Guardian ad litem

In some high-conflict family law cases, a Guardian ad Litem needs to be appointed to objectively represent the best interests of the child(ren) to the court. Such an appointment is authorized by New Jersey Court Rule 5:8(b).

Although a Guardian ad Litem is often an attorney, they do not represent either party or the child. Rather, they serve as an independent fact-finder to assist the court in making a decision in a case that serves the best interest of the child. They are the “eyes and ears” of the court. The Guardian can be requested by either party in the case or appointed by the judge. It is ultimately up to the judge whether to grant a request to appoint a Guardian ad Litem.

Duties of a Guardian ad Litem

Partner Melissa M. Ruvolo serves as a Guardian ad Litem for children throughout North and Central New Jersey in divorce, custody, and Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) matters. Her duties include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Interviewing the child(ren);
  • Interviewing the parties;
  • Conferring with the parties’ attorneys and the judge;
  • Conferring with other experts involved in the case;
  • Meeting with all necessary professionals working with the child(ren);
  • Meeting with other adults in the child’s life who can provide information relevant to the issue(s) at hand;
  • Analyzing all relevant evidence;
  • Obtaining relevant documentary evidence;
  • Obtaining the assistance of a lawyer for the child, with the Court’s permission; and/or
  • Preparing a comprehensive report for the judge.

When a Guardian ad Litem May Be Needed

A Guardian ad Litem may be appointed for various purposes. For example, the Guardian’s job may be to help the judge determine the best custody and/or parenting time arrangement for the children involved. ( Best Interest Evaluators are used to assist with this determination as well.) A Guardian ad Litem may also be tasked with investigating narrower issues such as whether parenting time should be supervised, whether one parent has alienated the child against the other parent, or which school a child should attend.

Understanding the Role of a Guardian ad Litem

Sometimes, a court also appoints a lawyer to represent the child in addition to, or instead of, a Guardian ad Litem. It is common to confuse the role of a child’s attorney with the role of a Guardian ad Litem, but their responsibilities are very different. The purpose of a child’s attorney is to represent and advocate for what that child wants. A Guardian ad Litem’s job is to represent the child’s best interests (regardless of what that child claims to want) by conducting a neutral and objective investigation and reporting their findings to the judge. The child’s attorney works for the child. The Guardian ad Litem works for the court by assisting the judge in determining the best interest of the child.

Most Guardians ad Litem charge an hourly rate for their services. This rate is set and/or approved by the court. The judge may order one or both parents to pay the Guardian’s fees.

To learn more about Guardian ad Litem services, we invite you to contact Family Focused Legal Solutions online or schedule an initial consultation by calling us at 973-993-9960. Our firm serves the greater part of North and Central Jersey including but not limited to Morris County, Somerset County, Bergen County, and Sussex County. All communications are strictly confidential.