What is a Guardian ad Litem and How do I get one?

You may have heard the term “Guardian ad Litem” or “GAL” in the context of custody disputes or Child in Need of Care cases. Most people understand a Guardian ad Litem to be an attorney representing a child, but it’s a little more complicated than that.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

In Kansas, a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is an attorney who is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the child or children involved in a case. This most often occurs when a child has been removed from his or her parents’ custody due to concerns for abuse or neglect but it can also occur in high conflict custody cases. Under Kansas rules, an attorney serving as a GAL must complete at least 6 hours per year of education in areas such as abuse and neglect, child development, mental health issues, special education law and others.

What does a GAL do?

When you think of an attorney, you probably think of someone who represents a particular party’s interest and works toward their client’s desired outcome. A GAL is a little different because the GAL doesn’t represent, necessarily, what the child wants or his/her desired outcome, but what is in the best interests of the child. In order to determine what is in the best interests of a child, the GAL must do an independent investigation including a review of relevant documents and interviews with the child, parents, social workers, educators, medical professionals and other parties who may have relevant information. The GAL is then expected to report the findings and conclusions of their investigation to the court and advocate for the child’s best interest. If the GAL’s opinion conflicts with the desires of the child, the GAL has an obligation to inform the court of the disagreement. For example, a child may want to drop out of school, move in with their friend's family and make a living playing in a punk band; but that's not likely what's best for that child in the long run. The GAL should advise the court of the child's desires and give their own recommendations. It will be up to the court to decide what orders are most appropriate.

Does Attorney-Client Privilege Apply to GALs?

Because a Guardian ad Litem represents the best interests of a child and not the child him- or herself in the traditional sense, the attorney-client privilege does not apply. However, many GALs will, in order to create a relationship where the child feels comfortably sharing information, keep as much information as possible confidential.

How do I get a GAL?

In cases where a child has been removed from the custody of his or her parents due to abuse or neglect concerns, Kansas law requires the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem as soon as the Child in Need of Care petition is filed.

In private custody disputes – such as a divorce or paternity action – the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem is discretionary for the court and an appointment may be made either on the court’s own initiative or by request of either party. Often, the court will often require the parties to split the expense of the GAL and this may include an upfront payment or retainer.

Danielle N. Davey is an attorney licensed to practice in state and federal courts in Kansas. She has served as a Guardian ad Litem in Child in Need of Care cases, as well as a parent's attorney. If you have questions about Guardians ad Litem in Kansas, or believe you may need a GAL, call Danielle at 785-357-6311.

The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. The law changes frequently and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Being general in nature, the information and materials provided may not apply to any specific factual and/or legal set of circumstances. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. Nothing on this blog is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.