A guardian ad litem is an attorney that represents the best interests of children in Utah family law cases.
It used to be that the family law Courts could appoint a public guardian ad litem whenever there were allegations of abuse or neglect of a child in a family law case.
This has changed, however, due to cost control measures. Now there are private guardians ad litem whose fees and expenses must be paid by the parties. They can be appointed by the court if there has been an allegation of abuse or neglect and neither party is indigent. They can also be appointed when custody or parent-time is an issue.
The Private Guardian Ad Litem statute is located at U.C.A. § 78A-2-705.
The PGAL will typically charge a retainer fee and bill at an hourly rate. The Court will equitably divide the responsibility for payment among the parties based on their respective resources.
In making the order of appointment the Court will set forth the specific issues that the PGAL will be determining, such as custody and a parent-time schedule.
Once appointed, the PGAL will conduct or supervise an ongoing investigation into the child’s best interests. This may include interviewing the child and the child’s family members and reviewing relevant records such as medical, psychological and school records. In certain circumstances, the PGAL will not interview the child such as when the child is not old enough to communicate, lacks the capacity to do a meaningful interview, or if the interview would be detrimental to the child.
The PGAL will seek to determine the child’s goals and concerns with respect to custody and visitation. The PGAL will, to the extent possible, keep the child informed of what is going on in the case and what the court is planning to do.
The PGAL may make recommendations to the Court that differ from what the child desires. In such a case, the PGAL will communicate to the Court the child’s desires as well as the PGAL’s own recommendations to the Court.
PGALs are immune from any civil liability related to acts performed within the scope of their representation of the child.
PGALS are overseen by a committee and must have certain minimum qualifications. They are typically attorneys with substantial experience in the area of family law. There are standard fee rates and retainer amounts for PGALs. PGALS are expected to a take a certain percentage of cases pro bono.
Except in certain compelling circumstances, the Court will issue a final order resolving the issues for which the PGAL was appointed within one year from the date of appointment. The PGAL’s appointment will then be terminated.
If nothing has happened on the case for six consecutive months or if the court has determined with the input of the PGAL that the minor no longer needs their services, the appointment may be terminated.
Cost savings resulting from the PGAL program are to be applied first to recruit and train attorneys for the PGAL program and next to use any additional savings to reduce caseloads and improve current juvenile court practices.
PGALS are a valuable part of the administrative of justice in Utah family law and divorce cases.
Parties should consider using an experienced family law attorney to determine the circumstances in which the services of a private guardian ad litem would be necessary or desirable.
This material should not be construed as legal advice for any particular fact situation, but is intended for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to any individual situation, an experienced attorney should be contacted.