In short - in Missouri, a Guardian ad Litem is an attorney who represents the best interests of a child or children in, for example, a custody matter.
When is a Guardian Ad Litem appointed?
Missouri's Revised Statutes Section 452.423 states that a Guardian ad litem [is to be] appointed...
1. In all proceedings for child custody or for dissolution of marriage or legal separation where custody, visitation, or support of a child is a contested issue, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem.
2. The court shall appoint a guardian ad litem in any proceeding in which child abuse or neglect is alleged.
The role of a Guardian ad Litem in a Custody matter
A Guardian Ad Litem (“GAL”) is a lawyer appointed by the court to represent a child or children. Although the parents pay the Guardian Ad Litem Fees, the Guardian Ad Litem does not represent the parents. The court is required to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem in child custody cases where allegations of child abuse have been made. Child abuse can include emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. There are many different types of neglect, including but not limited to medical neglect, nutritional neglect, and simply failing to care for a child. The appointment of a GAL can happen in a variety of cases, including child custody, divorce, paternity, guardianship, and juvenile cases.
When there are allegations of child abuse or neglect, the job of the Guardian Ad Litem is to investigate those allegations. The investigation may involve speaking with the child or children, speaking with the parents, teachers, doctors, and any other person who may know about the child's alleged abuse or neglect. A Guardian Ad Litem may obtain records. In many cases, the Guardian Ad Litem will report to the court about their investigation. The Guardian Ad Litem may report about the child's wishes and what the Guardian Ad Litem believes to be in the best interest of a child.
Role of Parents interacting with the Guardian ad Litem
For all parents involved in a custody dispute in which the court appoints a GAL, it is particularly important to recall that the Guardian Ad Litem does not represent the parents. As such, there is no confidentiality between the GAL and either parent and therefore, anything either parent may tell a GAL can be shared with the other parent and their lawyer. Then too, it goes without saying that the GAL can also share with the court. The GAL has no duty to maintain the confidentiality of any information provided by the parents. The GAL is not an advocate for the parents. As such, a parent will want their own attorney whether the case involves child custody, divorce, paternity, or guardianship. Being able to work with your attorney to prepare for the role of a GAL in your case is particularly important and one that will evolve as your case progresses.
Choosing an attorney to help you navigate this path, while daunting, is worth your future for you and your children.