The New Jersey Superior Courts oversee a wide range of cases involving family dynamics, especially between parents and children. When cases directly involve custody disputes between divorcing or unmarried parents, the Court may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the child's best interest. A Gal can also be appointed upon the request of one or both of the parents, who have the right to object to the selected guardian if they can show good cause. Conversely, the guardian as litem may also decline the appointment by notifying the court and each party's attorney in writing.
The guardian ad litem is often confused with the law guardian, but these are actually two separate entities. The law guardian is an attorney who serves as the child's legal counsel during family court proceedings involving abuse, neglect or extreme custody disputes. The main function of a law guardian is to give the client legal advice and represent his or her wishes in court. On the other hand, a guardian ad litem's only goal is to determine the best situation for the child, which may or may not be in line with what the child wants. The GAL conducts a thorough investigation into the child's life, which includes interviews with the child, the parents, and other people who have direct involvements with the child. These individuals can include family members, teachers, therapists and social workers, who may be asked to provide documentary evidence to substantiate their claims. the law guardian and the parents lawyers may also be consulted, as well as independent professionals who can provide the GAL with impartial assessments. The guardian ad litem will prepare a written report of his or her recommendations to the court, and be prepared to testify to these findings at a hearing. The GAL must also answer questions posed by each party's attorneys (cross examination).
Thus, a GAL's ultimate duty is to serve the courts, while a law guardian's main duty is to serve his or her client. The GAL's recommendations are used by the court in order to make final decisions in custody disputes, but they do not have the final say in how a judge rules. If the court has appointed a guardian ad litem for your case, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney right away. An attorney can also help you petition the court for a guardian ad litem if you feel that it would be helpful to your case. Either way, your attorney will advise you of the steps that a GAL will undertake, including the types of questions that you and your child may be asked during the investigation process. You will also be advised of your rights, and the legal methods that are available to you if you do not agree with the GAL's recommendations. For more information about your custodial rights and legal options, please schedule a free consultation with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.