What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

Katherine Muzzy, Legal Resident

Katherine Muzzy, Legal Resident

A guardian ad litem, or GAL, may be appointed by the Court in a family case to represent the interests of the children.  Some say that the GAL functions as the “eyes and ears of the court” because the GAL conducts an investigation and makes a recommendation to the Court about what is in the children’s best interest.

Two Types of GALs

There are two types of GALs in the state of New Hampshire: Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Board-certified GALs.  By law, CASA GALs are appointed for most abuse and neglect cases where the Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) is involved.  When there are no CASA GALs available, then the Court may appoint a Board-certified GAL in an abuse and neglect case.  In a parenting case or a divorce where there are minor children, the Court may appoint a Board-certified GAL.

CASA volunteers complete a training program.  They are not paid for their services as GALs.  Other GALs have to be certified by the New Hampshire Guardian Ad Litem Board.  There are several requirements for becoming certified, including completion of a training course, a clean background check, an essay on why the individual wants to become a GAL, and three positive reference letters.  There is no requirement for GALs to be attorneys, and many of them are not attorneys.  Board-certified GALs are paid for their services.

Who Pays for the GAL in a Divorce or Parenting Case?

Either party in a divorce or parenting case can request a GAL.  If there are parenting issues in dispute then the judge will likely approve the request.  The Court then issues an order to appoint a GAL, list the specific issues to be investigated, and designate how much each party has to pay the GAL.  Although in the past there was a Court Fund to cover GAL fees for financially eligible parents, that funding is no longer available.  The current statute establishes that the Court may order either one or both parties to pay for the GAL.  If the parties cannot afford those services, then the case will proceed without a GAL, although the judge still must make decisions based on the best interests of the children.  

The GAL Investigation

During the GAL investigation, the GAL gathers information from the parties, the children, family members, friends, school teachers, counselors, and anyone else that might be able to offer perspective on the best interest of the children.  The GAL acts as a neutral party to the case, which is helpful for the judge because each parent likely feels that the child would be better off with them.  Without a GAL, it can be difficult for the judge to determine which parent is more credible.

The GAL then writes a report with their recommendation based on the investigation.  The parties may request the GAL’s file to see how the GAL came to their recommendation.  In addition, at the final hearing the parties may question the GAL.  In the end, the GAL recommendation is one piece of evidence for the Court to consider with all of the other evidence in the case.  The judge makes the final decision about parenting issues.

Contact us

If you have questions about whether a GAL would be beneficial in your case or general family law questions, contact the Law Office of Katherine J. Morneau to set up a consultation today.  We serve the Greater Nashua area and are here to help.  To meet with one of our experienced attorneys, please click here to contact us or call us today at 943-5647.