In a divorce or other family law case, if the Judge finds that it is in the best interests of the minor child(ren) in the case, the Judge can appoint a “Guardian ad Litem”. Either party to the case can request that the Judge appoint a Guardian ad Litem, or your Judge on his or her own initiative can make the appointment. The literal meaning of the phrase “Guardian ad Litem” is guardian for the lawsuit, or guardian for the purposes of the legal action only.
A primary role of the Guardian ad Litem is to investigate the facts of the case for the Judge and report back to the Court – to talk with both parents and often the child(ren) and other important witnesses in the case. The types of case where Guardian ad Litems are appointed are cases where there is significant conflict between the parties regarding children’s issues and/or significant concerns regarding the well-being of the children. The Guardian ad Litem’s job is to act in the best interests of the child(ren) in reporting back to the Judge and making recommendations. The Guardian can obtain access to medical and other records, can request the court to order evaluations for the children or the parents, and can also assist with finding experts for examinations or evaluations.
The role of a Guardian ad Litem has also been described in Florida case law as “promoting society’s interest in protecting children from the traumas commonly associated with divorce and custody disputes.” This can suggest a somewhat more proactive role for a guardian ad litem in a case, in addition to reporting back to the Court. A guardian ad litem is not a mediator for the case, but a guardian can try to help to move the case to a positive result, keeping in mind their primary role of reporting back to the Judge regarding what they find and their recommendations.
Judges in family law cases usually place a lot of weight on the reports and recommendation of the Guardian ad Litem. The Judge will select the person to serve as the Guardian ad Litem, and the attorneys in the case can propose persons to serve – the person ultimately selected is usually chosen based on their reputation as someone who can provide well considered and valuable feedback to the Judge. The person appointed as a Guardian ad Litem must be either an attorney or someone certified by Florida’s Guardian ad Litem program or by a certified Legal Aid program (in cases involving founded allegations of child abuse, only a guardian certified by the State program or an attorney may be appointed). The State of Florida’s Guardian ad Litem program trains and certifies volunteers to serve as volunteer Guardian ad Litems in dependency case – cases where there are allegations of abuse, abandonment or neglect, for example where the Department of Children and Family Services is investigating an allegation of abuse and has removed a child from the parents’ home. If you are interested in serving as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, you can find more information by following this link to the Broward County Guardian ad Litem program website.
Although Guardian ad Litems serve as volunteers in Dependency cases, in family court cases – e.g. divorce and paternity cases, Guardian ad Litems are paid by the parties, unless the parents have limited income and a guardian agrees to serve for no fee (or a reduced fee). As part of an order appointing a Guardian ad Litem, your Judge will usually set the fee for the guardian’s services, and order what portion of the fee is to be paid by each parent.