Guardian Ad Litem Information for Families

Ohio courts appoint guardians ad litem (GAL) to represent children in proceedings filed in the Domestic, Juvenile, Probate, and General Divisions of the Court of Common Pleas. States across the nation use Guardians ad Litem to facilitate court proceedings and protect the interest of children involved in such proceedings. The roles and requirements of a Guardian ad Litem vary based on what state you live in.

The following are just some examples of proceedings in which Guardians ad Litem can be appointed:

  • Custody Cases

  • Divorce Cases

  • Paternity Cases

  • Abuse Cases

  • Neglect Cases

  • Abandonment Cases

Understanding the role of a Guardian ad Litem and how your family can work with them can be difficult to figure out on your own, but Red Treehouse can help with answers to questions such as:

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

 A guardian ad litem (GAL) is someone appointed by the court to assist the court in determining a child’s best interest.  GAL meets with and establishes a relationship with the child.  Additionally, a GAL often contacts individuals significantly affecting or having relevant knowledge about the child's life.  The GAL gathers relevant information, examines records, and investigates the child's situation to provide the court with new knowledge and to make recommendations  about the child's best interest.

One way to view a GAL is as a “voice” for a child. It is difficult for children in court to simply testify or tell the judge what they want for themselves. Usually, parents and judges do not want to subject children to the emotion and stress involved with family court matters. For example, testifying for or against a parent can lead to conflict and possible trauma for a child. Instead, courts often use GALs to testify on a child’s behalf. When a case calls for protecting the interests of more than one child in a family, one GAL is usually appointed to represent all of the children’s interests.

For more information:

Ohio State Bar Association

The Supreme Court of Ohio

What does "best interests of the child" mean?

This is the standard the guardian ad litem (GAL) and the Court has to use when they make decisions about children. Deciding the best interest of a child involves many different factors. One a GAL might consider when making a recommendation is the age of the child.  A younger child may have different needs than an older, teenage child. GALs might also consider the child’s relationship with parents and siblings, their living environment, and the parents or current guardian’s ability to care for the child. The different factors for a GAL to consider will depend upon the type of case the family is involved in. Financial assets and a family’s income are never factors considered by the GAL.

More information: Child Welfare Information Gateway

Who can be a Guardian ad Litem?

Depending on the county and the type of court proceeding, a guardian ad litem (GAL) can be an attorney or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) appointed by the court. Different counties within each state can have different rules regarding who can and how to qualify to act as a GAL.

Who pays for the GAL?

The court order will assign a percentage of the guardian ad litem (GAL)’s fees to each party, allocating them equally or basing them on the parties’ relative incomes. After making an initial deposit, the parties will receive a monthly statement from the GAL’s office. 

More information: Ohio Family Law Blog

Do parents have to request a Guardian ad Litem? And who appoints a GAL?

There are a couple of different ways for a guardian ad litem (GAL) to be appointed. Most commonly, the judge or magistrate assigned to the family’s case can appoint a GAL for the child. The attorneys for each party may also agree on a GAL or request that the court appoint one.

The court will indicate to the family whether an attorney is being appointed as both a GAL and as an attorney for the child, or as a GAL only. Usually when possible the same GAL is selected to represent a specific child’s best interest in any subsequent court case.

Is the GAL also my child’s attorney?

The court has the power to appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to act as your child’s attorney as well, but the court does not always do this. Unlike an attorney, while the GAL must consider the child’s wishes, the GAL’s chief role is to represent the best interest of the child. If the GAL identifies a conflict between the child’s wishes and the child’s best interest, then the GAL must notify the court of the conflict.

What happens after the GAL is appointed?

To begin, it is typical for families to have an initial meeting with the guardian ad litem (GAL)’s office and complete an intake form. From there, families can expect a home visit during which the GAL can see how you interact with the child. The GAL should also be reviewing court pleadings, requesting records regarding the child, speaking with witnesses, and gathering other investigatory information.

Is the Guardian ad Litem going to be at the Court hearing?

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is required to be present at all hearings involving the child.

What are the duties of the Guardian ad Litem?

Generally, a guardian ad litem (GAL) is required to perform certain basic duties, which will depend upon the specific circumstances of each case. Most counties allow the GAL discretion to tailor their investigation to the facts of the individual case.

The Supreme Court of Ohio outlines the GAL’s responsibilities, but a court’s local rule may also address specific criteria. Generally, a GAL must:

  • represent the best interest of the child;

  • maintain independence, objectivity, and fairness;

  • act with respect and courtesy to the parties;

  • appear and participate in all hearings and at “in camera” interviews between the judge or magistrate and the child;

  • ask the court, in writing, to resolve conflicts by entering appropriate orders;

  • request psychological, mental health, or substance abuse assessments regarding the parties;

  • avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest that may arise from any relationship or activity;

  • make reasonable efforts to learn about the facts of the case;

  • provide the court with a written report of the activities listed above.

You can and should also read the Order in your case to understand what issues the Court is asking the GAL to look at. It may also name specific people the GAL needs to talk to. Sometimes the order is very broad. The GAL could be asked to look at the child’s overall situation and make general recommendations.

Is the Guardian ad Litem required to file a written report?

Requirements will depend upon the court and county where you are. Usually guardian ad litem (GAL)s must file a report, but they are not always required to do so before trial. Some Courts require GALs to file a written report, but others allow GALs to give their recommendation verbally to the Court during a court hearing. If the court does order the GAL to make an oral or written report, you have the right to know what is in the report.

Does the Guardian ad litem’s recommendation become a final order? 

The guardian ad litem (GAL) has certain requirements they must meet when turning in their report and recommendation before the final hearing so that the report can be admitted into evidence. The GAL also must be available to testify at the hearing. If these requirements are met, the court will consider the GAL’s recommendation before giving its final order.

What if I don’t want a guardian ad litem?

If you do not want the guardian ad litem (GAL) assigned to your case because of their specific behavior, see the section on removal.

It is important to keep in mind that because the appointment of a GAL is a court order, you could be held in contempt of court if you do not agree to involve the appointed GAL in your case.Additionally, your underlying motion may be dismissed or evidence limited at trial. You must cooperate with the court order and the GAL so that your case proceeds smoothly.

Can I get the guardian ad litem fired or removed from my case?

Courts in Ohio have begun to look more closely at the conduct of guardian ad litem (GAL)s, but it is still usually difficult to get them removed. For instance, the court does not consider a GAL biased simply because they find one party, sometimes one parent, to be more credible than the other. Understandably, when a GAL makes a recommendation in a case, there will be at least one party who does not agree with their recommendation. The court anticipates this disagreement and does not take it to mean the GAL is biased.

If aside from simple disagreement a party believes that the GAL should be removed from their case, they will need to file a motion for removal of the GAL. The judge will make the final decision about whether the GAL should be removed. Examples of potential reasons for removal include but are not limited to:

  • the GAL is biased

  • the GAL has committed fraud

  • misconduct on the part of the GAL

  • the GAL has failed to investigate

  • the GAL failed to report a conflict between the GAL’s wishes and the child’s wishes.

This guide was developed as part of a project made possible by a Grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation.  The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Ohio State Bar Foundation.

Lead researcher/author: Shannon Meyer, J.D. Candidate, 2018, Legal Intern