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words of law legal terms


Words of law is a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates, highlighting a particular word or phrase and its meaning in law.

Today’s phrase is “ guardian ad litem

Guardian ad litem  (ad Li-tem) (18c) A guardian, usu. a lawyer, appointed by the court to appear in a lawsuit on behalf of an incompetent or minor party.  Abbr. GAL– also termed special advocate; special guardian, law guardian.

“[I]t is necessary to determine whether the lawyer has been appointed as a guardian ad litem (GAL) charged with representing the child’s best interests, or as an advocate, serving as counsel to the child…. From the distinction between guardian and advocate flow a series of important consequences, including such matters as whether the attorney may file motions and examine witnesses, whether the attorney may file a report with the court, and whether the attorney may testify.  Moreover, in most jurisdictions a GAL has an absolute quasi-judicial immunity for lawsuits for negligence….  Although a non-lawyer cannot serve as counsel to the child, such individual might be a GAL or “special advocate” in some states.  Courts have struggled to clarify these roles, and define how children’s representatives may participate in different types of proceedings.”  Homer H. Clark Jr. & Ann Laquer Estin, Domestic Relations: Case and Problems, 1078 (6th ed. 2000).

Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th ed., Bryan A. Garner, Editor in Chief, Thomson Reuters, 2014.

Guardian ad litem  n. a guardian appointed by a court to represent in a particular lawsuit the interests of a party who is a minor or incompetent person or of a person unborn or unascertained who may become interested in property involved in the litigation.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, Philip Babcock Gove, Editor in Chief, Merriam Webster, 1981.



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