Guardian Ad Litem Services for Alabama Juvenile Family Court

Underage children who are involved in family court matters pertaining to child custody,  protection from abuse, paternity, adoption, and other issues have a right to have someone in the courtroom who will protect their interests first and foremost.

Alabama law provides that, when necessary, family court judges will appoint a specially trained attorney known as guardian ad litem (GAL) to look out for the best interests of the child. The guardian ad litem will exercise independent judgment on behalf of the child.

Our state-certified guardians ad litem at Leigh Daniel Family Law in Huntsville, Alabama, serve as advocates for the best interests of children and other wards of the court who are unable to understand what is in their own best interests when facing legal decisions.

The guiding principle of Leigh Daniel Family Law is that we work with family members as they seek to make major, positive changes in their lives. Our family law firm prides itself on staying focused on our client’s best interests in divorce cases. As guardians of a child or a person considered legally incompetent or incapacitated, our charge is to advocate for that client’s best interests.

Our attorneys work, as appropriate for the client’s age and capabilities, to explain the decision-making process, ensure the client is informed of the purpose of each family court proceeding, and explain what is expected to happen before, during, and after each family court hearing.

To consult with an experienced guardian ad litem serving Alabama, call (256) 551-0500

Child Custody and Visitation Rights

In Alabama, child custody agreements are expected to meet the best interests of the child. But in a contested divorce case, the child may get caught in the middle. When child custody is disputed, the court will consider:

  • The child’s age and health.
  • Each child’s current state of emotional development.
  • Which parent has been their primary caregiver.
  • How well each parent has cared for the children.
  • The relationship the children have with the parents and each parent’s family.
  • Where they might live and go to school.
  • Which parent takes care of such things as teacher conferences and doctor’s visits.
  • The willingness of each parent to work with the other and to do what is best for the children.
  • The children’s preferences if the children are old and/or mature enough to voice an opinion.
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Leigh Daniel, Attorney At Law as Guardian ad Litem

We assume the role of guardian ad litem when asked by the court to make recommendations about the best interests of underage children and other wards of the court who are unable to make decisions for themselves. Whether we are working as your child’s guardian ad litem or providing legal representation to you in dealing with a guardian ad litem, our law firm’s guiding principle is to help families as they make major changes in their lives.

Upon assignment to a child, we investigate the circumstances of the child’s case and confer with others who know the child, such as the child’s teachers, family members, and other social services professionals. While advocating for a child, a guardian ad litem explains in a manner appropriate for the child’s age and capabilities what the purpose of each family court hearing is and what is likely to happen before, during, and after each session of court. The guardian also advises and makes recommendations to the judge about the child’s needs.

If you are pursuing a family law issue in Alabama courts and need a better understanding of the role of a guardian ad litem assigned to represent your child, contact Leigh Daniel Family Law to schedule a consultation with a knowledgeable attorney.

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

A family law court may appoint a guardian ad litem to protect the interests of a child or ward involved in a legal action if the ward is unable to make decisions for himself or herself.

In most cases, a guardian ad litem is assigned to an underage child whose parents are divorcing. An adult with intellectual challenges or an elder who has become incapacitated may be a ward of the court and appointed a guardian ad litem.

The Role of Guardianship in Family Law

A guardian ad litem assigned to a child involved in a divorce is required to investigate to determine what would be best for the child and make a written recommendation to the court. To do so, the attorney will meet with the children multiple times to establish a bond with them, talk to them, and learn about their needs, interests, and desires. The investigation will also include interviewing the parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends of the parents, and the children’s teachers, coaches, and counselors.

The GAL also has the right to gather all documents required to make decisions, such as school records, medical records, mental health records, and reports by law enforcement agencies. They will also review all pleadings, notices, and depositions filed in connection with the divorce. If there is testimony pertaining to issues in dispute, such as child custody and visitation, the guardian has the right to cross-examine witnesses. The guardian may file motions to alter child custody or visitation arrangements.

When children are old enough to speak to the court, the GAL cannot tell them what to say but may tell them what the judge might ask them and answer any questions about the decision-making process. The guardian may advise the judge presiding in juvenile family court as to the child’s perspective and whether the child should be consulted.

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Cases of Child Abuse and Neglect

In every case involving an abused or neglected child that results in a judicial proceeding, Alabama law requires the appointment of an attorney to act as independent legal counsel to represent the rights, interests, welfare, and well-being of the child and serve as guardian ad litem. The GAL is to take part in all court proceedings with primary responsibility for protecting the interests of the child.

Dependency law protects children from abuse and neglect. A juvenile judge who hears allegations involving child abuse and neglect may make a finding of dependency if the family juvenile court determines a parent is not taking proper care of a child. The juvenile court judge will appoint a guardian ad litem to serve as an advisor to the court in cases involving juvenile dependency or termination of parental rights.

