Kentucky’s Guardian Ad Litem Litigation:
A Model for Seeking Role Clarity
By Amy E. Halbrook*
Unfortunately, few jurisdictions have clear standards to tell courts and lawyers when or
why a lawyer for a child should be appointed, or what the appointee should do.
-- American Bar Association Section of Family Law Standards of Practice for Lawyers
Representing Children in Custody Cases, August 2003.
Lawyers should act like lawyers in custody proceedings.
-- Morgan v. Getter, 441 S. W.3d 94, 98 (Ky. 2014).
Children, some of the most vulnerable people in our society, deserve highly competent lawyers
who understand their roles, duties, responsibilities, and authority under the law. Children’s
lawyers, however, frequently struggle with conflicting obligations and lack of direction. These
lawyers often have to reconcile their obligations as lawyer/advocates, investigator/reporters, and
decision-makers, and these challenges can raise legal and professional responsibility concerns.
In Morgan v. Getter, the Kentucky Supreme Court was asked to clarify the role of counsel for
children in private custody matters. 1 The litigation, the possibilities it raised, and its aftermath
provide a model for other jurisdictions to seek role clarity as well.
Part I of this article describes the national problem of role confusion, the reasons therefor, and
the varying roles that a child’s attorney can perform in custody matters. Part II describes and
dissects Morgan, the Kentucky case that analyzed and ultimately defined the role of counsel for
Associate Professor of Law, Director of the Northern Kentucky University Chase Children’s Law Center Clinic,
Salmon P. Chase College of Law, Northern Kentucky University; J.D. Northwestern University School of Law;
B.A. University of California at Berkeley. The author wishes to thank Stacey Platt, Acena Beck, Krista Burton and