Are Guardian ad Litems Different From Law Guardians?

Protecting the Child

Guardian ad litems and law guardians are legal representatives who protect a child’s best interests in lawsuits. In New Jersey, these two similar roles serve different purposes. Though both guardian ad litems and law guardians represent the child’s best interests in a suit, they provide different types of representation and support appropriate for different circumstances.

Law Guardians

Law guardians are attorneys for the child. They are assigned in child welfare cases involving child abuse, neglect, or termination of parental rights. They can also be appointed in child custody cases. A child has a right to an attorney in child abuse and child welfare cases. Law guardians are attorneys whom the court will appoint to represent the child in these types of cases. The parent of the child does not need to ask the court to appoint an attorney in child welfare cases, unlike in child custody cases that do not involve the State. Law guardians represent the child’s interests and not the parents’, although those interests may be aligned. They help protect the child’s best interests during the case by helping the child to communicate his or her wishes to the court. They will also help the child understand the court process, their rights, their case, and provide legal advice accordingly. Law guardians typically work with an investigator and will meet with the child individually at home or school.

Guardian ad Litems

A guardian ad litem serves as an advocate for a child in a lawsuit. Guardian ad litems, also called GALs, are typically appointed in divorce and custody cases, though they may from time to time be appointed in a child abuse or child welfare case. GALs can also represent the interests of adults who are incapacitated. GALs serve to protect the child’s best interests, but unlike law guardians, GALs provide services to the court. They do not represent the interests of the parents. Parents can ask the court to appoint a GAL in cases where custody and parenting time matters are highly contested. The court can also decide to appoint a GAL independently. GALs will review reports and documents, conduct interviews and observations, and put their findings in a written report. The report will provide recommendations to the court. GALs aren’t particularly common in New Jersey, but they are very helpful in high-conflict custody cases.

Law guardians and GALs advocate for the child in custody cases, but you may need an advocate, too. Consider working with an experienced New Jersey child custody attorney to protect your child’s best interests. An attorney can serve as your advocate and help you navigate the custody case process.

Do you have questions about protecting your child’s best interests? If so, Williams Law Group, LLC can help you and your family obtain a custody award that protects your child’s health, safety, and well-being. Located in Union, New Jersey, Williams Law Group, LLC provides compassionate and dedicated legal services to Union, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties, and the surrounding areas. Our knowledgeable attorneys handle divorce and family law, child custody, and child abuse/neglect cases. Call our office at (908) 810-1083, email us at, or contact us through our confidential online form to schedule a consultation and ultimately get you connected with an experienced New Jersey divorce and child custody attorney.

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