Guardian Ad Litems


Guardian Ad Litems

Q: What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

A Guardian Ad Litem represents children’s best interests in family law cases. All Guardians Ad Litem have Master’s degrees in social work or a related field, and have professional experience working with children and families. The Travis County Domestic Relations Office has Guardians Ad Litem on staff, and there are professionals in private practice that offer this service.


Q: Is a Guardian Ad Litem appointed automatically?

A Guardian Ad Litem from the Family Court Services division is appointed automatically in two types of cases: Termination of parental rights and adoptions which have no licensed adoption agency involvement. In other cases, such as contested custody cases, the judge may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem, or either party may request an appointment.


Q: How can I get a Guardian Ad Litem appointed in my case?

Your attorney, or you, if you are acting as your attorney, may ask the judge who is hearing your case to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem. After looking at the issues involved in a case, a judge may become especially concerned about the child’s welfare, and may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to investigate the child’s current situation.


Q: What happens after a Guardian Ad Litem is appointed?

First, you will need to attend the Family Court Services orientation that is held each Wednesday at the Travis County Domestic Relations Office from 11:00 a.m. until noon. To sign up for the orientation you must call the Family Court Services secretary at (512) 854-9216.

When you attend the orientation, many questions about our program will discussed and answered in depth. You will receive a packet that contains numerous pieces of literature that will offer additional guidance about the program, as well as ideas regarding how to best manage your children’s feelings and behavior while coping with divorce or any other family law matter.

Another item contained in the packet is a questionnaire that must be completed prior to the first meeting with the Guardian Ad Litem. You will get a questionnaire from the Domestic Relations Office, which gives the Guardian Ad Litem information about your side of the case. It is important to fill out this questionnaire as completely as possible.

The Guardian Ad Litem will meet individually with each parent, and may ask questions that are not on the questionnaire. The Guardian Ad Litem will usually request that each parent come to this meeting alone. Don’t bring your children. Do bring any papers or records you think might help explain your views.


Q: Is there a charge for Guardian Ad Litem services?

Yes. The Travis County Juvenile Board has authorized a fee ranging from $300 to $2,700.00 per side based on a sliding income scale for Guardian Ad Litem appointments; $200 for adoption social studies for county residents; and $600 plus expenses for adoption social studies for parents who do not live in Travis County. Brief investigations are assessed a fee ranging from $150 to $1,275.00 per side based on a sliding income scale.


Q: What happens after my meeting with the Guardian Ad Litem?

The Guardian Ad Litem will observe you and your child together, or the other parent and your child together, as part of the investigation. In most cases, the Guardian Ad Litem will make a home visit with the child in each parent’s home, and see how they interact with the parent, stepparent, brothers and sisters, or anyone who lives in the home. The Guardian Ad Litem will work with you to schedule a time for the home visit.

The Guardian Ad Litem may have more than one meeting with you, your child, or your attorney. It is important to remember that the Judge will expect your full cooperation with the Guardian Ad Litem. The Guardian Ad Litem may ask for mental health records, Child Protective Services records, police records and any other records that may give the Guardian Ad Litem a better idea about the child’s situation.

The Guardian Ad Litem may also want to talk to your therapist or counselor, if you have one, or your child’s therapist or counselor. You will be asked to sign releases of information to allow the Guardian Ad Litem to do this. The Guardian Ad Litem will be solely responsible for determining how much time will be spent with each parent and how many people outside the family will be interviewed.


Q: Does the Guardian Ad Litem have to interview my child?

The Guardian Ad Litem is the representative of your child in the court process. It is important that the Guardian Ad Litem gets to know your child and his or her needs. The Guardian Ad Litem must interview your child if your child is at least four years old.


Q: How do I explain the Guardian Ad Litem investigation to my child?

Many parents worry about how to explain the Guardian Ad Litem appointment and investigation to their child. Tips on how to prepare your child for the meeting with the Guardian Ad Litem are at the end of this booklet. Feel free to ask the Guardian Ad Litem for help with explaining this process to your children.


Q: What is the difference between a Guardian Ad Litem and an Attorney Ad Litem?

A Guardian Ad Litem in Travis County is not an attorney. The Guardian Ad Litem focuses on the child’s best interests in making recommendations to the court, even if that is not what the child says he or she wants. The Guardian Ad Litem may complete written reports for the court and testify in court.

