When court proceedings involve children, Guardians ad litem (GAL) and Lawyer Guardians ad litem (L-GAL) may be involved. Though these names are similar, the roles they describe are different in many important respects. Attorney Sean Blume is qualified to serve as both a GAL and an L-GAL, and has worked with families as he served in both roles as they worked through their complicated family dynamics.
A Guardian ad litem is a person appointed by the court to help the court identify what would be in the best interests of a child (or another person who is not legally competent, such as an adult with profound developmental disabilities). The GAL is a neutral, objective actor whose role is to collect information relevant to the question of a child’s best interests, and report that information to the court and the parties’ attorneys.
Not every family law case involving children requires the services of a GAL; those that do often involve either contentious custody matters, or allegations of abuse or neglect. But either party in a case can make a motion requesting that the court appoint a GAL in the case, or the court is able to appoint a GAL on its own initiative in a Circuit Court matter regarding a child. (In matters involving legal incapacity of a party other than a child, the Probate Court may also need to appoint a GAL.) In a divorce or custody matter, one or both parents may be ordered to pay for the GAL’s services.
Those services may include meeting with the child regularly, interviewing the parents and other important adults in the child’s life, reviewing medical, counseling, and school records, and speaking with therapists, doctors, and other professionals who treat the child. The GAL typically provides the court with a written report summarizing their findings and possibly making recommendations. A GAL may also be examined or cross-examined on the stand as to their findings. A GAL must be a competent adult, but need not be a lawyer. That said, most GALs are attorneys.
As the name suggests, an L-GAL must be an attorney. But the difference between a GAL and an L-GAL extends beyond the qualifications for the role. Unlike a GAL, whose function is to serve the court, an L-GAL has an obligation only to the child.
Because the L-GAL is effectively the child’s attorney, anything that the child communicates to the L-GAL is subject to attorney-client privilege, and an L-GAL cannot be cross-examined.
An L-GAL may be appointed at any point during a custody proceeding if the court finds that the child’s best interests are not being adequately represented in the case. An L-GAL can even be appointed over the objection of a party to the case. The Michigan Juvenile Code also requires that an L-GAL be appointed for any minor child subject to a proceeding in juvenile court.
Attorney Sean Blume has spent the better part of his career advocating on behalf of children. In addition to his decades as a family law attorney, early in his career he headed up programs that helped children aging out of foster care make the transition to independence as young adults. He also spent four years as a full-time L-GAL, working at Lincoln Juvenile Hall of Justice in Detroit, representing children in abuse, neglect, and juvenile crime matters.
At Blume Law Group, the well-being of children is of paramount concern to us. If you have further questions regarding the roles of GALs and L-GALs in the court system, we invite you to contact our office.