of a child and (2) provide the child with services requested by the court, including – researching, examining, advocating, facilitating, and monitoring the child(ren)’s situation.” In simpler terms, a GAL is an individual who is appointed to represent the best interests of a child and to be that child’s voice.
A GAL may also be appointed in a guardianship matter. Pursuant to Indiana Code § 29-3-2-3, “the court shall appoint a GAL to represent the interest of the alleged incapacitated person or minor if the court determines that the alleged incapacitated person or minor is not represented or is not adequately represented by counsel.”
When Does a Guardian Ad Litem get Involved?
An attorney’s favorite response is “it depends,” which is the exact answer to this question.
During a divorce, paternity proceeding, grandparent visitation matter, or juvenile delinquency matter, a court may appoint a GAL on its own motion or a party to the case (or their attorney) may request that the court appoint a GAL. Typically, a GAL is appointed when custody or parenting time are contested or when there are allegations of abuse or neglect.
In a guardianship matter, a GAL gets involved in the matter almost immediately.
What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?
As previously stated, a GAL represents and protects the best interests of the child(ren) or incapacitated person. The GAL will do the following: (1) investigate and gather information about the situation; (2) monitor what is going on by actually visiting with the parties and the child(ren) or incapacitated person; (3) speak with the child(ren) or incapacitated person; (4) make a report to the court; and (5) find services for the child(ren) or incapacitated person.
Who Pays for the Guardian Ad Litem?
In a family law matter, Indiana law allows the trial court to assess the GAL’s fees against one or both child(ren)’s parents. Typically, the party that is requesting that a GAL be appointed will pay for the GAL’s fees initially, and then the final determination of payment will be made at a later time. The Court may split the fees in a variety of ways, including having one party pay for the entire amount, splitting the fees evenly, or splitting the fees based on the parties’ income ratios.
In a guardianship matter, the guardian is responsible for the GAL’s fees. However, if there is a guardianship estate, the guardian can request that the court allow for the GAL’s fees to be paid from the guardianship estate.
Guardian ad litems serve an important purpose and are often beneficial to everyone involved – especially for the individuals who need protection. If you have any questions regarding GALs, please contact Sadie L. Dillon-Baatz (who has completed training as a GAL) or another member of Barrett McNagny’s family law team.