A guardian ad litem in Pennsylvania must be a state licensed attorney who represents the child in a child custody matter. Pennsylvania Statute (23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5334) defines when and how a Guardian ad litem is appointed, the powers and duties of a guardian ad litem, as well as other responsibilities of a guardian ad litem in a child custody matter. Specifically, the guardian ad litem is charged with the representation of the legal interests and the best interests of the child during the child custody proceeding.
Appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem
The court may, on its own motion, or the motion of a party, appoint a guardian ad litem that will represent the child in the child custody action. The court may assess the cost of appointing a guardian ad litem against both parties or only one of the parties. The guardian who is appointed must be an attorney at law.
Powers and Duties of a Guardian Ad Litem
The Guardian ad Litem's duty is to represent the best interests of the child in the custody matter. Under PA Law, the Guardian shall:
(1) Meet with the child (if the child is of appropriate age and maturity level) as soon as possible following the appointment and thereafter on a regular basis;
(2) Be given timely access to all relevant court records, reports of examination of the parents or other custodian of the child and medical, psychological and school records;
(3) Participate in all proceedings involving the child;
(4) Conduct all necessary investigations to ascertain all relevant facts for presentation to the court;
(5) Interview potential witnesses, which may include the child's parents and caretakers. The guardian may examine as well as cross-examine witnesses and present witnesses and evidence necessary to protect the best interests of the child;
(6) Make specific recommendations in a written report to the court relating to the best interests of the child, including any services necessary to address the child's needs and safety. The court shall make the written report part of the record so that it may be reviewed by the parties. The parties may file with the court written comments regarding the contents of the report. The comments filed by the parties shall also become part of the record.
(7) Explain the proceedings to the child to the extent appropriate given the child's age, mental condition and emotional condition.
(8) Advise the court of the child's wishes to the extent that they can be ascertained and present to the court whatever evidence exists to support the child's wishes. When appropriate because of the age or mental and emotional condition of the child, determine to the fullest extent possible the wishes of the child and communicate this information to the court. A difference between the child's wishes and the recommendations in paragraph 6 above shall not be considered a conflict of interest for the guardian.
Guardians may also be appointed in situations where substantial allegations of abuse of the child are made.
If you have questions regarding guardians ad litem in a Pennsylvania child custody case, contact our custody attorneys at Lisa Marie Vari & Associates today.