A Guardian Ad Litem, also known as GAL, is an individual that volunteers to serve abused and/or neglected children by advocating for the best interests of the children in court. GALs are trained, supervised, and supported by programs in all North Carolina counties. Attorneys can be GALs, but anyone can train to become a GAL as a community volunteer. The GAL will be appointed by a district court judge to investigate and determine the needs of abused and/or neglected children petitioned into the court system by the Department of Social Services. The role is mandated by North Carolina General Statute 7B-601.
A GAL volunteer’s primary responsibilities include:
- Looking for details in the case;
- Collaborating with other participants in the case;
- Recommending what is best for the children by writing court reports;
- Advocating for the children;
- Regularly monitoring the case;
- Keeping all information confidential.
These guardians are important because they advocate for children in vulnerable and/or dangerous situations. GALs serve as voices for children that are unable to advocate for themselves. Per the North Carolina Judicial Branch’s website, “the main qualification for becoming a GAL is to have a sincere concern for the well-being of children.” To learn more about how GALs are trained in North Carolina, visit www.volunteerforgal.org.
GALs may be appointed in particularly litigious child custody cases when parents disagree about what is best for their children. Upon request or of her own volition, a judge may decide to appoint a GAL to help her determine what custodial arrangement is in the best interests of the children.
Acting as the voice of the children, GALs serve on a case until a permanent plan is approved by the court. Courts can place a great deal of weight on the recommendations of a GAL and sometimes adopt the recommendations as part of the permanent custody order. However, the court is not obligated to follow the recommendations of a GAL. The parents of the children have the right to present evidence as to why the court should do something other than what the GAL has recommended. Our court system is designed to provide a voice for everyone involved.
In North Carolina, attorneys and other volunteers can train to become a GAL. However, there are different organizations that also work towards protecting the interests of children. One of these organizations is the Council for Children’s Rights (CFCR). The CFCR strives to improve the lives and futures of children in North Carolina through legal representation, individual advocacy, and by addressing community-wide issues through research and policy work. For example, the CFCR provides advocacy for children in the areas of child welfare, custody, delinquency, mental health, and special education. They also educate and train professionals, parents, and others who represent, work with, and care for children to become more effective advocates. When children are in the middle of a high-conflict situation or case, the CFCR stands with them and gives them a voice.
If you or someone you know may have a situation where any of the above-mentioned situations are involved, contact Hatcher Law Group for a consultation with an experienced family law attorney to understanding your rights and options moving forward.