An Ad Litem is a person who has been appointed by the court to act in a lawsuit on behalf of a child or an incapacitated person.
In family law cases involving parents and children, the court will sometime appoint certain individuals to either (1) act in the best interest of the child or adult and/or (2) to represent the child, or (3) to represent only the child's best interest.
Attorney Ad Litem: When an Attorney Ad Litem (AAL) is appointed, the AAL provides services for and to the child, a parent, or an incapacitated person. The law requires the Court to appoint an AAL for the child in cases where a parent's rights could be terminated. In termination suits, an AAL could represent the child or the child's best interest, or both, depending upon the age and maturity of the child. The AAL has an attorney-client relationship with the child, thus is bound by that confidential relationship.
Because CPS cases involve the potential termination of a parent's rights, there will always be an AAL appointed to represent the child, and in many instances, the court will also appoint an AAL to represent an indigent parent who opposes.
In private family law cases, such as custody suits, the court has the discretion to appoint an AAL to represent the child. When there is an incapacitated adult, the court may appoint an AAL to represent that adult.
Guardian Ad Litem: When a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is appointed, the GAL represents the child's best interest, and is not a party to the suit. GALs are often appointed in CPS cases, and they are usually CASA Advocates, which means they have been trained by CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect the interest and rights of the child. Unlike an AAL, a GAL cannot be appointed to represent a parent.
Unlike an AAL, a GAL does not have to be a licensed attorney. Also, unlike an AAL who represents the child and could represent their best interest, a GAL only represents the child's best interest.
Thus, in CPS cases, you will find an AAL and GAL appointed for the child, and, depending upon the child's age and maturity, these two professionals may be aligned as to the child's best interests, or they may be opposed if the child is able to voice his/her opinion and directs the AAL to represent the child's position in court. It's even more interesting when the AAL is appointed in dual role as an AAL/GAL, and must represent not only the child's best interests, but also follow the child's directives, and those directives run counter to the child's best interests.
Amicus Attorney: Because it's not confusing enough to have an AAL and GAL in a family law case in Texas, in private family cases, the court may appoint an Amicus Attorney (AA). An AA is appointed to assist the court in protecting the child's best interest by providing legal services to the court rather than directly to the child. An AA does not have an attorney-client relationship with the child, and is not bound by the child's expressed objectives and can disclose confidential communications with the child if necessary to assist the court in determining what is in the best interest of the child. If a court appoints an AA, it cannot appoint an AAL or a GAL.