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What Does a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) Do?

By Robert Parson, Jr.

You are at the courthouse because you are in the middle of a contested child custody case, your attorney comes out of the judge’s chambers, and your conversation goes like this, 

Attorney:  “The judge appointed a GAL in your case.”  

Client:  “A gal, what is a gal?”  

Attorney:  “Not a gal, a G-A-L.  It stands for guardian ad litem”

Client:  “Okay, what is a guardian ad litem?”

Attorney:  “It’s an attorney that represents the best interests of the child.”

Client:  “Why do we need a GAL?  I know what is best for my child.”

Attorney:  “The GAL will make an impartial recommendation to the judge after doing an investigation.  However, in order to complete their investigation, both parents are required to pay a deposit for the GAL’s fees.”

Client:  “What?!  It is already expensive enough to pay your fees.  Now I must pay for another attorney?  I don’t think I want a GAL.”

Most people don’t anticipate a dispute with their former partner over how their children will be taken care of, and they don’t plan for this kind of expensive undertaking.  However, as a parent, you want to be sure that the best interest of your child is being considered, a priority the court must also address.  The GAL plays an important role in a contested child custody matter, especially where one parent accuses the other of child abuse or neglect.  The Missouri statutes tell us that the GAL will “conduct all necessary interviews with persons having contact with or knowledge of the child in order to ascertain the child’s wishes, feelings, attachments and attitudes.  If appropriate, the child should be interviewed.”  Since the court can’t conduct these interviews on its own, the court relies heavily on a GAL to assist them in making the best decision possible in a contested child custody case.  This is not an easy undertaking for the court or for the GAL, and neither takes this process lightly.

Although you may pay a portion of the GAL’s fees, it is important to remember that the GAL is not there to represent YOUR interests or prove your case.  Also, the GAL may not necessarily agree with what a child desires.  They are there to represent the child’s best interests, and sometimes a child may not be mature enough to understand how the court’s decision may impact their relationship with their parents and with other family members.     

It is always best for parents to have the ability to communicate and co-parent, but unfortunately, that doesn’t happen in every circumstance.  During a contested child custody case parties can be angry, unreasonable, petty, and spiteful.  However, the court’s goal is always to wade through the turbulence, consider the important issues, and make the best possible decision after hearing all of the evidence.  The GAL provides vital assistance in this process. 

Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal’s family law attorneys can help you better understand the GAL’s role and assist you in protecting your children’s interests.


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