What is a Guardian Ad Litem and What is the Guardian’s Role in Family Law Cases?

Family law in Arizona is designed to do many things. Family law provisions establish the requirements for marriage, the rules for how married couples share property, and the requirements for dissolving a marriage.  Much of the body of family law in Arizona is also focused on the protection of children.  There are rules for a child’s care, for adopting a child, for waiving parental rights, for determining custody, and for determining support. 

Unfortunately, while there are lots of laws aimed at protecting children, it can still be hard for children to have a voice in court or to assert their rights. Children cannot typically hire lawyers, file court cases, or act aggressively to assure their interests. While they can sometimes count on parents to be their advocates in court, there may be situations where there is a conflict of interest or where a parent cannot fully and adequately act as a child’s representative in a court proceeding.  When there are situations where it is important to ensure a child has an advocate, a guardian ad litem can and should be appointed.

There are some times when a guardian ad litem is required, and other situations where it is not necessarily required for a child to have a guardian ad litem but where a court will feel it is appropriate for someone to be the child’s advocate.  Parents may also believe that they need a guardian ad litem appointed to look out for their child’s interests. A Scottsdale, AZ family law attorney at Singer Pistiner, P.C. can provide assistance and advice to parents in petitioning for a guardian ad litem to be appointed. If there already is a guardian ad litem involved in your family court case, we’ll also help you to understand what this means for you and your child and to make an informed decision about how to work with the guardian ad litem to ensure the best outcome for you and your kids.

What is a Guardian Ad Litem under Arizona Family Law?

Arizona Revised Statute section 8-531(7) provides the definition of guardian ad litem.  According to the relevant section of the law: “Guardian ad litem” means a person appointed by the court to protect the interest of a minor or an incompetent in a particular case before the court.”

A guardian ad litem is not the child’s legal guardian. The guardian ad litem doesn’t provide day-to-day care for the child or make decisions on the child’s behalf. Instead, the role of the guardian ad litem is to get to know the child and family and to make a comprehensive assessment of the child’s situation. The guardian ad litem represents and speaks for the child’s interests during court proceedings and is solely focused on helping the judge to make decisions that are in the child’s best interests. A guardian ad litem can also act on behalf of a disabled adult in a court case as well as acting on behalf of a child.

A guardian ad litem must be appointed by the court when a child is accused of a criminal offense and his or her case is being adjudicated in juvenile court. If a child is in foster care, a guardian ad litem must be appointed.  If a child is in need of protective services or if a child has been neglected, it is also required that a judge appoint a guardian ad litem.

There are other situations where a judge may appoint a guardian ad litem, but does not have to do so. For example, if parents are involved in a custody dispute, this is a situation where a guardian ad litem may be appointed. In this situation, the parents each have their own lawyers looking out for them and making arguments on their behalf and the child may need an advocate that is solely focused on what is right for him.  While a guardian ad litem is not appointed in all custody cases, it can be beneficial when the dispute is especially contentious.

When a guardian ad litem is involved in a family court case, the guardian ad litem spends time with the child, parents, and other relevant parties and issues a report to a judge providing information about factors used to make decisions on the child’s future. The guardian ad litem will typically make recommendations to the judge in a written report.

How Can an Arizona Family Law Attorney Help When a Guardian Ad Litem is Involved in Your Case?

Singer Pistiner, P.C. knows the Arizona family law rules for when a guardian ad litem is appointed and for how to petition for a guardian ad litem in your particular case. We can also help you to work with a guardian ad litem that is involved in your legal proceedings. To learn more about the assistance that we offer, give us a call at (480) 418-7011 or contact us online.

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