A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an attorney appointed by the court to represent and protect the best interests of a child. They are often brought in during custody battles, but the representative may also be appointed if your child is the victim of neglect or abuse, or if a court has taken away the parental rights of the child’s guardians, whether they be a parent or other individual.
Under New Jersey Law, the state’s courts can appoint a guardian ad litem whenever concerns regarding the child’s well-being arise. New Jersey Law stipulates a variety of individuals who can serve as the guardian ad litem. Often, common individuals who will move into that role include the following:
- A lawyer appointed by the court
- A social worker
- A mental health worker
- Any other individual deemed appropriate by the court
While a guardian ad litem is not always appointed during custody disputes, if the child becomes a party involved in the conflict, then the courts will bring one in.
What is the Role of a Guardian ad Litem?
Unlike court-appointed counsel that offers up legal advice or advocacy for a child, a guardian ad litem serves to represent the interest of a child.
This representative will operate in a very objective manner to piece together the facts of the circumstances and convey a perspective that allows the courts to make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the child.
The guardian ad litem will often serve as a third party that goes on a fact-finding mission to collect information and evaluate the circumstances surrounding the child. Guardians ad litem will often be tasked with the following:
- Interviewing the child they are representing as well as any other parties involved in the case.
- Interviewing other individuals including family members, teachers, and others in order to understand the facts of the child’s circumstances, environment, and experiences.
- Get hold of relevant documentation if necessary.
- Get in touch with an independent expert.
- Confer with the council of the other parties involved. For example, the guardian ad litem might confer with the lawyers representing the mother and father during a custody battle.
After a guardian ad litem has collected all of the necessary information relevant to the child, they will compile that information into a report and send the report to the court. Often, a guardian ad litem may make a recommendation or even offer testimony along with their report. The courts will use the GAL report when determining what is in the best interest of a child.
What Is Considered “The Best Interest of a Child?
Whether it is the dissolution of a marriage, a custody dispute, or any other event involving a child, the term “best interest of a child” is used to describe the most beneficial outcome that will serve the child in a manner that fosters safety, stability, and love.
Safety plays a major role in the best interest of a child. However, there are other factors that a judge will consider when making a decision that will impact a child. As part of their analysis on what is in the best interest of a child, judges will consider the following:
- The physical and mental stability as well as the overall well-being of a parent.
- Whether a parent can provide a stable environment for the child.
- Whether or not there is a history of alcohol, drugs, or substance abuse in the household.
- Communication between parents and if one parent is more or less receptive than the other.
- The amount of time and quality of time one parent had with the child before the separation.
- The stability of each home.
- If there are multiple siblings involved in the custody dispute and the age of the siblings.
- The opinion of the child if they are old enough to communicate a rational preference.
- How each parent has behaved or cooperated during the custody dispute.
- Additional factors deemed necessary by the court.
Hire a Qualified Representative
If you are going through a divorce or separation, it’s important to have a qualified attorney by your side. Understanding your rights and how to proceed can help you find success in moving in a manner that is most beneficial to you and your child. Reach out to one of our qualified attorneys today to discuss your case and explore your options.
If you’re considering divorce in New Jersey or dealing with equitable division of property, child support, child custody, property division, or other family law issues, contact the Englewood family law attorneys Herbert & Weiss at (201) 500-2151.