A Guardian Ad Litem (often referred to as a GAL), is an attorney that is appointed to represent the best interest of the minor children.
They do not necessarily represent the children and are not bound by the ethical rules to advocate for their client’s position if they feel that the kids want something that is not in their best interest.
In Missouri, “the Court shall appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) in any proceeding in which child abuse or neglect is alleged”. So if you or your ex allege that the other is abusing or neglecting the children, the Court must appoint a GAL for your case.
The court may appoint a GAL in any proceeding for child custody or for a dissolution of marriage (divorce) or legal separation where custody, visitation, or support of a child is a contested issue.
If a GAL is appointed in your case, there are a few things you need to do.
It is extremely important that you follow these steps to make sure you get the most positive results in your child custody case.
First and foremost, pay them if the Court Ordered you to do so (even if you do not like their recommendations or the work they have done on your case).
Failure to pay them may result in the GAL filing a Motion to Strike your pleadings, which means that you are not able to get the relief you requested in your documents.
Many GALs will work with you on payment plans and options, but just ignoring the fact that they need to be paid will likely result in you having adverse action taken against you in your case.
If the Court just appointed a GAL to your children, you need to contact them ASAP.
Many will want to set up a time to speak with each parent, as well as the children if they are at an age in which they can provide insight.
Be nice, use your manners, and do not “hide the ball”.
If there is an issue you want them to know about and look into, tell them.
If you have a family law attorney, ask them in advance what you should talk about and take notes into your meeting to ensure that you have informed them about everything they need to know.
Also, have your child custody attorney send over whatever relevant pleadings have been filed on your case (as sometimes access to online documents takes a while).
When you have your appointment, show up on time.
Do not bring your children with you unless you have cleared that with the GAL in advance.
When you speak with the GAL, ask them if they would like access to any records, and timely sign releases for them to get the relevant information they need. Make sure therapist, doctors, and the school knows that a GAL was appointed, and allow them access to the information.
The reality is that the GAL will likely make a recommendation in your case, that recommendation is very powerful to a Judge.
The Judge knows that the GAL has looked into the matter more than they could and is offering what should be an unbiased opinion on what is in the children’s best interest.
The Judge doesn’t have to follow their recommendations, but I would estimate that about 90% of the time, the final Order is something close to what the GAL’s recommendation was.
I tell my clients that if a GAL has asked them to do something, it is almost always in their interest to do it.
If they want you to take a drug test, take it. If you are going to fail it and know it, let your attorney know and have them give a heads up to the GAL.
If they want you to participate in anger management classes, do it. The worst outcome is that you wasted some time and little money.
Refusal of a reasonable request of the GAL, however, may cost you your case.
If you want your attorney to have any pushback on what the GAL has recommended, they will need to show that you have done everything asked of you and that the recommendation was made without merit.
Your refusal to comply with reasonable requests will likely hurt your case in the long run, as your attorney will have nothing showing that the GAL’s recommendations are improper or biased.
Family Courts do not have the burden of proving an allegation beyond a reasonable doubt.
It generally is not a requirement for the accusing parent to prove that what they are saying is true.
You are going to have to show the Court and the GAL that the allegations made against you are false.
The best way to do that is compliance and honesty.
Contact Haefner Law Office at (314) 200-6101, and set up your free 30-minute phone consultation with a dedicated family law attorney to discuss your case, get some guidance, and see if we are the right fit for you.
It may just be the most important call you ever make.
All we do at Haefner Law Office is family law, and we know how to protect you.
You do not need to do this alone.