GAL (Guardian Ad Litem)

The Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) has been around for centuries. A Guardian Ad Litem is a child representative in court matters, especially matters involving family law. Courts have utilized the expertise of a GAL in matters where incompetent individuals or a child was named a party and either the presumed legal guardian had an interest which was unfavorable or there was no presumed natural guardian.

In the above instances the use of a GAL is a positive, but the way GALs were appointed and the confusion surrounding the growth of the role has caused many different opinions on the actual role of a GAL and what the GAL is supposed to do. This has become an issue for attorneys to fix and ensure their orders state precisely the job/role of a GAL.

According to Joseph G. Stafford, GALs are defined in 5 different ways:

  1. As the child’s attorney, with the GAL being a committed advocate for their client
  2. As an independent advocate for a child, elder, or mentally incompetent adult, with the definition of advocate varying wildly
  3. Court-appointed investigators, tasked with evaluating the facts of the case and providing the court with a recommendation on what parent should receive custody
  4. An actual party to the dissolution of marriage who acts in the best interests of a child, which differs from the GAL in the role of the child’s attorney
  5. Some sort of facilitator or mediator

Keeping in mind these definitions of a GAL, a GAL may combine some of the 5 different roles and can serve as an expert witness in some instances.

The issue arises from there being no standard or defined role of the GAL. Many states have attempted to fix the confusion surrounding the role of a GAL. However, the solutions are ineffective at the state level.

Family law is an area that is left to the states. Congress has little to do with family law, but it is not unheard of for Congress to step in when there are issues between the states as to conformity of laws. Having a set standard role of what a GAL could be very helpful, but until then Michigan and its attorneys will need to continue detailing the GAL role.

For more information, please see article “Defining the Role of the Guardian Ad Litem” by Joseph G. Stafford, Family Lawyer Magazine, Fall 2021.

The attorneys at Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates are experienced attorneys who change with the times to meet the needs of their clients. Contact the Milford, Michigan law office of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-676-1000 for assistance.  Or contact our new location in Alexander City, Alabama at 800-809-9414. The attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates practice law throughout Southeastern Michigan primarily including Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, Genesee and Livingston counties. In Alabama Kathryn practices in primarily Lee, Tallapoosa, Lee, Macon, Chambers, Coosa and Elmore Counties.