Last Updated on January 6, 2023 by Benson Varghese
Hopefully, during divorce or child custody cases in Texas, both parents have their children’s best interests at heart. But sometimes, when there are bitter disagreements, the child is at risk of getting lost in the process.
That’s where a guardian ad litem comes in. A guardian ad litem, also referred to as a GAL, is a court-appointed professional who advocates for a child during a family law case. Their sole responsibility is to represent the “best interests” of a child.
In a Texas family law case, a parent is not presumed to be acting in the child’s best interest. Each parent has their own attorney who fights on their behalf. For example, a parent’s interests could be the opposite of their child’s best interests if the parent is trying to win primary custody (or conservatorship) but has never played a significant role in the child’s life. In this instance, the child’s best interest is likely better served by the other parent winning primary custody.
The guardian ad litem investigates the situation and recommends to the judge what is best for the child. In this article, we explain the role of a guardian ad litem in Texas and answer frequently asked questions.
What does guardian ad litem mean?
Ad litem translates to “for the suit” in Latin. The Texas Family Code defines a guardian ad litem as “a person appointed to represent the best interests of a child.” The position is often referred to as a GAL.
Who can serve as a Texas guardian ad litem?
According to Section 107.001 of the Texas Family Code, a guardian ad litem could include:
A. A volunteer advocate from a charitable organization described by Subchapter C below, which the court appoints as the child’s guardian ad litem;
B. A professional, other than an attorney, who holds a relevant professional license and whose training relates to the determination of a child’s best interests;
C. An adult having the competence, training, and expertise determined by the court to be sufficient to represent the best interests of the child; or
D. An attorney ad litem who was appointed to serve in the dual role.
Who does a guardian ad litem serve in Texas family law cases?
A guardian ad litem in a Texas family law case serves the child. He or she is appointed by the court to represent the best interest of a child. In a divorce or child custody case, any party or the judge can request that a guardian ad litem be appointed. An attorney can serve as guardian ad litem, but it’s not required that they be an attorney.
Texas requires court-appointed special advocates to serve as guardians ad litems in child custody cases, divorce, or Child Protective Services (CPS) cases.
A guardian ad litem provides an essential voice for the child when parents can’t agree.
Is a guardian ad litem considered an officer of the court?
Yes. A guardian ad litem in a Texas family law case is a designated officer of the court. That distinction means they must uphold the Texas constitution and appropriately perform in their capacity with a significant degree of respect for the other parties and the judge in the case. They must remain impartial in executing their duty.
The guardian ad litem is designed to be an entity that’s independent from either party. The GAL files a facts-based report to the court and offers their recommendations. The judge will review the GAL information, along with hearing testimony from both parents, before rendering a decision.
What does a guardian ad litem do outside the courtroom?
The guardian ad litem acts as the eyes and ears of the court outside of court. The guardian ad litem is tasked with making sure the judge is aware of the complete circumstances of the child. The guardian ad litem provides the judge with this information in an unbiased fashion after fairly examining both sides. The GAL recommends to the court what arrangement is best for the child. The family court order, in a case involving the care and custody of a child, includes the recommendations from the guardian ad litem.
Is guardian ad litem the same as an attorney ad litem?
No. The court appoints an attorney ad litem to act as legal counsel for all purposes. The attorney ad litem treats the child just as any retained attorney would treat their client and represents the child’s wishes.
A guardian ad litem is an officer appointed by the court to represent the child’s best best interests. They are not required to be an attorney. However, in some cases, the judge will appoint an attorney to act as both the guardian ad litem and the attorney ad litem.
How does a guardian ad litem determine what’s best for the child?
If the child is age 4 or older and capable of being interviewed, the guardian ad litem is likely to discuss with the child their preferences in the case. The child’s preferences, however, are not legally binding, and the guardian can recommend an alternative to the child’s request if the guardian believes it’s in the child’s best interest.
Guardian ad litems examine each possible custody arrangement during a case and attempt to find an arrangement that allows the child to have healthy and stable relationships with both parents unless abuse is involved
Who does the guardian ad litem interview during a case?
A guardian ad litem may interview anyone in the child’s life to get a comprehensive view of the child’s circumstances, including the parents and their abilities to care for the child. The GAL will likely review the child’s medical records and seek the child’s opinion on the matter if age appropriate. People who a guardian ad litem could interview during a case could include:
* The child (if age four or older)
* Family members
* Other witnesses
Are guardians ad litems paid in Texas?
Under the Texas Family Code, a guardian ad litem is entitled to reasonable compensation for services provided in the amount set by the court.
When does the guardian ad litem’s term end in Texas?
According to the Texas Family Code, the guardian ad litem’s term of appointment expires on the date the court appoints a guardian; appoints a successor guardian; or denies the application for the appointment of a guardian. If the court determines that continuation of the guardian ad litem is in the child’s best interest, the term could be extended by the judge.
Are guardians ad litems immune from civil liability?
Yes. Under Texas Family Code Sec. 1054.056, a guardian ad litem appointed “is not liable for civil damages arising from an action taken, a recommendation made, or an opinion given in the capacity of guardian ad litem.”
This does not apply, however, to an action taken, a recommendation made or an opinion given in the following circumstances:
* Conscious indifference or reckless disregard to the safety of another;
* Bad faith or with malice; or
* That is grossly negligent or wilfully wrongful.
Need help with a child custody case? Call us.
In Texas divorce and child custody cases, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The Varghese Summersett Family Law Group can help you through the process and will fight on your behalf. We have helped hundreds of Tarrant County residents through some of their most difficult days. We can help you, too. Call today to schedule a consultation with an experienced family law attorney at 817-900-3220.