You may be wondering what the role of a Guardian Ad Litem is in family law cases. Frequently abbreviated “GAL”, the Guardian Ad Litem is a volunteer appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child involved in litigation. Indiana law requires the appointment of either a guardian ad litem or a trained court appointed special advocate in abuse and neglect cases. The purpose of the GAL is NOT to directly “represent” the child, a distinction which some find confusing, especially as many GALs are attorneys. However, it is not necessary to be an attorney to be a GAL, but Indiana does required that GAL or CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers complete special training.
Traditionally, GAL/CASA volunteers have been appointed in abuse or neglect cases or when a child becomes subject of proceedings to terminate a parent/child relationship. However, Indiana law allows for appointments of these special volunteers in divorce or paternity cases, which is becoming more frequent, especially when custody is contested or allegations arise regarding the health and safety of the child in the family law proceeding.
The GAL will perform a number of functions in a case to help determine the best interests of a child. The volunteer may conduct home visits and interview the parent(s), stepparents, significant others, or extended family who are involved in the child’s home life. They may also interview any child care providers as well as teachers and may review medical or education records. The GAL is tasked with investigating the child’s situation and ultimately filing a report with the court regarding the GAL’s recommendation about custody of the child. For more information about the role of GAL/CASA volunteers in Indiana, please visit the Kids’ Voice of Indiana link below.