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Frequently Asked Questions

A brief list of commonly asked questions with answers about Guardian ad Litems.
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A Guardian ad Litem is a special court appointed attorney. The phrase Guardian ad Litem literally means guardian at law. A Guardian ad Litem or GAL, is an attorney appointed by the Juvenile Court to advocate for the best interests of a child (or in some instances, an adult) in a juvenile court proceeding. A GAL receives training through the GAL Project, a program of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. In Cuyahoga County, a GAL is always an attorney who has undergone special training about his/her role with the Court and his/her wards. The GAL is appointed by the court to provide GAL services. In certain instances, a GAL may serve a dual role as GAL and counsel for a ward. Currently, there are approximately 100 qualified GALs to accept general assignments in dependency, neglect, and abuse cases, custody, delinquency and unruly cases. The requirement of the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act if a state is to qualify for certain federal funds: Every child must have a Guardian ad Litem representing them in any abuse or neglect case that results in a judicial proceeding (goes to court).

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A Guardian ad Litem is appointed by the court to do whatever is necessary to protect the "best interests" of a child, including, but not limited to:
Investigation: A Guardian ad Litem is entitled to all information relating to his/her ward.
Mediation: A Guardian ad Litem will discuss issues with all parties to reach resolutions in the child's best interests.
Monitoring: A Guardian ad Litem will monitor court proceedings and any services provided to the child by Cuyahoga County Domestic Family Services or by a private child placing agency that has temporary or permanent custody of the child.
Recommendations: The Guardian ad Litem shall make recommendations to the court and file any motions and other court papers to advocate on behalf of the best interests of the child.

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Usually when Social Services gets involved a GAL gets assigned. GALs are always appointed by the Court to advocate for the best interests of a child involved in neglect and abuse cases, permanent custody cases, and in temporary and permanent surrender cases. A GAL will also be appointed for a child in a dependency, delinquency, unruly, traffic, or private custody case when:

  • The child has no parent, guardian, or legal custodian
  • There may be a conflict of interest between the child and the parent, guardian, or legal custodian

A GAL will be appointed for a parent when the parent has mental and/or emotional health issues or is under the age of 18.

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A parent, custodian and/or legal guardian should call the appointed Guardian ad Litem

  • the child's progress at school or home has changed
  • when you receive notice of a court hearing
  • you or the child has a new address or phone number
  • if the child has a social, mental health or medical need that is not being addressed
  • when any issue arises with the child, the parent, or the caregiver

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As a parent, guardian or legal custodian, you can expect that:

  • A GAL will communicate with you regarding the child's needs and your efforts to meet those needs.
  • A GAL may also communicate with teachers, counselors, therapists, doctors, and anyone else who has relevant information.
  • A GAL will listen to your concerns.
  • if you are a person who wants custody or visitation, the Guardian ad Litem will confer with you about this child.
  • A Guardian ad Litem will make reports concerning the child to the court.

 

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A GAL is appointed to represent the best interests of his/her ward. Although GALs in the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court are attorneys, representing a ward's best interests is different from an attorney representing the child client. 
A GAL is appointed to conduct an investigation, to come to a conclusion about what would be best for his/her ward, and to report his/her conclusion to the court.
Sometimes a child involved in a custody or visitation case, particularly an older child, may have strong feelings or wishes, which are different from what the GAL believes is truly best for the child. When that happens, a second lawyer may be appointed to represent  and advocate for the child's position to the court.