Guardian ad litem

Definition

When a person involved in a suit cannot adequately represent his or her own interests, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to protect the person's interests. Unlike typical guardians or conservators, guardians ad litem only protect their wards' interests in a single suit. Generally, courts appoint guardians ad litem to represent legal infants and and adults who are actually or allegedly incapacitated. Courts most frequently appoint guardians ad litem in parents' disputes over custody of their children. For example, the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act requires states to appoint guardians ad litem for children in abuse or negect proceedings. 42 U.S.C. 5106a(b)(2)(A)(xiii). See Francine M. Neilson v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., 199 f.3d 642 (2d Cir. 1999).

Courts may appoint guardians ad litem without the ward's consent.

 

Guardian ad Litem: an Overview

 

Source and Uniformity of Law

Generally, guardians ad litem are regulated by state and local laws. Jurisdictions differ not only on when to appoint guardians ad litem, but also on the guardians' minimum qualifications, training, compensation, and duties. Due to difference in local rules and funding availability, the quality and effectiveness of guardians ad litem can vary greatly not only between different states, but also between different areas within the same state.

Guardians ad Litem in Domestic Disputes

Courts frequently appoint guardians ad litem to represent childrens' interests in cases involving Adoption, Child Custody, Child Support, Divorce, empancipation, and visitation rights. In these cases, the guardians ad litem usually act as factfinders for the court, not as advocates for the children. Accordingly, they should base their recommendations on what would actually be best for the children, not on what the children prefer. Usually, parents must split any costs associated with hiring a guardian ad litem.

Guardians ad Litem in Incapacity Cases

In many jurisdictions, courts also appoint guardians ad litem in cases involving an allegedly incapacitated person. For example, if children sue, asking the court to to declare their parent incapacitated and appoint a guardian or conservator, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to advocate the parent's best interests.

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