This fact sheet tells you what a guardian ad litem is and what they do. It also tells you the difference between a guardian ad litem and a guardian. It may not answer all of your questions. In court, if you have any questions about who speaks for the child, who speaks for the parents, or who has the right to lawyer, ask the judge right away.
A guardian is a person who acts to protect or help someone. “Ad litem” means “for the lawsuit”. There are different kinds of guardians ad litem for different kinds of cases. In some cases, the judge names a “guardian ad litem” to work with a child or a person who has a disability that makes it hard for them to understand a case that involves them. In other cases, like in custody cases or neglect or abuse cases, a guardian ad litem may be appointed to investigate and stand for the child’s best interests.
Not always. In some counties, such as Hennepin, many are lawyers. In other counties, the guardian may be a trained, concerned adult of any background. If the guardian ad litem is not a lawyer, they may have a lawyer that works for them on the case.
In family court, the judge must name a guardian ad litem if the judge thinks the child has been hurt, threatened, or neglected. Or if the parent has been convicted of certain crimes. See our fact sheet Parenting Time (Visitation) and Parenting Plans.
In juvenile court, there must be a guardian ad litem in cases about a child who is neglected, in foster care, or a child in need of protective services (CHIPS cases).
The judge can name a guardian ad litem in other family or juvenile cases but does not have to.
Guardians ad litem may work free or for a fee. If there is a fee, the court says who has to pay it. If you get MFIP or other public aid, if you have a legal aid lawyer, or if you have a low income, you may get a reduced fee, or you may not have to pay.
The parents always have the right to hire their own lawyer.
In juvenile court, if the parents cannot afford a lawyer, they may have the right to a free one. In most juvenile court cases, the child also has the right to a free lawyer if the child cannot afford one. (The court may make the parents pay for the child’s lawyer, if they can afford it.)
In family court, the child does not have the right to a lawyer. The parents have the right to a lawyer, but not to a free one.
A guardian is much different than a guardian ad litem. A guardian, or custodian, has “custody” of the child and acts as the parent. They make the decisions about a child and pays for the child’s needs. The guardian decides where the child lives and how the child is brought up.
A guardian ad litem does not have custody of or take care of the child. They work with the court to find out what is in the child’s best interest in the court case.
Many people, including judges and lawyers, call a guardian ad litem “guardian” for short. Remember that the two are very different.