Guardian ad Litem
A Guardian ad Litem is a court-appointed child advocate who speaks for the child in contested cases. The GAL is a trained objective person who investigates the claims and makes recommendations to the court based on the child’s best interests. An Attorney ad Litem is a lawyer appointed by the Court to represent the child’s legal rights, such as issues involving the release of a child’s confidential records.
I was first trained and certified as a Guardian ad Litem in 1987 by the Guardian ad Litem Program of the 15th Judicial Circuit. At that time, the program provided GALs in the Juvenile, Criminal and Family divisions of the court. I took cases as a GAL volunteer in all of these divisions. In 1989, I was hired by the county as the first Program Attorney for the GAL Program in Palm Beach County. I was very proud to serve in that position. I helped to develop and implement a pro bono attorney program. I assisted the program director to develop and implement training programs for the GALs. I assisted with supervising the case managers. I handled litigation for the program, and was a liaison to other programs. It was such an exciting and fulfilling role. In 1991, though I continued to volunteer my time to the program both as a GAL and pro bono attorney, I left to engage in private practice.
When the county program could no longer provide volunteer GALs to the family division in the mid-2000’s, it was left up to the private community of attorneys and mental health care providers to serve as court appointed GALs in divorce cases. I have served as GAL to many children whose parents in family division cases claim abuse or neglect by the other parent. I was a member of the Florida Bar Family Law Section’s Ad Hoc Guardian ad Litem Committee, which worked for more than two years creating a training and certification program for Family Division Guardian ad Litems, which was made available in 2012. I have also served on several occasions as a GAL for a child in the Probate Division.
Attorney ad Litem
An Attorney Ad Litem is appointed by the court in a case to serve as a child’s lawyer. It is a very different role from the Guardian ad Litem. The GAL must be objective and only serve a child’s best interests. An AAL represents the child as a lawyer, and the child is the client. While there are many reasons the court may appoint an AAL, often in family division cases it is because a parent wants to use a child’s psychological records in a court proceeding. I have served as an AAL many times and I have been surprised by how mature and thoughtful children are when their parents are in conflict.