Great, One More Lawyer: Guardians ad Litem

It’s an age-old joke that the more lawyers are involved, the more confusing (not to mention expensive) a situation tends to become. Whether well-founded or not, there are many situations that having lawyers involved is simply a foregone conclusion. One of the most prevalent of these examples is a case involving the well-being of a child. In many of those cases, a separate attorney will be added to the case to act as a guardian ad litem (“GAL”, literally guardian at law) to represent the best interests of the child or children involved. While of course many parents have the best interests of the child in mind during litigation over custody, such an emotional type of litigation can make it difficult for the child to remain at the forefront of concern.

A Mississippi court will appoint a GAL when there is a claim of abuse or neglect of the child by one or both parents. This could be physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect such as failing to provide the child with proper shelter and food. Other situations where the appointment of a GAL is mandatory in Mississippi include:

If DHS seeks protective services for a vulnerable adult and that person lacks capacity to waive the right to counsel;

In eminent domain and condemnation proceedings for parties who are minors or otherwise incompetent and are without a general guardian;

In a divorce proceeding based upon incurable insanity, if the defendant otherwise has no legal guardian;

If the mother dies while a paternity case is pending;

In a guardianship action where an interested party wishes to establish an estate plan, and it is determined the ward will remain incompetent during their lifetime;

Termination of parental rights;

Contested adoptions; and

If an individual convicted of felony child abuse wants visitation the child.

This is not an exhaustive list, and therefore it is evident that in almost any situation where the possibility of the child playing second fiddle to an issue in a case, Mississippi courts will appoint a GAL. This is an attempt to ensure that the child is treated fairly, and, above all, not taken advantage of or used as a pawn in litigation. Unfortunately, the nefarious use of a child’s presence in a case to get the upper hand is not evident at the outset of the case to either the lawyers, judges, or even the parties themselves.

Mississippi attorneys who serve as guardians ad litem must undergo training in juvenile justice provided or approved by the Mississippi Judicial College, and must renew that certification every year. The appointment of a GAL is an important step in litigation, and parties to suits in Mississippi should feel comforted in knowing that the attorneys serving in that role are required to refresh their memory of how to properly serve as a GAL. It can be intimidating to feel as though a party has one more person to impress or convince during litigation, on top of the judge, their lawyer, their friends and family, and their child or children. However, a GAL is involved in the case to represent the child, and their involvement should be welcomed and their input appropriately considered. Their work truly is selfless.

Child custody cases are some of the most time-consuming, expensive, and stressful cases that come through our office. It is our primary practice area. While many times the events during litigation seem petty and trite, the outcome is one that will shape the course of the relationship with the parties and the child(ren) for years. Therefore, the presence of a well-respected guardian ad litem is a large boost in the confidence that the best result will be reached for the child. While many times it is true that the mere presence of lawyers will breathe life into a conflict, suits impacting children are ones that a better result can be reached by having another attorney join the fray. If you or someone you know has a question about child custody litigation and the role that a guardian ad litem plays in litigation, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. We have the experience and knowledge to answer almost any question you may have about this process, and the benefits that come along with the appointment of a GAL.

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