In this article, you will learn…
- What the purpose of a Guardian Ad Litem is,
- Who North Carolina appoints as Guardian Ad Litem, and
- If the court will accept recommendations for Guardian Ad Litem.
What Is The Purpose Of A Guardian Ad Litem?
The purpose of a Guardian Ad Litem is dependent on what role they’re serving in the court. The Guardian Ad Litem’s voice is used to protect whoever they’re representing in court and give them an ability to speak and express to the court what their needs are. Some examples of who may need a guardian ad litem are…
- Someone who suffers from mental health or cognitive impairment,
- A minor child who doesn’t have the ability or hasn’t reached the age where they can express themselves, or
- Someone who the court has found lacks the capacity to speak on their own behalf.
A Guardian Ad Litem can be appointed to substitute their judgment for what is in the best interest of that person. So, it’s very dependent on the circumstances and what the court finds is appropriate in those circumstances.
How Does North Carolina’s Ad Litem Program Work?
North Carolina’s Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) program only takes action when the Department of Social Services has filed a petition to do so. Usually, this is motivated by child abuse, neglect, or severe dependency, leaving the child without a suitable guardian in court.
Each child or other individual requiring a guardian is then assigned a volunteer Guardian Ad Litem, as well as an advising attorney (who will be working pro bono), who will represent their interest, and voice, in court.
The procedure for becoming such a guardian is relatively straightforward, though not everyone who applies will be accepted. After filling out an application, candidates for guardianship will need to have a criminal background check, undergo a screening interview to assess compatibility, and finish a 30-hour training course to prepare them for their duties.
The training program teaches future guardians about the juvenile court system (where most guardians are needed) as well as how to conduct their duties. These include conducting interviews and investigations with the child and/or family and community, writing reports and reviews, keeping records, as well as, of course, advocating for them in court.
While one can become a Guardian Ad Litem alongside a full-time job, most volunteers for the program will not have time to take on more than 1 or 2 cases.
What Is The Difference Between A Legal Guardian And A Guardian Ad Litem?
In North Carolina, a legal guardian is someone who is legally responsible for the well-being of a child (or other ward incapable of doing so themselves). They are the ones who will make decisions about the individual’s education, residency, healthcare, and financial concerns.
This duty is normally fulfilled by a child’s parents, who are their default legal guardian. Unfortunately in some tragic circumstances, they can no longer do so. For example, if they have passed away, they may have left instructions in their will for who should become the new legal guardian, or a court may have had to make that decision for them.
In other cases, such as child abuse, neglect, or severe substance abuse, social services may withdraw guardianship from one or both parents. Such decisions are never taken lightly, however, and often leave the child without a voice in the outcome or future court proceedings. This is when the court might seek a Guardian Ad Litem.
Unlike a legal guardian, a guardian ad litem (GAL) is not responsible for decision-making about the child or individual, instead, they merely act as their voice in court. They will listen to the child, interview and investigate members of their community and circumstances, and prepare a report on what is likely to be in the best interest of the child. These are volunteers from the community, often without any connection whatsoever to the child, who fulfill this much more limited but still important responsibility.
Who Does North Carolina Appoint As A Guardian Ad Litem?
North Carolina has a Guardian Ad Litem program that is designed specifically for allowing representation for minor children that are involved in an abuse neglect dependency case. It’s a very specific set of circumstances.
Otherwise, in any other case, North Carolina can employ any adult who is…
- 18 or older,
- Competent to represent the party, and
- Able to speak on the party’s behalf.
An attorney practicing in that particular county could be routinely appointed as the Guardian Ad Litem for various programs.
Does The Court Have To Follow The Guardian Ad Litem Recommendations?
A court is not bound by the recommendations of a Guardian Ad Litem. A Guardian Ad Litem often serves as an independent investigator for the court. The role of a Guardian Ad Litem is to…
- Gather information,
- Look into various claims and accusations,
- Do an independent analysis of the situation, and
- Offer recommendations to the core on the appropriate way to resolve a case.
Ultimately, however, it is with the judges to make the decision based on the facts, circumstances, and evidence that’s presented to them. They will use their own sound judicial discretion to make a determination as to the outcomes of a case.
When Is It Appropriate To Request A Guardian Ad Litem?
It is appropriate to request a Guardian Ad Litem when…
- There is high conflict in a child custody case and the minor child’s wishes are not being expressed,
- A party may be preventing a child from being able to express their wishes,
- There has been issues of domestic violence or child abuse and cases involving adults,
- The party is suspected to have a cognitive impairment, either in the way of mental health issues, intellectual disabilities, or physical impairments which impact their ability to think clearly.
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