Emotions can run pretty high in family law cases. This is especially true when a party is incapable of representing or looking after themselves during the proceedings, and decisions are being made about their future. Naturally, the Court’s job is to ensure that person always has someone looking after them, and this is where a guardian ad litem can help.
A guardian ad litem is legally appointed to represent a child or incapacitated person — known as the “ward.” They are not directly tied to the case but are tasked with performing a variety of duties necessary to determine a party’s best interests and advocate for their wishes. Family law cases where a court might appoint a guardian ad litem include adoption, divorce, cases involving visitation rights, CPS proceedings, emancipation of a minor child, and many more.
What is a guardian ad litem’s role?
Professionals who can serve as a guardian ad litem include a volunteer advocate from a charitable organization, counselor, social worker, or court-approved adult. An attorney can also be appointed and is known as an attorney ad litem. Regardless of who serves in the role, they owe the client complete loyalty and competent representation.
In child cases, the Texas Family Code has a list of powers and duties for a guardian ad litem.
Below are a few of them:
- Conduct investigations to determine the best interests of the child, including obtaining and reviewing copies of the child’s relevant medical, psychological, and school records as well as any other pertinent documentation.
- Hold interviews with the child and anyone who has significant knowledge of the child’s history and condition, including foster parents, educators, and child welfare providers.
- Seek out the child’s wishes and present them to the Court.
- Attend and participate in court proceedings and court-ordered mediation.
- Review and sign, or decline to sign, an agreed order affecting the child.
The bottom line is that child custody is a very complex topic, and great care should be taken in every case. From my experience, suits affecting the parent-child relationship are much more detailed and emotion-filled. It is fact-driven, and in some cases, can lead to the complete termination of a parent-child relationship.
Parents can request the appointment of a guardian ad litem if the circumstances of the case don’t already require it. If an appointment is not required, the Court has the discretion to approve — if having one is appropriate.
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