Erin Durnell answers:
A guardian ad litem, commonly called a “gal” or “G.A.L.,” is appointed to represent the best interests of the child or children in a case. The GAL is appointed to assist the judge in weighing information and to provide the judge with a recommendation regarding custody, parenting time, or other specific issues as ordered by the court. The GAL is permitted to speak with everyone involved with a child – including the child himself, both parents, teachers, school counselors, therapists, physicians, neighbors, extended family members, friends, even police officers who have been called to the home.
Because the GAL is allowed to talk to all of these people, to observe the child interacting with the parents or third parties who are seeking custody, and to review other collateral information about the child, the GAL is able to provide the court with detailed feedback that might not otherwise be considered as evidence in a custody trial. This can be very helpful for the judge, it can promote settlement between parties, and if there is no agreement, it can help parents focus their custody litigation on the really important factors related to the child.