A Guardian ad Litem, often referred to as “GAL,” is an individual appointed by the Court to ensure that the minor child’s best interests are represented during a parenting or custody dispute. Not every divorce case or custody dispute requires the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem. In fact, if at all possible, the Court tends to encourage parties to resolve parenting disagreements without the involvement of third parties. When parties are unable to agree on custody or a parenting access arrangement, or if there are specific parenting issues that simply cannot be resolved, a Guardian ad Litem may be appointed to either assist the parties in reaching an agreement, or to inform the Court as to the best interest of the minor child.
A Guardian ad Litem may be appointed upon the Motion (request) of one party, the agreement of both parties, or when a Judge determines that a Guardian ad Litem is necessary in the case. The role of a Guardian ad Litem is usually served by an attorney or a mental health professional. In order to be appointed, the Guardian ad Litem must be qualified by the Connecticut Judicial Branch after completing specific course training. Furthermore, the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch has developed a code of conduct which outlines the obligations, expectations and responsibilities of a Guardian ad Litem.
Although a Guardian ad Litem may be an attorney by profession, the role of a Guardian ad Litem is not the same as that of an Attorney for the Minor Child. An Attorney for the Minor Child, sometimes called “AMC,” is legal counsel for the minor child, both representing the child’s legal interest while considering the child’s best interest. Conversely, the Guardian ad Litem does not provide legal representation to the child or the parties. No privilege exists regarding communications between the Guardian ad Litem and the child or the Guardian ad Litem and the parties. The Guardian ad Litem may serve, and often does, as a witness in the case at Hearings and Trial, and can testify about things that were said by the child and the parties, to the extend these communications are admissible under our Rules of Evidence.
At the time of the appointment, the Court will issue an Order with the specific duties of the Guardian ad Litem, which depend on the issues that are outstanding in the case. These duties may include, but are not limited to: investigating facts, interviewing the parties and the child, reviewing files and records, speaking to teachers, coaches and others, speaking to medical professionals, participating in Court hearings, making recommendations to the Court, and encouraging and facilitating the settlement of disputes.
While the Guardian ad Litem should be fair and impartial, this does not mean that he or she is not allowed to have an opinion or make recommendations. Sometimes these recommendations will align more with one party’s philosophy of the case than the other’s. While the Court is not bound to accept the recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem, and the GAL does not make decisions for the Court, his or her recommendations and testimony are usually carefully considered by the Court when making a final determination about parenting issues.
The fees of the Guardian ad Litem are paid by the parties. The initial retainer amount and the hourly fee will be established by the Court at the time the Guardian ad Litem is appointed. If the parties cannot agree on an appropriate payment arrangement, the Court will make an order after reviewing the financial circumstances of the parties, including reviewing the parties’ signed, sworn Financial Affidavits.
The decision as to whether to appoint a Guardian ad Litem and then choosing the right person to serve as Guardian ad Litem is extremely important to the tenor and outcome of any custody dispute. The attorneys at Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC are experienced in serving as Guardians ad Litem and litigating and settling cases where a Guardian ad Litem has been appointed.