A “guardian ad litem” (GAL) is a person the court appoints to investigate what solutions would be in the “best interests of a child.” In a family court context, the GAL will look into the family situation and advise the court on things like:
- Where the children should live most of the time.
- Whether the child is being harmed by a parent’s substance abuse.
- What contact the child should have with a parent.
A Gal’s role is defined by the scope of the order appointing the GaL. Sometimes the order is very broad and ambiguous. The GAL could be asked to look at the child’s overall situation and make general recommendations about things like parental rights. But usually, the Court will issue a “limited-purpose appointment.” This means they ask the GAL to look into just one or two issues like a parent’s record of substance abuse or a parent’s current ability to make rational decisions about a child’s care, based on a current mental health care provider’s information. Read the Order in your case to understand what issues the Court is asking the GAL to look at. It will sometimes name people the GAL needs to talk to.
After the GaL conducts their investigation they are supposed to issue recommendations in writing and to the parties. Often, however, GaLs fail to follow the statutory scheme for their role and duty and this gives rise to many conflicts and ways to attack the GaL and their recommendations. A GaL enjoys limited immunity. NM law sees a GaL as an extension of the court with limited liability for the recommendations they make. Moreover, unless the parties agree, a GaL does not have authority to make decisions. They can only make recommendations. Overall, the GAL must look at all the different factors that could affect the parent-child relationship. Then they make a recommendation. The GAL’s recommendation should protect the child’s right to have a meaningful, strong relationship with their parents, in a way that makes sense and is in the child’s “best interests.” Based on the recommendations a parent may like or hate what the GaL recommended. That is why it’s important to consult with a custody expert who has experience handling a GaL and their process.