When your parents are splitting up, sometimes the court will appoint someone to represent you. That person will talk to you about what you want and where you will live after your parents split up. They will either be a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) or an Attorney for the Minor Child (AMC).
Guardian ad Litem (GAL)
A GAL is appointed to represent your best interests to the court.
A GAL will talk to you about your experiences in both homes. They will ask you about things like what you enjoy, things you do, and how you are disciplined in order to get a sense of your well being in each home.
You can tell the GAL what you want to happen, but you don’t have to. The GAL is appointed to take that pressure off of you. If they ask you, you can simply tell your GAL that you aren’t sure what arrangement would be best for you.
A GAL is sometimes a lawyer and sometimes a mental health professional. Either way, their job is to tell the court what they believe is the best parenting arrangement for you. This may not be the same as what you have told them you want.
Attorney for the Minor Child (AMC)
An AMC is a lawyer appointed by the court to represent you. He or she will do legal work like interviewing people, filing legal documents, and asking questions of witnesses in court.
Your attorney will also speak with you about what you would like. He or she will talk with you about what they can or cannot realistically get the court to do. If the court feels that what you are asking for is not in your best interest, it could order something different—even if your attorney does a good job representing you. Your attorney will also give you honest feedback and suggest some areas of compromise, just as they would with an adult client.
The court is very mindful of your preferences as a teen and it wants to make a decision that will provide you with stability, safety and, if possible, a strong, healthy, and happy relationship with both of your parents.
The GAL or AMC works for you
If you have a GAL or AMC, that person is working for you—not for your mom or dad. They don’t work for your parents’ lawyers, either. The GAL or AMC is an independent person whose job is to represent you.
A GAL is not your lawyer, so anything you talk to them about is not private. Your parents can ask about the things you have said.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be honest when talking with your GAL, but you should stress to your GAL when you want things kept confidential. You can also ask your GAL to not write things down and to not tell anyone what you’ve said unless they are directly asked.
Most GALs understand the difficult position you are in, being caught between your parents and having your own wishes, too. They will try to protect your privacy as much as they can.
An AMC acts as your attorney, so by law, they cannot give out information you tell them without your permission. The exception to this rule is if you are going to hurt yourself or others, or if someone is hurting you. Other than that, your secrets are safe with your attorney.
Keep in mind, though, that your attorney may have to bring certain information to the court’s attention in order to advocate for what you want. If that happens, your parents may hear things about you that they didn’t know before.
It is important for you to have an honest discussion with your attorney about what information might come out in court and how you feel about that. Sometimes kids will decide that a particular wish is not very important if it means they have to tell the court a secret that they wanted to keep private.
The AMC’s job is to be your lawyer, but if they honestly believe that what you’re asking for would be harmful to you, they can’t advocate for it. They should talk to you about your preference and help you come up with other choices that you can live with. Keep in mind that while the AMC is your attorney, their job is also to consider what is in your best interest.