What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A guardian ad litem (sometimes referred to as a “GAL”) is an attorney appointed by the trial judge to represent the child when parents disagree about custody or other major child rearing philosophical differences. GAL's are most often used in high conflict cases. A GAL can either be requested by the parent or A parent can request a GAL for the child; the trial judge can also make the appointment without a parent's request.
After the GAL investigates the matter by interviewing the parents, the children, and sometimes other family members the GAL is required to recommend to the judge what is best for the child. The GAL reviews information provided by both parties attorneys, as well as medical records and mental health records of the children. The interview process is confidential until the GAL prepares a final report.
If the child is over 12 in Oklahoma, the GAL must disclose the child's preferences in the report. The GAL has the obligation to advise the judge whether the child's wishes are in his/her best interest. Although, all communications between the child and GAL are confidential.
The GAL is required to present a written report to the judge and the parents, which is presented at trial. The report sets out the details of the investigation and makes recommendations. The GAL is treated as an expert at trial; the GAL can be examined by either parent's attorney regarding the investigation and recommendations.
1. In any proceeding when the custody or visitation of a minor child or children is contested by any party, the court may appoint an attorney at law as guardian ad litem upon motion of the court or upon application of any party to appear for and represent the minor children.
2. The guardian ad litem may be appointed to objectively advocate on behalf of the child and act as an officer of the court to investigate all matters concerning the best interests of the child. In addition to other duties required by the court and as specified by the court, a guardian ad litem shall have the following responsibilities:
- review documents, reports, records, and other information relevant to the case, meet with and observe the child in appropriate settings, and interview parents, caregivers and health care providers and any other person with knowledge relevant to the case including, but not limited to, teachers, counselors, and child care providers,
- advocate for the best interests of the child by participating in the case, attending any hearings in the matter, and advocating for appropriate services for the child when necessary,
- monitor the best interests of the child throughout any judicial proceeding,
- present written reports to the parties and court prior to trial or at any other time as specified by the court on the best interests of the child that include conclusions and recommendations and the facts upon which they are based, and
- the guardian ad litem shall, as much as possible, maintain confidentiality of information related to the case and is not subject to discovery pursuant to the Oklahoma Discovery Code.
3. Expenses, costs, and attorney fees for the guardian ad litem may be allocated among the parties as determined by the court.