A guardian ad litem is a guardian that a court appoints to watch after someone during a case.
The person being watched over is called a ward, and a court will appoint someone to watch after the ward when the ward cannot take care of himself or herself. This is typically because the ward is a minor or is legally incompetent.
Unlike typical guardians or conservators, guardians ad litem only protect their wards' interests in a single case. 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.
Courts may appoint guardians ad litem without the wards' consent.
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 differences in local rules and funding availability, the quality and effectiveness of guardians ad litem can vary greatly.
Guardians ad Litem in Domestic Disputes
Courts frequently appoint guardians ad litem to represent children's interests in cases involving adoption, child custody, child support, divorce, emancipation of minors, 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.