Tara Burns is an attorney in Obermayer’s Family Law Department. Tara conducts legal research and drafts memoranda on her findings, aids clients and attorneys with the discovery process, prepares pleadings, motions, discovery...Read More by Author
Guardian Ad Litems in Pennsylvania Custody Cases
Individuals who are engaged in custody litigation in Pennsylvania may come across the concept of a Guardian Ad Litem during the duration of their custody matter. The below covers the basics of Guardian Ad Litems in Pennsylvania, including what the role entails and how a Guardian Ad Litem impacts a custody case.
What/Who is a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)?
In Pennsylvania, the role of a Guardian Ad Litem is defined by § 5334 of the Domestic Relations Code. Notably, however, portions of the Statute have been suspended by Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure No.1915.25, which became effective April 1, 2023.
Under the non-suspended portions of the Statute, a Guardian Ad Litem is an individual (not currently required to be an attorney pursuant to the RCP 1915.25) who the Court may appoint to represent the Child in a custody action.
The Court can make the appointment upon consideration of a motion by either party in a custody action or the Court can make the appointment on its own. The Court also has the power to determine how the GAL’s fees will be paid.
What is the role of a GAL in a custody matter?
The GAL’s role in a custody matter is to represent the best interests of a Child/ren in a custody matter. The GAL must, if the child is able to communicate with the GAL and mature enough for interviews, meet with the Child/ren on a regular basis. The statute also requires that the GAL explain the custody proceedings to the Child/ren so long as the same is age-appropriate. The GAL must also have access to relevant court records, school records, and medical records for the Child/ren. They are tasked with interviewing potential witnesses for a report and for undertaking any investigation that they feel is warranted to appropriately address the relevant facts in the case for the Court.
Ultimately, the GAL must prepare a written report for the Court that sets out the wishes of the Child/ren (if appropriate) and makes specific custody recommendations that the GAL believes to be in the best interest of the Child based upon their conversations and investigation. The GAL’s report then becomes part of the record in the custody matter.
Under Rule of Civil Procedure No.1915.25, the GAL no longer has the ability to examine, cross-examine, or present witnesses at a hearing and the GAL is not able to present evidence on the Child’s behalf at a hearing. The GAL can, however, now testify at a hearing regarding their report and their findings and is still required to participate in all custody proceedings.
If you are involved in a custody action and have questions about whether a GAL might be appropriate for your matter, a conversation with an attorney can be helpful in navigating the process.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.