Guardian Ad Litems
A Guardian Ad Litem (“GAL”) is appointed in the court’s discretion to represent a child’s interests in divorce cases, custody/child support modifications, paternity actions, adoptions and other cases implicating the possible abuse/neglect of a child. The basic idea of the GAL is that a child (usually just those under 18) may be unable to vocalize what he/she want or is best for him/her, and thus the court should appoint someone to speak on his/her behalf. Alternatively, there are those unfortunate situations, as with divorce, where there may be a disagreement about custody, and rather than having the parents tugging the child in opposite directions, the court will appoint a GAL for the child to make him/ her almost a separate party to the action.
The GAL may, however, not be an attorney. Indeed, the pertinent Missouri Supreme Court rules make clear that a “guardian ad litem, whether or a lawyer or a volunteer…shall exercise independent judgment on behalf of the child.” The underpinning for this provisions seems to suggest that attorneys are not always fit to be a GAL. There is a distinct difference between being able to legally represent a child and being able to personally connect with the child and assuage (as best as possible) his or her anxiety from the pending action.
Accordingly, Missouri Law does allow the court to appoint supplemental GALs in an action. Very generally, in these circumstances, the attorney appointed to represent the child handles all of the legalese and manages the paperwork, while the GALs assist and work with the child more intimately. Despite all of these individuals’ differing roles in working on behalf of the child, they all are bound by confidentiality — and must at all times represent only the interests of the child.