A guardian ad litem is a professional assigned by the court to assess a family’s situation and fitness in cases of legal custody. Guardians ad litem may be lawyers, social workers, or other professionals who have extensive experience working with children and families. Once their assessment is complete, a guardian will make a recommendation to the court in the children’s best interest.
What are the GAL’s responsibilities?
The Supreme Court of Ohio outlines the GAL’s responsibilities, but a court’s local rule may also address specific criteria. A GAL must:
1. Represent the best interest of the child;
2. maintain independence, objectivity and fairness;
3. act with respect and courtesy to the parties;
4. appear and participate in all hearings and at “in camera” interviews between the judge or magistrate and the child;
5. ask the court, in writing, to resolve conflicts by entering appropriate orders;
6. request psychological, mental health or substance abuse assessments regarding the parties;
7. avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest that may arise from any relationship or activity;
8. make reasonable efforts to learn about the facts of the case by:
- observing the child with each parent, foster parent, guardian or physical custodian and conducting at least one interview with the child where none of these individuals are present;
- visiting the child’s residence in accordance with any court-established standards;
- ascertaining the child’s wishes;
- interviewing the parties, foster parents and other individuals who may have relevant knowledge of the case;
- reviewing pleadings and other relevant court documents;
- reviewing criminal, civil, educational and administrative records pertaining to the child and, if appropriate, to the child’s family or other parties;
- interviewing school personnel, medical and mental health providers, child protective services workers and relevant court personnel, and obtaining copies of relevant records;
9. provide the court with a written report of the activities listed above.