If you are involved in a family law matter in Missouri or Kansas concerning minor children, you may have heard of a Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”). The role of the GAL is very specific and dissimilar to the role of your own attorney in such matters.
At the request of either party or on the Court’s own initiative, a GAL may be appointed where custody or parenting time is at issue between the parties. These proceedings can include divorce actions, paternity actions, adoptions, modifications, etc. Whereas the appointment of a GAL is usually discretionary with the Court, in Missouri, the Court must appoint a GAL if abuse or neglect of a child is alleged.
The GAL is a licensed attorney who is specifically appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a minor child. The GAL must ascertain the child’s wishes, feelings, attachments, and attitudes and advocate a position in the child’s best interest.
The GAL will conduct interviews with the child, along with both parents of the child, to gather information and make recommendations. The GAL may also speak with any other person that has contact with or knowledge of the child, including family members of the child, the child’s teachers, the child’s doctors, etc. The GAL is considered a party to the action and will then present their recommendations to the court at trial. The GAL must also inform the court of the child’s wishes and preferences, which may or may not coincide with the GAL’s recommendations as to the best interests of the child.
The GAL maintains independent representation of the child’s best interests and does not represent any other party in the proceeding. The GAL will appear at all court proceedings and often participates in mediation and the negotiation of parenting plans.
Each GAL has their own hourly fee which must be paid by the parties in a manner directed by the court. Generally, the parents will split the fees associated with the GAL’s services; however, the court can order payment by only one party depending on the circumstances.
If you are involved in a family law matter where a GAL has been appointed, and you would like more information on the process, please contact our firm to schedule a consultation with a family law attorney.
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