A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a person appointed by a court to look after and protect the interests of someone who is unable to take care of themselves, typically a minor or someone who is determined to be legally incompetent. They are appointed to a specific case, and their role is to watch over the ward and make sure their interests are protected. They are usually appointed in cases involving disputes over child custody, child support, adoption, divorce, emancipation of minors, and visitation rights. They act as factfinders for the court, making recommendations based on what is best for the ward, rather than advocating for the ward's preferences. Guardians ad litem are regulated by state and local laws, which vary in terms of qualifications, training, compensation, and duties. Due to differences in local rules and funding availability, the quality and effectiveness of guardians ad litem can vary greatly. Unlike typical guardians or conservators, guardians ad litem only protect their wards' interests in a single case. courts may appoint guardians ad litem without the wards' consent. In some jurisdictions, they may also be appointed to represent the interests of someone who is allegedly incapacitated. Courts most frequently appoint guardians ad litem in parents' disputes over child custody of their children. For example, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act requires states to appoint guardians ad litem for children in abuse or neglect proceedings. Usually, parents must split any costs associated with hiring a guardian ad litem.
In New York State, there are two laws which allow for the appointment of a guardian ad litem to assist parties with disabilities: Article 12 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) and Article 81 of the New York Mental Hygiene Law. The responsibilities of a GAL appointed under Article 12 of the CPLR are more defined and specific than those of a GAL appointed under Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law.
[Last updated in January of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]