An individual who acts on behalf of another individual who does not have the legal capacity to act on his or her own behalf.
The individual in whose name a minor's lawsuit is brought, or who appears in court to represent such minor's interest. The French term prochein ami has been used to designate such an individual, but the termguardian ad litemis more commonly used.
At common law, when an individual was unable to look after his or her own interests or manage his or her lawsuit, the court would appoint a person to represent that individual's legal interests. In court terminology this person was called a next friend, which is derived from the French term prochein ami. Individuals requiring a next friend included minors, persons who were mentally ill or mentally retarded, infirm or senile persons, and others whose disabilities prevented them from managing their affairs.
State statutes now set the qualifications and duties of a person who acts as a next friend, but these laws more commonly designate this person a guardian ad litem, or a court-appointed special advocate. Regardless of the designation, this person's responsibilities are now confined to representing a minor or incompetent person in a lawsuit or court proceeding. At common law, a next friend represented a plaintiff, whereas a guardian ad litem represented a defendant. This distinction has been removed in modern law.
A next friend is not a party to a lawsuit but an officer of the court. When the lawsuit is concluded, the next friend's duty ends. The next friend has no right to control the property of the person she or he represents or to assume custody of that person. These rights may be given to a person designated by a court as a minor's or incompetent person's guardian.
Guardians ad litem are commonly used in family and juvenile courts, where the best interests of the child require an independent, neutral person to safeguard the child's rights. The increased number of these representatives has led states to develop training and certification programs for individuals wishing to serve as next friends or guardians ad litem. Though attorneys also may represent juveniles, next friends provide valuable assistance to the courts.