What is a Guardian Ad Litem and How Do They Work For Children?
A guardian ad litem (abbreviated as GAL) are lawyers appointed by judges in the family court who are tasked with advocating for the children’s needs and interests. In family law cases, which can include a Kansas or Missouri divorce, a paternity or parentage case, or other child custody modification, if abuse or neglect is alleged by either parent against the other parent, it is mandatory that the court appoint a guardian ad litem to ensure that the best interests of the child or children involved are protected.
GAL’s are tasked by the court with being your children’s voice in the court proceeding. While each parent, with their lawyer might advocate for what he or she wants or believes is best for the children, it is important that the children’s needs in the process are considered and honored.
Attorney Mandee Pingel has been licensed as a guardian ad litem for many years. It is an honor and privilege for her to be appointed by courts to serve children when they are going through a difficult time. The skills acquired for Mandee, both in being a parent herself, as well as in having many years of specialized child-focused, child-centered needs and advocacy will serve you well in your child custody, divorce, paternity or other family law case.
In order to zealously advocate for your child’s interests and needs in a child custody case, a guardian ad litem will need to become familiar with the unique needs and situation of your family. Understanding the dynamics between the parents or third-party care provider helps the GAL identify what to advocate for and what is in the best interests of the children. Your guardian ad litem might investigate the following for the benefit and best interests of your children:
- Interviews with your child with or without each parent present
- Interviews with each parent
- Interviews with other family members, family friends, or other important people with close relationships to the child
- Meetings with teachers, school counselors, therapists, social workers, or others who have worked with the child and have neutral insights into the child’s needs
GAL’s might also request to review a child’s school records, physical and mental health records, and other information that gives them insight into the child’s interests and needs.
Generally, they will also ask each parent to present any evidence or information about the best interests of the children. This may include photographs, journal entries, letters or documents written by the children, among other information.
In order to advocate for your child’s needs, the guardian ad litem has to have a clear picture of the family dynamic and the life the child has lived prior to the litigation beginning. This includes the guardian ad litem becoming educated or understanding the cultural, regional and other needs of your family. Often, the GAL is evaluating the factors the court is required to use in custody determinations, which focus on the best interests of the child. Some things a guardian ad litem might consider and report to the court include:
- Each parent’s ability and willingness to care for the child
- The child’s well-being when under the care of each parent
- Any risk factors or other concerns involved with a parent
- The child’s relationship with other household members of each parent, including siblings and extended family or significant others;
- The child’s community and school attendance with an eye towards maintaining consistency in school and location;
- The special needs of the child and each parent’s ability to provide for them
- The stability of each parent’s home
- Whether there is a history of domestic violence or substance abuse by a parent
- The child’s preference for custody and the reasons/motivations for this preference
Once a GAL believes they have an accurate picture of what the child wants and a consideration of the child’s needs, as well as what is in the child’s best interests (which may or may not be the same thing), the Guardian ad Litem will present their report to the judge in the case. The GAL is also able to testify if needed about their report and their discussions with the child, which can prevent the necessity for the child to have to testify in their parents’ custody case. Of course, asking your child to testify and placing the emotional burden on him or her is rarely in their best interests.
When Will the Court Appoint a GAL for Your Child?
In Missouri, if either parent files a motion and alleges abuse or neglect by the other parent, it is mandatory for the court to appoint a guardian ad litem. On the other hand, if either parent asks for it, the court can use its discretion to appoint a GAL where the court believes that having a GAL will serve the child’s best interests. In Kansas, similarly, if there is abuse or neglect to investigate, the court will find it necessary to appoint a GAL, but has the ability to appoint a GAL on other occasions when the court finds it in the best interests of the children. Generally when other serious or complex issues exist in a custody situation, the court will want to ensure the child’s needs are properly represented in court. A GAL can also help serve as the child’s voice when it might be inappropriate for the child to speak to the judge or testify in court on their own.
Once appointed, the guardian ad litem’s involvement in your case will depend on the circumstances of your situation. Some GAL’s do not spend as much time researching the family and child’s interests, and they can make a recommendation to the court fairly quickly, but other GAL’s will need to have frequent contact to investigate ongoing issues throughout the case.
If you have a child custody, divorce, third party custody or other family law matter, work with an attorney who also serves as a Guardian ad Litem, so that you can ensure your legal counsel and your legal strategies are centered on the needs and best interests of your children. Call to schedule your consultation today and let our family and child-focused attorneys help your family. Call today at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation!
“I have known Attorney Pingel for more than fifteen (15) years. Mandee is a lawyer I consider a respected colleague. She has a reputation for being intelligent, knowledgeable about the law, well-prepared and kind.”- A Lawyer in Liberty, Missouri
“First and foremost, I have to say Thank You again to Mandee, Tsion and Grace for everything they do, not just for me, but for all their clients.”- Joe L.
“I absolutely loved working with this attorney’s office.”- Emily S.
“We worked with Mandee Pingel to represent my wife in a child custody case. Mandee and her team were amazing to work with. She and Tsion communicated with us regularly. This helped us tremendously.”- Zac D.
“I met with 4 different attorneys before scheduling a consultation with Mandee. During our engagement, Mandee was very thorough and to the point and had no problem calling it how it is, which included appropriately correcting others at times.”- Jason G.