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What’s a Guardian Ad Litem’s Role in Family Law Cases in NJ?
To ensure that your children’s best interests are taken care of, New Jersey has established a unique position known as guardian ad litem (or GAL for short).
Making decisions about the lives of your loved ones can be difficult, especially when legal systems come into play. To ensure that your children’s best interests are represented fairly and accurately in family law disputes, New Jersey has established a unique position known as guardian ad litem (or GAL for short). We’re going to explain what this powerful role is along with how it works in New Jersey family court cases.
What’s a Guardian Ad Litem?
A guardian ad litem is a professional who’s appointed by the court to act on the part of a child in a divorce or custody case. The guardian ad litem doesn’t work for either parent and, instead, is there to serve the best interests of the child or children. The GAL will perform investigations as needed and evaluate the information that he or she uncovers in the analysis of the parenting situation and the child’s home life.
What’s NJRule 5:8B?
NJRule 5:8B is a section of the New Jersey Court Rules that specify when a family court can appoint a guardian ad litem. In this case, a GAL can be appointed any time custody or visitation is being argued in the family court system. The rule further defines who can be a GAL — generally, an attorney, social worker, or mental health worker, although other occupations may be used if the situation makes it necessary.
Why Would I Need a Guardian Ad Litem in My Family Law Case?
Oftentimes, the most contentious cases in family court are those that involve children and custody or visitation. To help with this and to ensure that the best interests of the child are taken into account, the court will sometimes appoint the guardian ad litem. The judge in the case will determine if a GAL is necessary, based on the context of that particular case.
The Difference Between Guard Ad Litem and Law Guardian in New Jersey
New Jersey legally recognizes two different classifications in family court — the guardian ad litem and the “law guardian.” There are a few substantial differences between the two terms. First, a law guardian is an attorney who can legally practice law in New Jersey. A guardian ad litem may be an attorney, but can also be a social worker or mental health professional.
The law guardian’s job is to “help [the child] express his wishes to the court” (N.J. STAT. §§ 9:6-8.23, 30:4C-15.4(b) (2004)). By contrast, a guardian ad litem doesn’t directly represent the child but is appointed on behalf of the child by the court.
A guardian ad litem can be appointed for any case involving custodial issues. A law guardian must be appointed if there are allegations of child abuse and/or neglect or if termination of a parent’s rights is being considered.
Qualifications for Serving as a Guardian Ad Litem in NJ
Although New Jersey Law (Section 5:8B) outlines specifically when a guardian ad litem can be assigned to a case, it doesn’t give a list of specific qualifications. It’s within the court’s discretion to appoint a suitable person to serve as GAL.
With that being said, a GAL can be an impartial attorney or also a social worker or mental health worker. If the court case involves allegations of child abuse or neglect, an attorney must be chosen to serve as a law guardian, not a guardian ad litem.
How to Appoint a GAL in Family Law Cases in NJ
Generally speaking, a judge will use his or her own discretion in choosing to appoint a guardian ad litem. This may be because the custody case is particularly contentious or when the child is old enough to express his or her own wishes in the case.
The two parties involved in the custody case can also request a GAL to be appointed to serve the best interests of the child. The GAL is usually chosen from a list of court-approved candidates.
The Guardian Ad Litem’s Responsibilities During Your Case
As we’ve said, a GAL is supposed to represent and express the best interests of the child at the center of a custody or visitation case. They aren’t legal counsel for the child. Instead, they’ll serve as a kind of investigator who’ll look into different aspects of the case and independently evaluate what would fulfill the child’s best interests.
Specifically, a guardian ad litem may:
- Interview the parents and children;
- Interview other individuals who may be pertinent to the case;
- Compile documents such as (but not limited to) school records, medical reports, and other information;
- Confer with the attorneys for both parents as well as the judge assigned to the case; and
- Confer with outside independent experts if necessary.
At the end of this process, the GAL will then compile a written report for the court’s review based on what they’ve learned and what they recommend. At this time, the court may also require each parent to pay a portion of the cost of the GAL’s services.
NJ Courts Are Set Up to Protect Children’s Interests
The New Jersey court system has determined that one of the best ways to protect a child is to ensure that he or she has an advocate who’s looking out for their best interests. That’s where the guardian ad litem comes in. The GAL will interview everyone involved and help the judge with recommendations of what would best benefit the child or children.
Contact the Experienced Family Law Attorneys at Smedley Law Group in Woodbury, NJ Today
If you’re thinking about filing for divorce, you’ll also most likely be dealing with another matter like child custody, child support, or division of assets, so you’ll need to speak with a qualified attorney. The New Jersey family law attorneys at Smedley Law Group represent clients throughout the state, including West Deptford, Woodbury Heights, Runnemede, and Westville. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we’ll fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 251-0800 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 750 Cooper Street, Woodbury, NJ 08096.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.