Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Guardian Ad Litem Definition:

A guardian appointed to direct litigation on behalf and in the interests of a person otherwise incapable of managing their affairs.

Related Terms: Guardianship, Ad Litem, Style of Cause, Alieni juris

A guardian appointed to assist an infant or other mentally incapable defendant or plaintiff, or any such incapacitated person, that may be a party in a legal action, and to direct that litigation in the best interests of the incapable person.

In State Ex Rel. Keating v. Judge Bingham, Justice Bobbitt of the Supreme Court of Indiana wrote:

"A guardian ad litem is appointed by the court to represent the ward in some certain particular litigation....

"A guardian ad litem is one appointed by a court, in which particular litigation is pending, to represent a ward or an unborn person in that particular litigation.

"The compensation of a guardian ad litem for services rendered may be allowed as an expense of administration, or out of the ward's interest in the proceedings in such amount as the court within its discretion shall determine."


Guardian Ad Litem

In the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama, Sharp v. Hanceville Nursing Home, Justice Thompson used similar words:

"Guardian ad litem is defined as a special guardian appointed by the court in which a particular litigation is pending to represent an infant, ward or unborn person in that particular litigation, and the status of a guardian ad litem exists only in that specific litigation in which the appointment occurs.....

"(T)he powers of a guardian ad litem were limited to the particular case in which the guardian ad litem was appointed; a guardian ad litem appointed to represent a minor in a probate proceeding could not represent the minor's interests in a circuit court proceeding. The appointment of a guardian ad litem is incident to the power of the court to try a case and the power is then confined to the particular case at bar."


In Re Marriage of Kathleen Caballero, a case in which the well-being of a 79-year old wife, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and the status of a guardian ad litem in divorce proeedings was at issue, Justice Croskey of the Court of Appeals of California provided this succinct summary of the law:

"A guardian ad litem may be appointed upon application of a relative or friend, or any other party to the proceeding, or on the court's own motion.

"The appointment may be made on an ex parte application.

"A trial court has discretion to accept or deny an application for appointment of a guardian ad litem. In the absence of a conflict of interest, however, the appointment is usually made on application only and involves little exercise of discretion....

"A guardian ad litem is not a party to the action, but merely a party's representative, an officer of the court. He is like an agent with limited powers. The duties of a guardian ad litem are essentially ministerial.

"A guardian ad litem's role is more than an attorney's but less than a party's. The guardian may make tactical and even fundamental decisions affecting the litigation but always with the interest of the guardian's charge in mind. Specifically, the guardian may not compromise fundamental rights, including the right to trial, without some countervailing and significant benefit."


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