A guardian ad litem (GAL) represents the interests of the children in child custody cases.

The family court judge may appoint a guardian ad litem if he finds that the court will likely not be fully informed of the facts without the appointment of a guardian or if both parties consent to the appointment of a guardian. Some family court judges insist upon the appointment of a guardian in all contested child custody cases. If a judge appoints a guardian, most often the parties and their lawyers agree upon the guardian but the appointment is within the judge’s discretion.

A guardian serves as the eyes and ears of the family court speaking for the child or ward. The guardian may hire a lawyer, subpoena witnesses and records, and generally do anything that a party or an attorney may do in obtaining information about the ward. The guardian may only make a recommendation if requested by the judge. The judge is not bound by the recommendation but usually gives it strong consideration.

I am a certified guardian ad litem; however, I generally oppose the appointment of a guardian in custody cases. I agree with Robert N. Rosen, a respected domestic relations lawyer from Charleston:

“The biggest problem, however, is that there is no need for guardians at all, and lawyers now have a golden opportunity (and, in my opinion, a duty to their clients) to do away with GALs in most custody cases. I have rarely been involved in a custody case in which the GAL contributed anything except to the cost. That contribution is usually significant.”5

Robert’s article should be required reading for every litigant, lawyer, and judge before a guardian ad litem is appointed. The article also discusses the qualifications and duties of guardians.

If a guardian is appointed, then your cooperation with the reasonable requests of the guardian is essential. Assume all requests of the guardian are reasonable. Treat the guardian with the same respect you intend to show the trial judge; however, you do not want to appear stiff, too formal, insincere, or humorless. Being honest and natural in your relationship with the guardian should serve you well.