In the midst of a contentious divorce, the interests of the children can get lost. If battling husbands and wives can’t agree on who gets the living room couch, you can be pretty sure that they won’t see eye-to-eye on more weighty matters like visitation and living arrangements for their children.
That’s where the court may step in to appoint either a guardian ad litem or an attorney for the minor child. Those going through a divorce may want to request that the court appoint one of these representatives.
Here’s a quick guide to distinguish between the two.
A guardian ad litem (GAL) is someone appointed by the court to investigate what’s in the best interests of the child. He or she will get to know the child, the parents and others involved with the child such as teachers or coaches. Often the GAL will visit the child’s home. The guardian may or may not be an attorney, but he or she is often called upon to testify at a trial and provide recommendations for the court, which may not always coincide with the child’s wishes. The parties in a divorce case may be able to use the GAL’s file in court.
An attorney for the minor child (AMC) serves a dual role of recommending what is best for a child and serving as an advocate for the child. Like the GAL, the AMC will do a complete investigation of the child’s situation. Unlike an attorney representing a competent adult, the AMC may or may not advocate for what the child wants. The AMC may not be called as a witness in a divorce trial. The AMC’s file is protected by attorney client privilege, and generally cannot be used by the parties in court.
All of us who work with divorcing couples hope for a fair and non-hostile resolution. In some cases, the couple is at war and there are unresolved issues involving children. In those situations, the parents should be aware that a GAL or AMC can be appointed to assist the court in determining what is best for the child.