In Virginia, a guardian ad litem (hereinafter “GAL”) is a licensed attorney who is appointed by the court to represent the best interest of the child. They are typically appointed in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court but can also be appointed by a Circuit Court judge if the children’s parents are involved in a divorce where custody and visitation are issues or they’re a part of a custody/visitation appeals case from the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court and a GAL was not previously appointed. The courts have an approved GAL list from which to choose these attorneys.
A GAL’s client is the child. This means there is no confidentiality between the child’s parents and the GAL. The GAL does not represent either parent so anything the parent tells the GAL is not confidential and can be disclosed. This is very different from your relationship with your own attorney.
The GAL investigates and makes a recommendation to the court. The recommendation is presented in a written report filed with the court five days before the trial.
In the recommendation, the GAL advises the judge what he or she has done so far, what records have been reviewed and who he or she has met or talked with. The GAL also goes through the best interests of the child factors under Virginia Code Section 20-124.3. The court must consider the 10 factors provided for in Virginia Code Section 20-124.3 when deciding custody/visitation.
The GAL is going to go through each factor based on their investigation, based on what they’ve uncovered, give their points on each factor and ultimately make a recommendation to the court as to the ultimate issue of custody and visitation.