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Rhode Island Divorce: Guardian Ad Litems for Adults

Authored By: Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall, "The Rhode Island Divorce Coach" 

Appointing a guardian ad litem for adults in Rhode Island divorce cases isn't very common but it does occur.  Typically a guardian ad litem is an attorney (though the guidelines have changed recently to include non-lawyers particularly experienced and trained in dealing with people and issues requiring a guardian's skills) appointed by the court to represent the "best interests" of the individual and to make recommendations to the court as to what is in the person's best interests.

Now I put "best interests" in quotes because it is significantly different from simply representing the individual.

When an attorney or other person represents an individual they generally speak for that individual and advocate for exactly what that person wants.  That is not what a guardian ad litem does. 

Using appropriate factors the guardian ad litem uses his or her judgment to review he circumstances, speak with the individual, look at the case, review pertinent caselaw, perhaps even review medical records and ultimately recommend to the court what should be done in the "best interests" of the person that they are appointed to be the guardian for.  This is true even if the recommendations to the court are entirely contrary to what the individual wants done.

Thus, if John and Sarah are in a divorce and Sarah has a multiple personality disorder and goes back and forth between wanting one day of visitation with her children per week or 2 overnights and 3 full weekends per month for her visitation then the court might determine that Sarah, even with the assistance of her lawyer might not be in a correct state of mind to make the best decision for herself and for her children.

As a result, a judge may order that either Sarah, her children or both... have Guardian Ad Litems appointed for that proceeding.

Assume for a moment that Sarah has a guardian appointed and that the guardian for Sarah, after reviewing all the evidence in her Rhode Island divorce case, her medical records, etc.... that it would,  in fact, be best that she see her children more often, yet the guardian finds that Sarah has not been taking her prescribed medication to keep her condition under control and has missed over half of her counseling appointments.

Sarah's guardian ad litem may recommend to the court that Sarah have only one visit per week with her children until she shows that she can take her medicine and attend counseling on a regular basis to promote Sarah to make more progress for herself and for the benefit of a healthier relationship with her children.  This could very well be against Sarah's outrage and protests.

It is important to understand that in a Rhode Island Divorce proceeding, a Guardian Ad Litem represents the best interests of the person they are appointed to serve.  This does not mean they serve at the whim of the client or that they must do what the person they are appointed to represent controls their actions or the position they take.

A lawyer represents the client's interests and follows the client's directions within the reasonable direction of the client.

A guardian ad litem appointed by the court (or ever privately) represents the "best interests" of the person (s) they are appointed for, even if their advice, recommendation or counsel to the court is against the wishes of the person they have been appointed to represent.

"All My Best to You on Your Journey Through The RI Family Court"