A special guardian appointed by the court, usually a lawyer, to act on behalf of a minor or incompetent. The guardian ad litem is considered an officer of the court and represents the interests of the minor or incompetent in court and legal matters.
Unlike typical guardians or conservators, guardians ad litem only protect their wards' interests in a single suit. Generally, courts appoint guardians ad litem to represent legal infants and adults who are actually or allegedly incapacitated. Courts most frequently appoint guardians ad litem in parents' disputes over custody of their children. For example, the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act requires states to appoint guardians ad litem for children in abuse or neglect proceedings.
Source and Uniformity of Law
Generally, guardians ad litem are regulated by state and local laws. Jurisdictions differ not only on when to appoint guardians ad litem, but also on the guardians' minimum qualifications, training, compensation, and duties. Due to difference in local rules and funding availability, the quality and effectiveness of guardians ad litem can vary greatly not only between different states, but also between different areas within the same state.
Courts frequently appoint guardians ad litem to represent childrens' interests in cases involving Adoption, Child Custody, Child Support, Divorce, Emancipation, and Child Visitation. In these cases, the guardians ad litem usually act as fact finders for the court, not as advocates for the children. Accordingly, they should base their recommendations on what would actually be best for the children, not on what the children prefer. Usually, parents must split any costs associated with hiring a guardian ad litem.