The role of the Guardian ad Litem
In a child custody case, a Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) is an attorney with special training and skills who has been appointed by the court to represent the best interest of your children. To become a certified Guardian ad Litem, a lawyer is required to complete an initial 8 hours of specialized training followed by 3 hours of training annually.
Why was a Guardian ad Litem assigned to my custody case?
In Missouri, it is required by law that a GAL be appointed in cases where a parent is alleged to have abused/neglected a child. However, this is not the only situation in which the court will appoint a GAL. GALs may also be appointed by the court if the court finds it necessary to have a GAL assist in the proceedings or if the parties request to have a GAL. Typically, in high conflict cases regarding custody disputes, the court will appoint a GAL to represent the children’s best interest. You can discuss with your attorney the pros/cons of having a GAL on your specific case.
How does the appointed Guardian ad Litem assist my case?
The GAL, once assigned to your case, will investigate in order to report to the court what the child’s best interest is and how that will best be served. The GAL’s role will look a little different case to case. A GAL is encouraged to meet with the parents and child. They may also meet with or speak to any doctors, teachers, caseworkers, counselors, etc. who have had contact with the children involved. In some cases, the GAL will perform a home study and physically see where the children are residing. Through these meetings and interactions, the GAL is able to observe the mental, physical, and social well-being of the child/children and begin to form his/her recommendation for the court.
How do I help the Guardian ad Litem?
It is important for you as a party to the litigation to have an appropriate relationship with the court-appointed GAL. In the limited time that each parent will spend with the GAL, it is important to convey information which will assist the GAL with his/her inquiry. It is inappropriate to spend your time with the GAL informing him/her of each and every complaint you have about the other parties’ “parenting skills”. Discuss with your family law attorney to find out how best you can help the GAL help your children.
The Guardian ad Litem at trial:
In a child custody case, the GAL typically makes a formal recommendation to the court at trial which incorporates his/her opinion of what is in the child/children’s best interest. The best interest of the child does not always mean what the child wants or what is easiest for the parents. The recommendation by the GAL to the court will be carefully formed after taking many factors into account and will typically consist of a GAL proposed Parenting Plan.
Guardian ad Litem fees —Who has to pay?
In many cases where the Judge orders a GAL necessary for the case, the GAL fees are split by both parties, 50/50. Some judges will require both parties to deposit a certain amount of money with the GAL when they are first assigned and order payments by both parties throughout the progression of the case. In Missouri, courts are prohibited from making victims pay GAL fees when the case is adult abuse or child order of protection.
Are you or someone you know in a situation where you feel a Guardian ad Litem should be appointed? Kathleen Shaul practices solely in the area of family law and has dedicated her career to helping Missouri families. Kathleen and her legal team are available to handle your questions and concerns. Call us at (314) 499-1476 or visit our website at www.kshaul-law.com.