My favorite children’s story is The Lorax, by Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss). I admire the Lorax, a determined creature who sees that his forest home is being chopped down by an intruder, stands up, and says “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” I value the story for many reasons, but it appeals to me especially now, as a father and an attorney. In these roles, I understand keenly how important it is that the most vulnerable among us have someone to speak for them.
Fortunately, the legal system understands this, too. A “guardian ad litem,” sometimes called a G-A-L, speaks for children (or others) who may not be able to speak for themselves in a court proceeding.
What is a guardian ad litem?
“Guardian” means “defender” or “protector”; “ad litem” means “for the suit” or “for the law suit.” When a guardian ad litem is assigned to a child, it means that the G.A.L. is there to protect the interests of the child in a specific legal matter. They are there to assess a legal situation and make recommendations to the judge about what would be in the best interest of the child.
They are not always the child’s lawyer; (although a dual appointment means their both the Attorney and the G.A.L.) in fact, many times a G.A.L. is not actually an attorney, but a trained volunteer, sometimes known as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).
A G.A.L. might be assigned to a child in a custody matter, abuse and neglect cases, or other situations where the child needs an independent advocate for their welfare.
For example, a G.A.L. may work with a child at the center of their parents’ divorce dispute, interviewing the parents, family members, school personnel, psychologist, neighbors, or other important people in the child’s life to determine what outcome would be best for the child. Those recommendations are given to the judge to help her make a decision about the case.
For more details about G.A.L. work in Ohio, visit the Ohio State Bar Association’s online resources.
And for a terrific story about being an advocate, check out The Lorax from your local library.