A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a volunteer who advocates for children involved in court cases. A judge appoints a GAL to promote a child's best interests in and out of court. Only the judge has the authority to assign or remove a GAL.
A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a volunteer who advocates for children involved in court cases. These volunteers come from all walks of life. Many are retirees. Volunteers in the program have been teachers, stay-at-home parents, nurses, lawyers, or social workers.
A judge appoints a GAL to promote a child's best interests in and out of court. Judges appoint a GAL in all child abuse and child neglect cases and occasionally in other types of cases. The GAL makes recommendations to the court and advocates for the child’s best interests until the case is over.
A GAL typically:
- Meets with the child at least once a month where the child is placed
- Gathers information from parents, foster parents, and other people close to the child
- Communicates regularly with Vermont's Department for Children and Families (DCF) and the child’s lawyer
- Promotes cooperation between the parties
- Ensures that the court has all relevant information about the child
There is no one way to determine a child's best interests. Each child's situation is different. In every case a guardian ad litem (GAL) bases a position on facts specific to that particular child and family. To do this, a GAL needs to know the people involved, get relevant information about the child, and be a strong advocate for the child. GALs generally accomplish this in several ways, such as:
- Meeting with the child at least once a month where the child is living, to better understand that child's story
- Speaking with parents, other family members, caregivers, and service providers, including the Department for Children and Families (DCF) and school staff
- Informing the court, the child’s lawyer, and/or DCF about the child's safety, well-being, and best interests
- Advocating for services for the child and the family
Only a judge—not the Vermont Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program—can assign a GAL to a case. Judges appoint a GAL for a child in every child abuse and child neglect case. In other cases the court will assign a GAL as required by law. If you want a GAL to help your child, you may speak with your lawyer or with court staff about how to ask the judge in your case to assign a GAL.
Only the judge has the authority to assign or remove a guardian ad litem (GAL). The Vermont GAL Program cannot remove a GAL from a case.
If you are unhappy with a GAL, you or your lawyer may ask the judge to remove that GAL. The judge will decide if the GAL should be removed. Please remember that a GAL is an independent advocate for the best interests of a child. It is unlikely that a judge will remove a GAL because you disagree with the GAL, because the GAL won't advocate for your position, and/or because you don't like the GAL.
If you wish to file a complaint about a GAL, you may do so by emailing your complaint to JUD.VermontGAL@vermont.gov.
To learn more, please contact the Guardian ad Litem Program:
Rob Post, Programs Manager
Office of the Court Administrator
109 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05609