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What is a Guardian ad Litem and What is Their Role in Your Family Law Case in Missouri or Kansas?

Themis statue, judge hammer and books

In the situation where your family is going to require a custody battle, whether it be due to a divorce or dissolution of marriage case, a modification (or change of custody case), or a paternity case (where custody arrangements from parents who were never married need to be determined). In cases involving custody disputes, if one or both of the parents raise issues or allegations of abuse or neglect (abuse can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, medical abuse, or other concerns), the court will be required to appoint a guardian ad litem.

What is a guardian ad litem and what is their role?

A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed to represent the interests of the child or children. They are a licensed attorney who has had specific, additional training to qualify them to serve in this role. In both, Kansas and Missouri, there are standards or rules regarding how a guardian ad litem proceeds in representing the child or children involved. In many cases, the guardian ad litem is of great assistance to both, the parties and the court because he or she is able to do an in-depth investigation, report the results to the parties and court and often, help facilitate or support the parties resolving their disputes.

In most situations, the court is going to support or encompass the guardian ad litems report into the court’s final determinations or findings. This is because a guardian ad litem spends significant time investigating, generally speaking with the children, the adults, the teachers, medical providers, and other relevant people involved in the child’s life. Often the guardian ad litem has the opportunity to have the most detailed, comprehensive overview of the child or children and their needs.

The guardian ad litems goal, in any case, is to determine the best interests of the child, outside of the interests of perspectives of the parents involved. The guardian ad litems recommendations are not intended to punish parents but ensure safety and adequate care for the child’s needs.

What Does the Guardian ad Litem Do to Conduct Their Investigation?

While a guardian ad litem appointed in a case has wide discretion to act in the best interests of the child, the guardian ad litem will frequently center their investigation around meeting with the child or children involved. This is because the guardian ad litems goal is to understand the child’s needs and desires and often, to get an understanding of details about the family in an unbiased way. In some cases that go on for an extended period of time, the guardian ad litem will meet with a child several times.

In addition to speaking with the child, the guardian ad litem will work to make sure he or she has access to all relevant documents. In many situations, this involves reviewing medical reports, mental health records, school records, child care records or other things that will reflect the adjustment of the child, the people involved in the child’s care, the child’s special needs, among a lot of other detailed information. Many guardian ad litems will also speak with teachers, therapists or other adults who have had a significant and meaningful relationship with the child. The guardian ad litem will then work, generally, to prepare a report or parenting plan or other documentation with the court. If the guardian ad litem believes it is needed, he or she can also offer statements or testimony, recommendations, call, and examine/cross-examine witnesses.

How Are Guardian ad Litems Paid?

Generally, absent unusual circumstances, guardian ad litems are paid by order of the court with each parent paying either an equal share or their income share percentage. There are often significant costs associated with guardian ad litems work, but if it is needed for the best interests of the child, the costs are worthwhile.

The court has the ability to reallocate the costs of the guardian ad litem at the conclusion of the case. In many situations, the court will determine if one parent has failed to cooperate, engaged in wrong-doing or harm to the child, that the parent so engaging should cover more than 50% of the costs involved.

Can You Object To or Contest the Guardian ad Litem’s Recommendations?

In short, yes. In many situations, it is not a cost-effective or well-reasoned decision to contest the recommendations as the guardian ad litem is often appointed as a trustworthy, experienced lawyer respected by the trial judge in your case. Additionally, as stated above, the court almost always supports the determination of the guardian ad litem, knowing the extensive time and effort he or she has put into preparing their report. The more effort, knowledge, and documentation that has gone into the guardian ad litems report, the less likely the court is to make a determination different than the recommendations of the guardian ad litem.

Contact Us Today!

If you have questions about the necessity of involving a guardian ad litem in your family law case, or you need expert guidance in working with and collaborating with a court-appointed guardian ad litem, call Pingel Family Law today for your consultation at (816) 208-8130. Providing documentation, evidence, and information to the guardian ad litem is an important part of the process and something that can significantly affect the outcome of your case if not done properly. Put our knowledge and experience to work for your case!

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