In family law cases involving the custody of minor children, a guardian ad litem may be appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the children. Allegations of abuse or neglect mandate the GAL’s appointment; otherwise a court has the discretion about whether or not to appoint a GAL. In Latin “ad litem” means for the litigation. The guardian ad litem is only the guardian for purposes of the case before the court, not for the general care and control of the children’s welfare.
The guardian ad litem is a lawyer with certain duties as designated by Missouri statutes. Often referred to as the “GAL,” he or she has taken required training in the field of child development and family dynamics that provides certain expertise in this litigation.
The GAL will interview the children, their parents and other significant persons in their lives in making an independent investigation of the case. In addition, the GAL participates in the trial and pre-trial process, presenting evidence to the court, cross-examining witnesses and making a formal recommendation to the court.
While the court is not required to follow the recommendation of the GAL as to custody matters, the GAL’s opinion often carries great weight by the court.
The advice of an experienced family law attorney is critical in deciding whether to request the appointment of a GAL and which GAL to suggest to the court for its consideration. The guidance from your attorney in this area may greatly impact the result that you wish to achieve in your case.
GALs are an additional cost in the case. Their fees are generally apportioned by the court to be paid by the parties. The cost of this additional expense is an important factor.
The advice of an attorney who has knowledge about the GALs available for such appointments will be tremendously helpful and will greatly impact the course and result desired in custody issues.