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A Child’s Best Interest: The Role of the Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”)

 

The ending of a marriage means major life changes for children as well as the parents. During legal proceedings, it is often important that the children’s best interests be heard and fairly expressed. Neither parent’s attorney may represent the child.  That is where the GAL comes in.

Either parent may request that a GAL be appointed to independently represent the best interests of the children or the Court may order the appointment of a GAL. According to Missouri law, when custody, visitation or child support is contested during divorce, legal separation or petition for custody modification, the court can appoint a GAL. The court must appoint one for any proceeding when there are allegations of child abuse or neglect, and cases involving orders of protection.

The GAL is an attorney who has had special training. The judge will give them a written order to define the scope of their task. They may be asked to provide a broad recommendation, or to address a specific issue.

To evaluate what is in the child’s best interests, typically the GAL will meet with both parents, and with the child if that is age-appropriate. They may also need to gather input from knowledgeable third parties, such as other family members, care givers, counselors, teachers, social workers and/or health care professionals. When custody is contested, the GAL, a judge or a parent may also ask that a qualified person conduct a custody investigation and evaluation. Once enough information has been collected, the GAL then makes their recommendation to the court. It is likely to be influential in the judge’s final decision. Generally speaking, the judge will seek to fulfill a child’s need for a “frequent, continuing, and meaningful relationship” with both parents, unless that is found to be inadvisable.


With a combined 30 years in family law, the attorneys at Jones Family Law Group, LLC, are highly experienced in high conflict divorces where depositions are common. We can provide the legal guidance you need.