What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
Often times in highly adversarial custody cases or in custody cases where the child and/or the parents have special circumstances, the Court will appoint an attorney specifically for the child. This attorney represents the child before the Court. Costs for the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) are sometimes shared by the parents or often times one parent is saddled with the majority of the costs. GAL's are somewhat controversial and their roles are typically misunderstood.
Here's the law with respect to Guardian Ad Litems:
40-4-8 NMSA 1978. Contested custody; appointment of guardian ad litem.
A. In any proceeding for the disposition of
children when custody of minor children is contested by any party, the
court may appoint an attorney at law as guardian ad litem on the court's
motion or upon application of any party to appear for and represent the
minor children. Expenses, costs and attorneys' fees for the guardian
ad litem may be allocated among the parties as determined by the
B. When custody is contested, the court:
(1) shall refer that issue to mediation if
feasible unless a party asserts or it appears to the court that domestic
violence or child abuse has occurred, in which event the court shall
halt or suspend mediation unless the court specifically finds that:
(a) the following three conditions are
satisfied: 1) the mediator has substantial training concerning the
effects of domestic violence or child abuse on victims; 2) a party who
is or alleges to be the victim of domestic violence is capable of
negotiating with the other party in mediation, either alone or with
assistance, without suffering from an imbalance of power as a result of
the alleged domestic violence; and 3) the mediation process contains
appropriate provisions and conditions to protect against an imbalance of
power between the parties resulting from the alleged domestic violence
or child abuse; or
(b) in the case of domestic violence
involving parents, the parent who is or alleges to be the victim
requests mediation and the mediator is informed of the alleged domestic
(2) may order, in addition to or in lieu of
the provisions of Paragraph (1) of this subsection, that each of the
parties undergo individual counseling in a manner that the court deems
appropriate, if the court finds that the parties can afford the
(3) may use, in addition to or in lieu of the
provisions of Paragraph (1) of this subsection, auxiliary services such
as professional evaluation by application of Rule
11-706 of the New Mexico Rules of Evidence or Rule
1-053 of the Rules of Civil Procedure for the District Courts.
C. As used in this section:
(1) "child abuse" means:
(a) that a child has been physically, emotionally or psychologically abused by a parent;
(b) that a child has been: 1) sexually
abused by a parent through criminal sexual penetration, incest or
criminal sexual contact of a minor as those acts are defined by state
law; or 2) sexually exploited by a parent through allowing, permitting
or encouraging the child to engage in prostitution and allowing,
permitting, encouraging or engaging the child in obscene or pornographic
photographing or filming or depicting a child for commercial purposes
as those acts are defined by state law;
(c) that a child has been knowingly,
intentionally or negligently placed in a situation that may endanger the
child's life or health; or
(d) that a child has been knowingly or
intentionally tortured, cruelly confined or cruelly punished; provided
that nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to imply that a child
who is or has been provided with treatment by spiritual means alone
through prayer, in accordance with the tenets and practices of a
recognized church or religious denomination, by a duly accredited
practitioner of the church or denomination, is for that reason alone a
victim of child abuse within the meaning of this paragraph; and
(2) "domestic violence" means one parent
causing or threatening physical harm or assault or inciting imminent
fear of physical, emotional or psychological harm to the other
32A-1-7 NMSA 1978 Guardian ad litem; powers and duties.
A. A guardian ad litem shall zealously represent the child's best interests in the proceeding for which the guardian ad litem has been appointed and in any subsequent appeals.
B. Unless excused by a court, a guardian ad litem appointed to represent a child's best interests shall continue the representation in any subsequent appeals.
C. Any party may petition the court for an order to remove a guardian ad litem on the grounds that the guardian ad litem has a conflict of interest or is unwilling or unable to zealously represent the child's best interests.
D. After consultation with the child, a guardian ad litem shall convey the child's declared position to the court at every hearing.
E. Unless a child's circumstances render the following duties and responsibilities unreasonable, a guardian ad litem shall:
(1) meet with and interview the child prior to custody hearings, adjudicatory hearings, dispositional hearings, judicial reviews and any other hearings scheduled in accordance with the provisions of the Children's Code;
(2) communicate with health care, mental health care and other professionals involved with the child's case;
(3) review medical and psychological reports relating to the child and the respondents;
(4) contact the child prior to any proposed change in the child's placement;
(5) contact the child after changes in the child's placement;
(6) attend local substitute care review board hearings concerning the child and if unable to attend the hearings, forward to the board a letter setting forth the child's status during the period since the last local substitute care review board review and include an assessment of the department's permanency and treatment plans;
(7) report to the court on the child's adjustment to placement, the department's and respondent's compliance with prior court orders and treatment plans and the child's degree of participation during visitations; and
(8) represent and protect the cultural needs of the child.
F. A guardian ad litem may retain separate counsel to represent the child in a tort action on a contingency fee basis or any other cause of action in proceedings that are outside the jurisdiction of the children's court. When a guardian ad litem retains separate counsel to represent the child, the guardian ad litem shall provide the court with written notice within ten days of retaining the separate counsel. A guardian ad litem shall not retain or subsequently obtain any pecuniary interest in an action filed on behalf of the child outside of the jurisdiction of the children's court.
G. In the event of a change of venue, the originating guardian ad litem shall remain on the case until a new guardian ad litem is appointed by the court in the new venue and the new guardian ad litem has communicated with and received all pertinent information from the former guardian ad litem.
H. A guardian ad litem shall receive notices, pleadings or other documents required to be provided to or served upon a party. A guardian ad litem may file motions and other pleadings and take other actions consistent with the guardian ad litem's powers and duties.
I. A guardian ad litem shall not serve concurrently as both the child's delinquency attorney and guardian ad litem.
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