The ending of a marriage means major life changes for children as well as the parents. During legal proceedings, it is important that the children’s best interests be heard and fairly expressed. Neither parent’s attorney may represent the child, however–they may only speak for their client. That is where the GAL comes in.
Either parent may request that a GAL be appointed to independently represent their child or the Court may order the appointment of a GAL. According to Missouri law, when custody, visitation or child support is contested during divorce, legal separation or petition for custody modification, the court can appoint a GAL. The court must appoint one for any proceeding when there are allegations of child abuse or neglect, and cases involving orders of protection.
The GAL is an attorney who has had special training. The judge will give them a written order to define the scope of their task. They may be asked to provide a broad recommendation, or to address a specific issue.
To evaluate what is in the child’s best interests, typically the GAL will meet with both parents, and with the child if that is age-appropriate. They may also need to gather input from knowledgeable third parties, such as other family members, care givers, counselors, teachers, social workers and/or health care professionals. When custody is contested, the GAL, a judge or a parent may also ask that a qualified person conduct a custody investigation and evaluation.
Once enough information has been collected, the GAL then makes their recommendation to the court. It is likely to be influential in the judge’s final decision. Generally speaking, the judge will seek to fulfill a child’s need for a “frequent, continuing, and meaningful relationship” with both parents, unless that is found to be inadvisable.
All of us here at Raza & Jones, LLC understand this is an especially challenging time for our clients. As a family law firm, under St. Louis County’s Order pertaining to COVID-19 we are considered an essential business, and we remain open and available to all our clients. Our entire firm is working remotely, using our Zoom account to meet with clients or speaking by telephone. We are committed to delivering the same high standard of compassionate, effective representation we’re known for, in the face of rapidly changing circumstances.
With a combined 30 years in family law, the attorneys at Raza & Jones, LLC, will provide the legal guidance you need. For questions, or to schedule a confidential consultation, call 314-449-8830.