Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Advocating for Children: the Role of the Guardian Ad Litem

In cases involving custody and parenting time, the Court will often appoint a Guardian ad litem (GAL) for the minor children.  What is a GAL?  Blacks Law dictionary defines a GAL as a "guardian appointed to prosecute or defend a suit on behalf of a party incapacitated by infancy or otherwise."  Indiana statutes give courts the authority to appoint GALs in paternity, dissolution and guardianship cases to represent the interests of the minor children that are the all too often the subject at issue in those cases. 

Generally speaking, the GAL's role is two-fold: first, to be a voice for the minor child, and second, to investigate the case and make recommendations regarding the child's best interests.  Through interviews with the child, the GAL can learn what the child knows about the ongoing litigation, what the child has observed of the parties' behavior, and what the child wishes with regard to custody or parenting time, and the GAL can communicate what he or she has learned by submitting a written report to the court and through testimony at a hearing.  This role is critical in that it prevents children from experiencing the trauma of testifying or being interviewed by a judge. Moreover, the GAL is uniquely situated to interact with all of the parties and gather facts that might not otherwise come into evidence, and in my experience, judges are extremely appreciative of the information provided by the GAL.

GALs are generally volunteers who give their time to advocate for children in our courts.  In Marion County, there are two organization charged with recruiting, training, and providing volunteer GALs for family law cases: Kids' Voice of Indiana and Child Advocates.  Both organizations are non-profits and their employees work diligently to serve the needs of children involved in litigation in this county. Volunteering as a GAL is a rewarding experience, and as a family law attorney, I found that volunteering gave me a new perspective on how I handle my cases.  It is all too easy to wrapped up in litigation, in winning and losing, but GALs make sure that children don't get lost in the mix.  If you are looking for a charitable cause or need something to do with your time, I encourage you to volunteer as a GAL and help give kids a voice.

3 comments:

  1. There is also a lesser known third GAL organization -- and in-house volunteer GAL program at the Marion County Juvenile Court that offers Guardian ad Litem services to youth experiencing juvenile delinquency matters. You can learn more here: http://www.galvolunteers.weebly.com

    Jessica has been of great assistance in our program and has made a positive difference in the lives of the children she has served!

    Speaking of Jessica, I'm currently in need of a GAL for a CHINS conflict case involving a parent who needs the assistance of a GAL in signing adoption consents -- if you would be interested in helping out with this case please let me know!

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