A guardian ad litem (GAL) was appointed by the court in my divorce. I, along with my ex-husband, am responsible for paying the GAL's fees. I am filing for bankruptcy to get rid of other debts. Can I get rid of the guardian ad-litem fees in bankruptcy?
Most likely not.
Ultimately, whether fees owed to a guardian ad litem (GAL) are dischargeable depends on which state, or bankruptcy circuit, you live in. Not every bankruptcy circuit court has specifically ruled on this issue. However, most courts that have considered this issue have ruled that GAL fees are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. If a debt is not dischargeable, it means you still owe the debt when your bankruptcy is over. (Learn more about the bankruptcy discharge.)
What Are Guardian Ad Litem Fees?
In some divorce cases or other cases involving a legal dispute concerning a child's custody or welfare, the court appoints a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the child. The guardian ad litem, who is often an attorney, investigates the background, living conditions, and family relationships of the child and then makes a recommendation to the court. In many states, the parents or parties to the lawsuit are responsible for paying the fees of the GAL.
GAL Fees Are Domestic Support
In bankruptcy, debts owed for domestic support obligations are not dischargeable in either Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In most bankruptcy circuits that have dealt with this issue, GAL fees are considered to be in the nature of domestic support. It does not matter if the fees are owed to someone other than your child or ex-spouse. That is because a GAL is a representative of your child and is performing services to support and protect that child.
Consequently, you usually cannot wipe out GAL fees in bankruptcy.
Exception or Partial Discharge
It is possible, depending on where you live, that GAL fees may be partially discharged if someone other than you is jointly liable for the GAL fees. This usually involves your ex-spouse or other parent of the child. However, if a court order specifically requires you to pay all or a portion of the GAL fees, then those GAL fees are nondischargeable.