A guardian ad litem is a guardian appointed by a court to protect the interests of a minor or incompetent in a particular matter. State law and local court rules govern the appointment of guardian ad litems. Typically, the court may appoint either a lawyer or a court appointed special advocate volunteer to serve as guardian ad litem in juvenile matters, family court matters, probate matters, and domestic relations matters. The guardian ad litem is not expected to make diagnostic or therapeutic recommendations but is expected to provide an information base from which to draw resources. As authorized by law the guardian ad litem may present evidence and ensure that, where appropriate, witnesses are called and examined, including, but not limited to, foster parents and psychiatric, psychological, medical, or other expert witnesses.
A guardian ad litem must observe all statutes, rules and regulations concerning confidentiality. A guardian ad litem shall not disclose information or participate in the disclosure of information relating to an appointed case to any person who is not a party to the case, except as necessary to perform the guardian ad litem duties or as may be specifically provided by law.
Specialized training of guardian ad litems may be required, which includes, but is not limited to, the following topics:
- Dynamics of child abuse and neglect issues
- Factors to consider in the determining the best interest of the child, including permanency planning
- Inter-relationships between family system, legal process and the child welfare system
- Mediation and negotiation skills
- Federal, state and local legislation and case law affecting children
- Cultural and ethnic diversity and gender-specific issues
- Family and domestic violence issues
- Available community resources and services
- Child development issues
- Guardian ad litem standards
Guardian ad litems are also appointed to manage the business and personal affairs of elderly who are no longer able to handle such matters. The guardian ad litem may be responsible for bill payment, balancing bank accounts, making health care decisions, and other responsibilities. A guardian ad litem may have the authority, in the event that the incapacitated person is in need of emergency life-saving medical services, and is unable to consent to such medical services due to incapacity, to give consent for such emergency life-saving medical services on behalf of the alleged incapacitated person. The guardian ad litem also must protect the incapacitated person from abuse, neglect, abandonment, or exploitation.