Sometimes, during a PA custody case, the court will appoint a Guardian ad litem ("GAL") to the case. A GAL is appointed to represent the best interest of the child. Basically, the GAL is the child's advocate. The GAL also functions as a caseworker for the child. The GAL will observe the child and report any findings back to the court just like a caseworker in a dependency case would do.
Once a GAL is appointed by a PA Family Court, he or she will meet with the child as soon as possible, and several times thereafter as the GAL deems appropriate. The GAL will participate in all court proceedings and will be given access to any and all documentation that is necessary to carry out the responsibilities. The GAL will also conduct his or her own investigations as to any claims made during the case.
The GAL will make recommendations to the court as to the best interest of the child. These recommendations will take into account the safety of the child, as well as any educational, medical, or emotional needs the child has. It is also the GAL's responsibility to explain to the child everything that is happening to the best of his or her ability. Because the GAL also functions as the child's legal representative, the GAL should keep the child informed. The GAL should similarly keep the court informed of the child's wishes during the course of a proceeding.
Having a Pennsylvania GAL work on a case can be a great asset. However, it can also be very confusing for the parties to fully understand the role of the GAL. As always, it is a good idea to have legal representation during any custody matter. For more information on GAL roles in PA, or to speak to an attorney about a custody case, contact our office.