A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a court appointed advocate for a child or person under a legal disability. The Virginia guardian ad litem system is designed to protect the interest of the child by ensuring they have adequate legal representation to protect their unique interests in court.
This article will answer several common questions about the Virginia GAL rules and the ways you can get a GAL for your child.
When will the court appoint a GAL for my child?
Whether or not a GAL will be appointed to your child will depend on the particular case. Under Virginia law, the juvenile and domestic relations court must appoint a Virginia guardian ad litem in a case involving a child who is:
- Alleged to be abused or neglected.
- The subject of an entrustment agreement.
- The subject of a petition seeking termination of residual parental rights.
- The subject of a proceeding where the parent(s) seeks to be relieved of the child’s care or custody.
- The subject of a foster care plan review or a hearing to review the child’s status in foster care.
- Seeking emancipation.
- The subject of a proceeding by parents seeking to commit an objecting minor, 14 years of age or older, to a psychiatric facility.
- The subject of a petition for involuntary commitment.
The juvenile court may appoint a GAL in certain other cases, but it is wholly on the court’s discretion.
A Virginia circuit court may also appoint a GAL for a child in two other situations:
- a custody, visitation or support case being litigated incident to divorce proceedings
- appeals of cases from the juvenile court
Why do courts appoint guardian ad litems?
Courts appoint guardian ad litems to help them make informed decisions about a child’s best interests. Children are often innocent parties who are greatly affected by Family Disputes.
The court cannot always rely on the evidence presented by the litigants or their attorneys. After all, it is the litigant attorney’s job to zealously represent the interest of the client and not the child. This creates a tug of war affect with the child stuck in the middle.
To ensure that the child receives his or her own zealous representation, the court will appoint them a specially qualified advocate to work with the court and the other parties on the child’s behalf.
Who qualifies to be a Virginia guardian ad litem?
To be a Virginia guardian ad litem, not only must the attorney be in good standing with the Virginia State Bar, but he must also undergo special training to become certified as a GAL. Additionally, he must undergo additional training yearly to maintain his certification. For more information, view Standards to Govern the Appointment of Guardians Ad Litem here.
What this means for your child is that he or she will be adequately represented by an individual who is not only well versed in the applicable law and regulations, but is also trained with how to work with children and help them cope with this extremely complex and difficult process.
What is the role of a guardian ad litem?
The role and responsibilities of a Virginia guardian ad litem can be found on Standards to Govern the Performance of Guardians Ad Litem for Children.
The main role of the guardian ad litem is to:
- Represent your child in an attorney/client capacity
- File appropriate petitions, motions and other pleadings and appeals on behalf of your child
- Advise the court relative to the following:
- The results of the guardian’s investigation of your case.
- The guardian’s recommendation related to any testing necessary to make an effective disposition of your case.
- The guardian’s recommendation regarding placement of your child and the disposition of your case.
- The results of the guardian’s monitoring of your child’s welfare and of the parties’ (your and the child’s other parent’s) compliance with the court’s orders.
- The guardian’s recommendation related to the services available to your child and family or household members.
The guardian ad litem is also responsible for advising your child in terms he or she can understand. Some topics they will go over can include:
- Who the guardian is and why they are there.
- That the guardian serves as his attorney and they share attorney-client privilege.
- How the court procedure will go.
- What is happening/the results of the case.
Do you have to pay your child’s guardian ad litem?
No, as the parent you are not responsible for your child’s GAL’s fees. To ensure that the GAL’s are only partial towards the child, Virginia guardian ad litems are paid by the state just like any court appointed counsel. You will never have to pay a dime directly to your child’s guardian ad litem.
However, the Commonwealth of Virginia may later require you to reimburse the state for a portion of the GAL’s fees.
Should you get your own legal counsel?
It is important to understand that the GAL works for your child and not you. The GAL is only interested in the child’s best interests.
If you want legal counsel you will need to hire an experienced family law attorney to represent you.
Must you cooperate with your child’s GAL?
It depends what the GAL is asking, but generally it is in your best interest to cooperate with your child’s guardian ad litem. If you feel that a GAL is stepping beyond his or her authority, then speak with your attorney about your rights.
Don’t be surprised, however, if you receive a lengthy questionnaire from a Virginia guardian ad litem asking for details about your family history and current dynamic, your finances, your child’s school and medical history, and even your opinion of the other parent.
Also, you can expect to have the GAL visit you in your home and to speak with other people in your child’s life. These interviews can happen with people such as their teachers, neighbors, and health care professionals.
The Virginia guardian ad litem system is designed to protect the best interest of a child in legal proceedings. Working with your child’s GAL can ensure that the process runs smoothly for both you and your child.
If you wish to consult an attorney about your own representation or to learn more about the GAL process, then consider speaking with one of our family law attorneys today.