What is a Guardian ad litem (GAL) and what is their role in a Virginia Court?

What is a GAL? Per the Supreme Court of Virginia, a Guardian ad litem (GAL) literally means “guardian for the suit.” A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed by the Court to assist the court in determining the circumstances of a case before the court. It is the responsibility of the GAL to provide independent recommendations to the court about the client’s/child’s best interests, which can be different from advocating for what the client/child wants, different from what the parent(s) or parties to the case want, and to bring balance to the decision-making process. In simple terms, the GAL represents the child.  The GAL’s appointment ends with the conclusion and/or finalization of the matter.

Section §16.1-266 of the 1950 Code of Virginia, as amended, further explains the rules and functions of a GAL, but below are some common examples of what a GAL can/cannot do.

Do’s Don’ts
·         Talk with parents, legal guardians, petitioners, and other parties to the case about the child’s current situation and well-being


·         Meet with the child (generally done at the child’s school) to explain court proceedings in a way the child will understand; discuss with the child, as appropriate, the child’s feelings about his/her situation; prepare the child to appear in court (if applicable)


·         Review the child’s, medical, school, counseling records, etc., as needed


·         Discuss case details with third party providers, such as doctors, teachers, counselors, Child Protective Service workers, CASA workers, etc.


·         File appropriate motions, petitions, etc. with the Court based on the child’s best interests, as appropriate


·         Appear in Court for any and all hearings, conferences, mediations, etc. and provide recommendations to the Court that facilitate the child’s best interests



·         Provide any party with legal advice (cannot tell any party how to go about handling their case or answer any legal questions; can only answer procedural questions)***


·         In the event one parent is withholding the child, the GAL cannot go and collect the child and return the child to the other parent


·         Cannot make medical or educational decisions for the child


·         Cannot change the terms of a Court Order (temporary or final) – this can ONLY be done by a Judge and may require additional court proceedings


·         Cannot interpret the Court’s Order for any party other than the ward


·         Cannot facilitate visitation between parties unless expressly directed to by the Court


·         Does not make the final decision regarding the case’s outcome, only provides a recommendation to the Court



It is important to remember that Guardian ad litem represents his/her ward’s best interest(s), not what one party does or does not feel is in the best interest of the ward(s). Any party seeking legal advice for his/her own interests, should consult with an outside attorney for legal advice as the GAL can not provide legal advice to the parties in the case.

If you are in a custody case or considering filing for custody of your children, our attorneys can help.  You are welcome to call our office at (804) 423-1382 or email us at info@wmmlegal.com to set up an initial consultation with one of our family law attorneys.