Cordell & Cordell St. Louis divorce lawyer Jordan A. Harres provided the following summary on Guardians Ad Litem in a Missouri divorce and child custody case.
In all proceedings involving divorce, child custody, or legal separation in Missouri where custody, visitation, or child support are at issue, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem (also known as a GAL).
A GAL is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the child or children involved. While a GAL is a Missouri family law attorney, he or she is not the child’s attorney and therefore, they do not have to follow the wishes of the child or keep confidential any conversations that take place between themselves and the child.
Under Missouri law, a GAL must be appointed to any case where child abuse or neglect is alleged.
However, a GAL may be appointed in other custody cases where abuse or neglect has not been alleged if the court finds that appointment of a GAL would be useful, or the parties request the appointment.
Requirements of a Missouri GAL
Under Missouri law, a GAL shall do the following:
- Be the legal representative of the child at the hearing, and may examine, cross-examine, subpoena witnesses, and offer testimony;
- Prior to the hearing, 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; and
- Request the juvenile officer to cause a petition to be filed in the juvenile division of the circuit court if the guardian ad litem believes the child alleged to be abused or neglected is in danger.
If the GAL fails to meet these requirements set out under the law, the appointed judge can discharge the GAL and appoint another. In appointing a new GAL, the judge can and may give preference to an attorney who served as GAL for the child in earlier proceedings, unless there is a reason on the record for not giving such preference.
If a GAL has been appointed in your case, each party is entitled to one disqualification of a GAL. If either party can show good cause, they may also be entitled to additional disqualifications.
Once a GAL has been appointed, their role is to conduct an investigation into the case and present a recommendation to the court.
Typically, a great deal of the GAL’s investigation involves informal discovery such as meeting separately with the parents and child (ren), conducting interviews with other people who may have relevant information, as well as requesting a consent from the parents to release the child’s school, medical, and/or mental health records.
Who Pays GAL Fees?
According to Missouri law, the GAL shall be awarded a reasonable fee for their services and the appointed judge will determine who pays those fees. The court may either:
- Issue a direct payment order to the parties and if a party fails to comply with the court’s direct payment order, the court may find such party to be in contempt of court; or
- Award the GAL fees as a judgment to be paid by any party to the proceedings or from public funds.
Typically, a GAL will serve in a case until either the parents reach a written agreement resolving the issues and the judge approves it, or a hearing takes place and the judge makes a decision on the issues.
Additionally, if a judge finds that a GAL is no longer necessary, the judge can discharge the GAL from the case prior to its resolution.