Every year, hundreds of thousands of children are victims of abuse or neglect in the United States. In 2012, 1,640 children died as a result of abuse and neglect and 70 of those victims were children living in Ohio. To help protect abused and neglected children, courts sometimes need to step in on behalf of children. The children, however, often need someone to represent them in court to protect their interests. This role is defined as a guardian ad litem.
A guardian ad litem “means an individual appointed to assist a court in its determination of a child’s best interest.” The guardian ad litem does this by advocating for the child’s placement, care, protection and development in a safe, secure and caring environment. A guardian ad litem, sometimes called “next of friend,” is different than a legal guardian because the former is appointed for a child who needs protection in the court. Conversely, a legal guardian is an individual who is legally responsible for a minor child or incompetent person, regardless of whether there is an issue involving the courts. A guardian ad litem may also be appointed in divorce proceedings or paternity disputes.
In January 2009, the Ohio Supreme Court promulgated a new rule governing guardian ad litem standards in Ohio. Rule 48 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio set statewide standards regarding the appointment, responsibilities, training and reporting requirements of guardians ad litem. The rule applies in all domestic relations and juvenile cases in common pleas courts where the court appoints a guardian ad litem.
Responsibilities of a Guardian Ad Litem
Given that a guardian ad litem is appointed to help the court determine the best interests of a child, the role comes with certain duties and responsibilities. The rules identify a minimum of 17 specific responsibilities that must be performed by a guardian ad litem, unless it is impracticable or inadvisable to do so.
Most importantly, a guardian ad litem must act in the best interest of the child, even when the best interests may be inconsistent with the child’s wishes. Further, a guardian ad litem must maintain independence, objectivity and fairness. In addition, a guardian ad litem has a responsibility to become informed about the facts of the case and must participate in any court hearings involving the guardian’s duties.
How to Become a Guardian Ad Litem
Attorneys and non-attorneys may be appointed as a guardian ad litem. Individuals desiring to be appointed as a guardian ad litem must complete minimum requirements described under the education requirement in Rule 48, which includes a six-hour pre-service training course. Training topics include human needs and child development, communication and diversity, preventing child abuse and neglect, family and child issues, and legal framework. Each applicant must also complete the application process established by the local courts in the counties where one desires to serve.
Contact a Cleveland, Ohio Family Law Attorney
If you have questions on how to be appointed as a guardian ad litem or any other family law questions, one of Laubacher & Co.’s experienced family law attorneys can help. Contact Laubacher & Co.’s family law attorneys today for a free consultation.