A guardian ad litem (GAL) serves a very important role in Florida courts. They advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. GALs are especially important in family law cases. Read on to learn the basics of the guardian ad litem role in Florida’s court.
Guardian ad litem (GAL)
A guardian ad litem acts as a voice for an individual in court. A judge may decide that a guardian is needed for a few reasons. The most common reason to appoint or call in a GAL is because there are minors involved. Unfortunately, many times family law cases boil down to “he said/she said” situations. In these types of conflicts, the true needs of a child can go unspoken. This is where a guardian ad litem steps in. They seek out the truth, as well as determining what is in the best interests of the child. GALs can also be called in for individuals who are not legally competent, such as someone who is severely mentally ill or who does not have enough education to understand the legal process.
A ward is the person that is in care of the courts. This is the person that the guardian ad litem should be serving. As stated previously, the ward is typically a minor. A ward that is a minor often has no guardian to speak for them. However, the ward may still have a guardian in the picture, but the court has reason to believe the guardian(s) are not acting in the best interest of the ward.
In Florida, much of family law, especially cases with minors, is driven by acting in a child’s “best interest.” But what does this phrase really mean? The primary reason for a guardian ad litem is to voice the desires of their ward. However, there are times when what the ward wants and what is best for the ward do not match. This is especially common in abuse cases. A minor may not recognize their parent’s behavior as abuse, they just want their mom. A GAL has to use their best judgement to balance the truth of the situation and what the ward wants. This process is how they determine what acting in the best interest of the ward will look like.
The guardian ad litem process generally differs from county to county. Some counties make the court responsible for appointing someone. Other areas let the court decide if a GAL is needed, but the family finds the guardian themselves.
A GAL cannot be appointed if there is already a “personal representative, guardian of property, or trustee” serving their purpose. If a guardian is mistakenly appointed in a case such as this, they must inform the court and discharge themselves.
A guardian ad litem’s recommendation holds a great amount of weight in court. Because of this, the search for and appointment of a GAL should not be taken lightly. If you have any questions, contact your local family law attorney.