Often when parents of children file paperwork with the court system for custody and visitation of their minor children, one of the first pieces of paperwork they receive in return is a Notice of Appointment of a guardian ad litem, or GAL. Their next question is almost always “What is a guardian ad litem?”
A GAL is a licensed attorney who has been qualified by the Virginia State Bar and appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of the child or children in a pending case. In custody and visitation cases, this means the GAL interviews the child, interviews the parents of the child and other caregivers, reviews relevant medical and social histories for the children, and interview sany other person with knowledge of the case and child (for example, teachers, doctors, therapists, etc.
For a full list of Guardian ad litem duties and responsibilities, please see http://www.courts.state.va.us/courtadmin/aoc/cip/programs/gal/children/gal_performance_standards_children.pdf. It is important to note that unlike some states, the GAL in Virginia advocates for the best interests of the child based upon their investigation. A child’s best interests may or may not be what the child wants, which is an important distinction to note, although a GAL must take into account the reasonable preference if any of the child.
If a GAL has been appointed to your case, it is important to share with them any concerns you have regarding your child, and to cooperate with any request for information the GAL may make. If you are represented by an attorney, make sure to let the GAL know as soon as possible.