California Court Explains Grounds for Appointing a Guardian Ad Litem

Appointing a guardian ad litem for a parent in a dependency matter drastically alters the parent’s role. Specifically, it allocates control and direction of the litigation to the guardian ad litem rather than the parent. Although it is sometimes necessary to appoint a guardian ad litem to protect the parent, as explained in a recent opinion issued by a California court, the appointment of a guardian ad litem should not be used as a means to restrain a difficult parent, even if the parent repeatedly acts against their own interests and that of their child and interferes with court proceedings. If your parental rights are in jeopardy, it is advisable to speak to a skilled San Diego child custody attorney to discuss what measures you can take to protect your interests.

Procedural History of the Case

It is reported that in June 2018 and in January 2019, the mother presented to the emergency departments of a hospital complaining of migraines and pain. Blood tests during her visits revealed her BAC to be .297 and .296, respectively. Following her second trip to the hospital, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (the Department) filed a petition to have the mother’s minor son deemed a dependent of the state, alleging that the mother had an extensive history of alcohol abuse and suffered from anxiety and depression, which rendered her unable to care for her minor son.

Allegedly, the court sustained the allegations in the complaint and deemed the mother’s son a dependent child. The mother underwent a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, and the doctor that examined her concluded that she suffered from anxiety and anger issues but that they arose out of the dependency proceeding and not a mental illness. Due to the mother’s erratic behavior and repeated disputes with her attorney during the pendency of proceedings, the court raised the issue of whether to appoint a guardian ad litem for the mother. The court ultimately decided to appoint a guardian ad litem for the mother, after which she appealed.

Grounds for Appointing a Guardian Ad Litem

The Court of Appeal found in favor of the mother, noting that, while the mother was indisputably difficult, a guardian ad litem cannot be appointed without any finding of incompetence. The test for incompetence is whether a parent possesses the ability to understand the nature of a proceeding and help counsel in preparing the case.

The court explained that the mother’s disagreements with her attorney were not caused by mental health issues but were strategic and deliberate acts intended to delay and frustrate proceedings that she believed would be unfavorable to her. As such, the court found that that the appointment of a guardian ad litem for the mother was not supported by substantial evidence and that the trial court’s error in appointing the guardian was not harmless. As such, the Court of Appeal reversed the order appointing a guardian ad litem for the mother.

Meet with a Trusted California Family Law Attorney

The California courts will often take extensive measures to protect the parent-child relationship, but they cannot usurp a parent’s right to participate in proceedings without just cause. If you need assistance with a child custody issue, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney as soon as possible. The trusted San Diego family law attorneys of Doppelt and Forney APLC are mindful of the importance of protecting parental rights, and if you engage our services, we will advocate assertively on your behalf. Our office is in San Diego, and we frequently represent people in custody disputes in cities throughout San Diego County. You can reach us through our online form or by calling 800-769-4748 to schedule a confidential and free consultation.



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