The Role of a Guardian Ad Litem in Family Law Cases

In Kansas, a judge is required to appoint a guardian ad litem for any child under the age of 18 who is involved in a petition for a child in need of care or is involved in a high-conflict divorce. A guardian ad litem (GAL) must appear for and represent a child’s best interest during these types of proceedings.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?

In short, a guardian ad litem must represent the best interests of the child but the child might have inconsistent wishes with what the GAL determines. If that’s the case, the GAL must let the court know of the inconsistency and tell the court about any information the child wants to share.

It’s important to note that a guardian ad litem is not the same as an attorney. The GAL represents the best interests of the child and while there is a level of confidentiality, it is not the same as attorney-client privilege. If a guardian ad litem has been assigned in your family law situation, here is what you should know about their role.

Conduct an Independent Investigation

A guardian ad litem must conduct an investigation of all relevant documents, records, and evidence. This may be done through interviews with people that have knowledge of the facts of the case. The results will be submitted to the court along with what the GAL recommends. The GAL must continue to investigate throughout the course of their representation.

Determine the Child’s Best Interests

The GAL must use the court-provided factors for evaluating the best interests of a child. Age, maturity, ethnicity, culture, and other factors that relate to family circumstances must be considered, along with the evidence from the independent investigation.

Provide Representation in Court

The guardian ad litem must file all appropriate documents on behalf of the child throughout the proceedings. At every court hearing, they must represent the relevant facts and the child’s position on the situation. The GAL must advocate for the best interests of the child by calling witnesses, submitting evidence, and presenting written and oral arguments.

Communicate with the Child

For a child enduring these changes, it is imperative that the guardian ad litem maintains communication during the entire process to explain the situation clearly. When a child’s position differs from the GAL, a second attorney may be appointed; however, the GAL will still need to maintain communications with the child, which may be done with the attorney present.

Monitor, Evaluate, and Make Recommendations

Aside from monitoring the implementation of court orders, the GAL needs to evaluate the situation and make recommendations as necessary. The guardian ad litem is essential in providing valuable information and insights to the court but they do not get to make decisions in a case.

How Is a Guardian Ad Litem Appointed?

The court needs to appoint a guardian ad litem immediately once the petition for a child in need of care is filed or when abuse or neglect concerns require the need to remove the child from their parents’ custody. Judges may also appoint a GAL in private custody disputes at the court’s discretion or the request of another party. In Kansas, it may also be required to appoint a guardian ad litem for probate proceedings in certain circumstances.

It is never easy when family struggles arise for any reason. If you have questions about your situation, it is best that you contact a family law office in Overland Park, KS, to discuss the next steps in your case.