Representing Children in Divorce

The Role of the Guardian ad Litem and the Child’s Attorney

In Oklahoma, a Guardian ad Litem and a Child’s Attorney can both play a part in representing children in divorce, but the roles they play differ significantly. Here is a brief description of when a Guardian ad Litem or a Child’s Attorney might be appointed in a high-conflict divorce or an adoption, guardianship, or a juvenile court case.

Guardian ad Litem

A Guardian ad Litem (sometimes referred to as a “GAL”) is a mental-health professional or an attorney appointed by the trial judge to represent the child when parents disagree about custody or access. Many cases involving a GAL are high-conflict divorce cases. A parent can request a GAL for the child; the trial judge can also make the appointment without a parent’s request. Western Oklahoma family lawyer Donelle H. Ratheal has served as a guardian ad litem in divorce and paternity cases for more than a decade; in 2006, the Family Law Section of the Oklahoma Bar Association presented him with the “Outstanding Guardian ad Litem” award for her efforts on children’s behalf in court cases.

The Child’s Attorney – Adoption, Guardianship, and Juvenile Matters

An attorney must be appointed for a child who is the subject of an adoption, a guardianship, or a juvenile court case. The child’s attorney represents the child, and has a duty to the child as his client, unlike a Guardian ad Litem. The judge can appoint both an attorney and a Guardian ad Litem for the child in certain juvenile cases. In these cases, the Guardian ad Litem can be a non-attorney, and is more likely to be limited to an investigative role.

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