Guardians Ad Litem: What Are They, And Do I Need One?


Guardians Ad Litem: What Are They, And Do I Need One?

A recent article in Virginia Lawyers Weekly described the Guardian ad Litem system as broken. While the system isn’t perfect, Guardians ad Litem and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) play a critical role in our cases.

A Guardian ad Litem (or GAL) is a court-appointed attorney whose job is to represent the interests of someone who cannot legally hire their own attorney. GALs represent incapacitated adults and civil defendants who are in prison, but their most common role is representing children. GALs are appointed when a child has been charged with a crime, in custody cases where the Court has a concern that a child’s interests aren’t being addressed, and in cases where Child Protective Services alleges abuse or neglect.

In the latter cases, there may also be a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) representing the child. CASAs aren’t lawyers; they’re regular people who volunteer to help abused and neglected children are heard.

Both the GAL and the CASA are charged with investigating and reporting to the court regarding the best interests of the child. CASA is created by statute and appointed by the courts. Each CASA and GAL has specific training to qualify them to work with these children in need. GALs and CASAs can provide a life-long impact on the lives of the abused and neglected children.

The family law attorneys in our firm often rely on the good work GALs do in the most difficult cases. Because the GAL doesn’t represent either parent, they are seen as more neutral.  A GAL can often convince an unrepresented party to agree to a reasonable settlement. But GALs can be overworked, and sometimes can’t invest the time that’s needed to investigate every fact.

A CASA volunteer can make all the difference in these cases and can inform all parties about the facts on the ground. Many times the CASA is the individual with a deeper connection to the child, and their reporting to the court is necessary to help reach a positive resolution to the situation. Compton & Duling is proud to support CASA in Prince William County because these incredible volunteers can fill in the gaps and make a world of difference to kids in need. Our managing member, Jason Hickman, is the current board president of CASA.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate, you can read more about the program here:

If you’re currently involved in a custody dispute and need legal assistance, feel free to call us at (703) 583-6060 or email Meg Patterson (, Krista Yancey (, or Maryse Allen (