The duties of the guardian ad litem include:

  • Meeting with the child prior to court hearings and when apprised of emergencies or significant events affecting the child
  • Explaining in terms understandable to the child what is expected to happen during each court hearing
  • Conducting an independent investigation
  • Advocating for appropriate services for the child and the family
  • Attending all scheduled court hearings and filing all necessary pleadings to facilitate the best interests of the child.
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Specific Duties and Responsibilities

A guardian ad litem assigned to a child involved in a divorce must make a written recommendation to the court as to what would be best for the child. The GAL is expected to:

  • Investigate to determine the facts of the assigned case, the juvenile’s needs, and the resources available within the family and community to meet those needs.
  • Recommend what is best for the child in written reports for the court.
  • Offer evidence and explore options with the court at hearings.
  • Keep the child informed about the case and court proceedings, ensure that the court knows the child’s wishes, and facilitate the child’s participation in court hearings as appropriate.
  • Conduct follow-up investigations to ensure that the orders of the court are being properly executed.
  • Report to the court when the needs of the child are not being met.
  • Protect and promote the best interests of the child until formally relieved of the responsibility by the court.
  • Constantly monitor the case.
  • Keep all information confidential.

The guardian ad litem has access to all documents needed to make decisions, such as school records, medical records, mental health reports, and law enforcement agency files. They also review all pleadings, notices, and depositions filed in a divorce case or family law matter.

The guardian attends hearings and can cross-examine witnesses who testify about issues in dispute, such as child custody and visitation plans. The guardian may file motions to influence the court’s final orders.

Paternity and Legal Fatherhood

A judge conducting a pre-trial hearing in a paternity case in Alabama is to evaluate the probability of determining the existence of the father-and-child relationship in a trial and whether a judicial declaration of the relationship would be in the best interest of the child.

The child who is the subject of a paternity case may be made a party to the legal filing and may be represented by a guardian ad litem appointed by the court.

A child’s guardian ad litem may recommend to the court that the action is not in the child’s best interests. Conversely, the GAL may initiate a petition for the court to declare the existence or nonexistence of the father-and-child relationship, if this is in the child’s best interests.

In the pre-trial hearing, the judge may recommend a settlement that includes any of the following:

  • That the action be dismissed with or without prejudice
  • That the alleged father, the mother, and the child come to a compromise agreement
  • That the alleged father voluntarily acknowledges his paternity of the child.

If any of the three parties object to the judge’s recommendation, and blood and genetic tests have not been done, the court can then require the parties to submit to genetic tests, if practicable. Based on the test results, the judge is to make an appropriate final recommendation. If any party refuses to accept the final recommendation, the case goes before a trial judge. In this case, the GAL will continue to advise and assist their underage client. in the legal proceedings.

The Appointment Process for a Guardian ad Litem

The court typically appoints a lawyer to serve as a guardian ad litem and offer recommendations in situations where decisions must be made regarding the health and welfare of a child or disabled adult.

When appointing a guardian ad litem for a child in Alabama, a family law court must appoint an attorney licensed by the state bar. The GAL must have at least six hours of training in specific topics relevant to the welfare of underage children, including criminal law, civil law, child abandonment, and neglect.

Call or text (256) 551-0500 or submit our Consultation Request form today

Role in Influencing Court Decisions on Child Welfare

The GAL speaks for the child and may advise the court that the child should be allowed to speak on their own behalf. The GAL cannot tell a child what to say but may tell their client what the judge is likely to ask them.

The guardian ad litem must maintain their objectivity and exercise independent judgment. A guardian ad litem is not the child’s attorney and, therefore, advocates for the best interests of the child rather than working to achieve the child’s preferences. However, the guardian ad litem must make sure the child’s opinions and feelings are made known to the court, even if they are inconsistent with the guardian’s recommendations.

Common Misunderstandings and Misconduct: What a Guardian ad Litem Cannot Do

The guardian ad litem’s role in a divorce, adoption, paternity hearing, or other family law cases is to see that the child’s best interests are taken into account The guardian ad litem cannot:

  • Represent the parents or social work agencies. The guardian conducts an independent investigation and makes recommendations to the court.
  • Act as a witness. The guardian ad litem must submit written reports and advise the court but does not give testimony.
  • Offer hearsay evidence. While the guardian will draw upon interviews with the child’s teachers, coaches, and counselors, their statements are not to be repeated in written or oral reports to the court. The guardian ad litem’s statements are to be based on their own observations and opinions.
  • Violate rules of evidence or ethics. The guardian ad litem must conduct themselves in court subject to the same evidentiary rules that bind all attorneys. In addition to abstaining from offering hearsay evidence, they are to authenticate documents and refrain from asking leading questions when examining a witness unless there is a proper reason to do so. The guardian ad litem must follow all ethical rules that apply to attorneys.

Talk to Leigh Daniel Family Law About a Guardian Ad Litem

Leigh DanielIf a guardian ad litem who is NOT a Leigh Daniels Family Law attorney has been appointed to assist a child in a legal action you are involved in, we can prepare you for the GAL interview and document requests during the proceedings. We recommend such a briefing because a GAL has the right to use any information you provide in their reports and recommendations to the court.

Leigh Daniel Family Law can help you understand the process and prepare you for a meeting with the guardian. The guardian ad litem will seek information from you that they will have the right to use in their reports and recommendations to the court.

Call today or fill out a contact form online to schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced family law attorney.