Guardian Ad Litem
Family law matters involving children can be some of the most emotional, contentious and hardest fought issues that come before the family courts. In the midst of such proceedings, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of what is in the best interests of the children at the center of the dispute. To help ensure that the bests interests of the child are always represented in a parenting or child-related dispute, the court may appoint a representative specifically for the purpose of looking after their interests. This person could either be a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or an Attorney for a Minor Child (AMC), depending upon the specific circumstances of the case and the needs of the parties.
What does a Guardian Ad Litem do?
The Guardian Ad Litem may engage in a number of activities to help the judge better understand the child’s needs. The GAL may:
- Investigate the facts in the case;
- Review files and records;
- Interview the parents and the child (as needed).
The GAL may also talk to teachers, coaches, doctors or therapists. The GAL may participate in court hearings by testifying as a witness or otherwise making recommendations to the court. The GAL does not make any actual decisions for the court, but he/she may encourage the parties in the settlement of their dispute.
A GAL may be appointed if one of the parties requests it (and is successful on the motion), or the judge may decide that a GAL is needed and appoint one even if it has not been requested. Any person who has completed the comprehensive training required by the state of Connecticut may serve as a Guardian Ad Litem. GALs are usually attorneys, but in some cases, they may be mental health professionals or others. The court maintains a list of those who have completed the required training and are able to serve in this capacity.
Guardian Ad Litem Code of Conduct
There is a Code of Conduct published by the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch that GALs are required to follow. A GAL is expected to be fair and impartial, courteous and professional, and to act in good faith. Other requirements include:
- Provide competent representation;
- Not disclose information to anyone who is not a party to the case;
- Maintain independence and objectivity;
- Refrain from making knowingly false statements and/or offering evidence they know to be false;
- Treat all parties with respect;
- Avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest;
- Keep accurate records and documentation of work performed, time spent, expenses incurred, and fees charged;
- Maintain written documentation to substantiate all recommendations and conclusions;
- Make an immediate report to the court if s/he believes the child is in imminent danger of being physically harmed.
GALs may be subject to removal from a case for any code of conduct violations. At any time, if a party believes that the Guardian Ad Litem has acted improperly, he/she may file a motion with the court to have the GAL removed. Once a motion is filed, the case is referred to the Family Services Unit. If the parties cannot resolve the motion between themselves, the court will hold a hearing to decide.
Attorney for a Minor Child in Connecticut
Another person that may be appointed to help in a parenting or child-related dispute is an Attorney for a Minor Child, or AMC. While a GAL looks out for a child’s best interests, an AMC not only supports the child’s best interests, but represents the child’s legal interests as well. Only a licensed attorney may serve as an AMC, and the attorney must also have completed the required training.
An AMC is the child’s attorney, and he/she advocates on the child’s behalf and represents the child’s wishes. In essence, the child is the attorney’s client, and the AMC represents the child in matters regarding custody, support, visitation, educational decisions, and other aspects of a child’s care and welfare. Unlike a Guardian Ad Litem, an AMC cannot testify as a witness. However, the AMC performs all the functions of an attorney. For example, the AMC may file motions, present evidence, and call other witnesses to testify.
What is the Difference between a Guardian Ad Litem and an Attorney for a Minor Child?
Though they have similar roles, there are some significant differences between a Guardian Ad Litem and an Attorney for a Minor Child. The most important is the distinctly different roles in a parenting-related legal matter that each of them holds. Though a GAL is very often an attorney, he/she acts in the capacity of a guardian rather than an attorney. In the role of guardian, a GAL can testify to the court regarding what is best for the child, and he/she is not bound by the child’s preferences. And although a GAL is not allowed to disclose information about the case to an outside party, he/she is not subject to attorney-client privilege when acting in the capacity of a guardian.
An Attorney for a Minor Child is always an attorney, and their role is to represent the child’s wishes and advocate on their behalf. The AMC cannot be the same attorney that represents either the father or mother in the case. Acting in the official capacity of the child’s attorney, the AMC participates fully as a lawyer in the case.
Because of their distinct roles in a child custody, visitation, or other parenting-related issue, GALs and AMCs are usually appointed at different stages in a child’s development at the time a legal dispute arises. While there is no set age requirement for either, the GAL is typically appointed for younger children who need someone to act as their guardian, while an AMC typically represents older children whose input into the matters at hand are usually given more considerable weight by the court.
Compassionate, Dedicated and Experienced Assistance in Connecticut Child Custody and Family Law
While the Upton Law Firm does not currently have attorneys available to serve as Guardian Ad Litem or Attorney for a Minor Child, we have a great source of qualified referrals available and would be happy to help you find the right person for your case. Contact The Upton Law Firm for assistance in West Hartford at 860-650-1558.