What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian Ad Litem, often called a "GAL," is an independent third party appointed by the Court to become involved in a custody dispute to advance the minor child or children's best interests. The GAL is usually an attorney or a mental health professional and must have completed specific training required by the Connecticut Judicial Branch. The GAL is typically expected to make recommendations that are carefully considered by the Court and often help facilitate settlement of complicated custody issues.
What is an Attorney for the Minor Child?
An Attorney for the Minor Child, often called an "AMC," is an independent attorney appointed as legal counsel for a minor child. Like a GAL, an AMC must complete comprehensive training provided by the Connecticut Judicial Branch. While the AMC is appointed to represent and advance the minor child's legal position, an AMC must also consider the child's best interests when fulfilling their duties.
What is the difference between a Guardian Ad Litem and an Attorney for the Minor Child?
Although the GAL is often a lawyer, the GAL does not provide legal representation for either of the parties or the children involved in a case. The GAL's role is to represent to the Court what is in the best interests of the minor child(ren). An AMC is specifically appointed by the Court to advocate for the child and represent the child's wishes.
No privilege exists regarding communications between the GAL and the child or the GAL and the parties. In fact, the GAL's entire file is often discoverable and subject to examination. The GAL may be a witness in any Hearings and Trial and testify about things that the child and the parties said.
On the other hand, communications between the AMC and the child are privileged. An AMC will not testify as a witness but can examine witnesses at a Trial or Hearing on behalf of the minor child.
How do I know if I need a GAL or AMC in my custody case?
Not every divorce or custody case requires the appointment of a GAL or an AMC. In cases where there is a custody-related dispute or a parenting plan dispute that cannot be resolved by the parties, the Court may appoint a GAL to perform any of the following functions, and more:
- Investigate facts necessary to make recommendations to the Court regarding the children's best interests;
- Communicate with the parties;
- Communicate with the children;
- Conduct home visits;
- Confer with Family Services;
- Review all files and records, including: (i) Court files; (ii) DCF records; (iii) Police reports; (iv) Medical records; (v) Treatment and counseling records; (vi) Mental health records; (vii) Work records; and (viii) Educational records;
- Confer with teachers and other school authorities;
- Confer with professionals;
- Participate in the creation of a parenting plan;
- Report to the Court as requested or as deemed necessary; and
- Facilitate settlement of disputes.
The individual case circumstances will often dictate whether it is a GAL or an AMC appointed. The Court will consider the necessary information to advance the case and which professional assignment will best meet those needs. The child's age and maturity will also be a factor in determining whether a GAL or AMC will be appointed. It is possible to have a GAL and an AMC involved in a case simultaneously because they have two distinct roles.
How do I get a GAL or AMC appointed for my child?
There are three ways that a GAL or AMC becomes appointed in a custody case. First, the parties agree to the appointment and ask the Court to approve and order it. Second, one party requests a GAL or an AMC be appointed (in which case there will be a Court Hearing regarding the appointment). Third, a Court determines that a GAL or AMC is necessary in the case.
The parties pay the fees of the GAL and/or AMC. The Court will establish the initial retainer amount and the hourly fee at the time of appointment. If the parties cannot agree on an appropriate payment arrangement, the Court will make an order after reviewing the parties' financial circumstances.
Connect with One of Our Experienced New Canaan Divorce Lawyers Today
At The Family Law Firm of Healy + Eliot, we know the family law cases we handle are not just about money but also about our clients and their families' well-being. Attorney Healy is a certified Guardian ad Litem, who diligently promotes the best interests of minor children in custody cases. Attorney Healy makes a point of providing sensitive advice and counsel to the individuals she represents, knowing that they require her assistance at a critical time in their lives. To schedule an in-person or virtual appointment with one of our New Canaan divorce lawyers, please call 203-652-8018 or complete our online contact form.