An Attorney Ad Litem is appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interests and wishes. However, if the child’s best interests are different from the child’s wishes, the Attorney Ad Litem will represent the child’s wishes. A Guardian Ad Litem may ask the court to appoint an Attorney Ad Litem to a case under special circumstances.


Q: I thought that as a parent, I am the legal guardian of my child. Will the Guardian Ad Litem’s appointment change this?

The definition of Guardian Ad Litem is a ‘guardian at law’ appointed by the court to look out for the best interests of the child during the course of legal proceedings. The Guardian Ad Litem for a minor child is a special appointment by the court for the purpose of protecting the child’s best interests within this litigation. The Guardian Ad Litem is not responsible for meeting the daily needs of the child. Your rights and responsibilities as a parent can only be changed by a court order.


Q: Why can’t I represent my child’s best interests to the Court as a parent?

Although as a parent, you may care very much for your child’s welfare, it is easy for parents during a court case to get caught up in their own points of view. They may not see the situation from the perspective of what would be best for the child. The Guardian Ad Litem will give a neutral view in making recommendations for the best interests of your child. Because the Guardian Ad Litem is neutral, he or she can often help parents come up with an agreement between themselves on parenting issues.


Q: What is the difference between my child’s wishes and his or her ‘best interests’?

Your child’s wishes are just one part of what the court looks at when thinking about the child’s best interests. The court also considers the following:

  • The emotional physical needs of the child, now and in the future,
  • The emotional and/or physical danger to the child, now and in the future,
  • Each parent’s abilities,
  • Programs to improve parenting skills,
  • Each parent’s plans for the child,
  • Any harmful acts by a parent, which may affect the child. Any excuse for these actions,


Q: Will the Guardian Ad Litem communicate with my attorney?

When the Guardian Ad Litem is appointed, he or she will contact the attorneys to tell them of the appointed. The Guardian Ad Litem will let your attorney know if there are any problems with the investigation, or if a court hearing is needed. The Guardian Ad Litem will keep in contact with all attorneys throughout the litigation.


Q: Do I have to do what the Guardian Ad Litem says?

There may be tasks in your court order that the judge expects you to do. The Guardian Ad Litem will check to see if these tasks are being done, and is required to report to the judge if the tasks are not being done. During the investigation, the Guardian Ad Litem may request drug testing, counseling, parent education classes, or other activities to improve your ability or the other parent’s ability to parent well. It is important to follow these recommendations.

The value of following the Guardian Ad Litem’s requests is to improve the relationship between you and your child. A common complaint from parents is: “I don’t have time to do all of this.” You may need to arrange your schedule around the activities recommended by the court, or the Guardian Ad Litem. If you do not agree with the Guardian Ad Litem recommendations, your attorney, or you, if acting as your attorney, may bring this to the judge’s attention in a hearing. The judge will then decide whether or not the recommendations will be court ordered.


Tips on how to prepare your child for the meeting with the Guardian ad Litem

Guardians Ad Litem are people who work with a lot of children whose parents are in court. The Guardians Ad Litem listen to how the children feel about things, and learn what is best for the children. The court has been asked to make an important decision about your life, such as where you should live. The Guardians Ad Litem help the Judge do this.

The Guardians Ad Litem will want to know how you feel about what’s going on in your family, and will talk to other people who may know how you feel, like your parents, your teachers, or your counselor, if you have one. You might be feeling confused and have a lot of questions.


What will the Guardian Ad Litem do?

The Guardian Ad Litem will tell the judge what you want to have happen, and what the Guardian Ad Litem thinks is best for you. When the judge makes up his or her mind about what is best for you, the Guardian Ad Litem’s job is done.


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Timothy Hutton

Divorce and Custody Lawyer at Hutton Law, PLLC
Mr. Hutton is a Divorce and Custody Lawyer based out of Round Rock, TX. His background is with child psychology at Arizona State University where he received a B.S. in 2006, and he continued this by working with the Children’s Right’s Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law where he received his J.D. in 2009. Throughout his practice, he has been a strong proponent of utilizing modern technology to improve his practice and the representation of his clients. He currently is the technology chair of CAFA of Travis County and is committed to improving and modernizing the practice of law in Texas.

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