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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What does the term "guardian ad litem" mean?
It is a legal term meaning guardian for the lawsuit. In other words, this is a
temporary guardian for the duration of the court process. A guardian ad litem is
not the same as a legal guardian. The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) has no control
over the person or property of the child and does not provide a home for the child.
Who can be a guardian ad litem?
The GAL is an advocate for the child's best interests. The GAL does not function
as the child's attorney and does not provide direct social services to the child.
Since the primary duty of the GAL is to represent the best interests of the child,
the most important qualifications for this job are life experience and good common sense. GALs must also have the ability to be objective, think independently and
work effectively with individuals from various cultures and backgrounds. People
from all walks of life have been successful GALs.
There are a variety of models in use in Minnesota courts for providing GAL
services. In the Hennepin and Ramsey County Juvenile Courts, guardians ad
litem are primarily volunteers--adults with a strong concern about the abused and
neglected children in our community. In other parts of the country, this model
for providing GAL services through volunteers is called Court Appointed Special
How are guardians ad litem selected and trained?
Prospective volunteers complete a written application. The screening process
also includes a personal interview, written references and a criminal record check.
There is a pre-service training program (offered several times during the year) to
help new GALs understand their role. Once training is completed, program staff
are available to answer questions and provide assistance on an on-going basis.
Why does a child need a guardian ad litem?
When the court is making decisions that will affect a child's furture, the child
needs and deserves a spokesperson--an objective adult to provide independent
information about the best interests of the child. While other parties in the case
are concerned about the child, they may have other interests. The GAL is the only
person in the case whose sole concern is the best interests of the child.
What are the duties of the guardian ad litem?
1. Information Gathering for the court
What has happened to the child
The current needs and circumstances of the child
2. Making Recommendations to the court
What the child needs to be safe
What treatment plans should be ordered for the child/family
What permanent resolution is in the best interests of the child
3. Monitoring Case Progress
What services are being provided
What progress is being made by the parents
What other issues need to be addressed
According to federal and Minnesota state law, all children whose parents may have abused or neglected
them must have a guardian ad litem
A child might also need a guardian ad litem if someone other than the child's parents (such as a relative) wants custody of the child.
How much time does a case take?
GALs spend approximately five hours per month on case related activities (60 hours per year per case). An eight-year GAL volunteer reviewed his records and provided the following snapshot of GAL volunteer activities:
Guardian ad Litem Activity Percentage of Time
Home visits and case meetings 60%
Court 8%: in hearings (2.5%) and waiting for hearings (5.5%)
In addition, the GAL rules currently require 40 hours of pre-service training and eight hours of continuing education annually.
Does the guardian ad litem go to court?
Yes! The GAL is expected to attend every court hearing and in some cases may be a witness. The GAL makes written or oral reports and recommendation. Attorneys
are available to provide advice and representation when cases become legally
complicated or contentious.
Does the judge really care what a guardian ad litem has to say?
Yes! Judges know their decision are only as good as the information they receive.
They count on GALs to be an independent voice. They know that GALs may have
more time to focus on specific cases. A GAL who can tell the court "I was there--
this is what I observed" can be invaluable.
Does a guardian ad litem ask the judge to do what the child wants?
No. The GAL should always listen to the child, and may report to the judge what
the child wants. In all cases, GALs must make their own recommendations as to
what will be best for the chid.
Does the guardian ad litem make decisions at court hearings?
No. The judge makes decisions after listening to everyone who took part in the
court hearing. Like the other people in the case, the GAL can only make requests
anc recommendations about what should happen.
How does a guardian ad litem decide what is best for the child?
The GAL talks with everyone who knows a lot about the child. This includes the
child, parents, relatives, foster parents, teachers, social workers, psychologists
doctors and others with important information. The GAL reads the reports written
about the child/family. Sometimes, the GAL will ask other professionals to help
the GAL learn about the child's needs. The GAL visits where the child lives and
where the child might go to live. The GAL also learns about the services available
for the child and family.
Does the child have to go to court, too?
Usually not--especially if the child is under age 10. Sometimes the child has to
be in the courtroom if specially requested. If a child is 10 or older, he or she has
the right to have a lawyer and participate in all the hearings. The GAL should find
out how the child feels about being in court--and may be asked to tell the judge.
The judge might question the child in chambers and the GAL might be asked to be
Who pays for the guardian ad litem?
The Juvenile Court Guardian ad Litem Program are part of the court budgets.
Parents are not charged for this service. The budget includes funding for paid
staff to recruit, screen, train and supervise the volunteers. There are also funds
to pay for legal advice and representation for the guardians ad litem and funds to
reimburse mileage and parking expenses.
Guardian ad Litem case examples
A two-year-old has had numerous admissions to the Emergency Room for
dehydration, dizziness, head contusions and abrasions. She also has a history of
anemia. The mother is low-functioning (general intelligence of a 12 year-old and
daily living skills of a nine year-old) and refers to her child using vulgarities. The
mother appears unable to separate her considerable needs from those of her child
Two children ages six and seven have been living with their father in his pickup
truck. They have not been to school for three weeks because they have been
driving around with dad while he drinks. When he gets angry he physically abuses
the children. Their mother lives in another state and has had no recent contact with
A family of adult sons, a teenage girl and three young children live with their
mother. The teenage girl is being sexually abused by the older adult brothers.
Mother knows but will not report because "you're not going to get my sons in
trouble". Mom told the teenager she would beat her if she told and warned he that
if she told anyone "they might as well keep you because I won't have you back".
The teenager told her story to a staff person at her school and the case was reported to child protection authorities. When contacted, the mother denied any abuse was occurring.
Four young children crying, scared and alone in a house with no food. An 11 year old is "in charge". Their one room apartment is infested with rats, roaches and dog feces. Mother and her live-in boyfriend use drugs in front of the children and have extensive criminal histories. The children are frequently left alone all night.
Two young children live with their parents at various shelters. Father drinks until
he falls asleep and cannot be awakened. Mother uses crack, heroin, has mental
health issues and prostitutes to support her habits. Parents periodically abandon
their children at shelters.