If you are going through a divorce or custody dispute, then a guardian ad litem (GAL) is neutral third-party lawyer who is appointed by the Illinois court to act as the representative or “voice” for your child(ren).
A GAL will look deeper into the issues facing the child (ren) and will make recommendations to the court about what the GAL feels is in the best interest of the child (ren). These recommendations do not force the hand of the court but are taken into serious consideration. A GAL is useful in communicating the daily life details, needs, wants and interests of the child(ren) to the judge.
A GAL’s advice and recommendations can include:
- Which parent should get legal and physical custody
- A reasonable parenting time schedule
- Whether therapy or psychological testing is needed or warranted
The mission of a GAL is to “protect the interests of the minor” and there are various ways a GAL may undertake this.
What and who a GAL might ask
A guardian ad litem’s investigation may involve your family’s private matters including the history of your marriage, divorce and custody dispute. A guardian ad litem will be interested in knowing what your relationship with and plans for the future of your child (ren) are. Thus, a guardian ad litem may need to speak with neighbors, relatives, friends, teachers and doctors. You you may be asked to sign releases for this information.
- Typically a GAL will schedule at least one “home study” visit to meet with you and the child (ren) and other residents in your home. This is done to better understand your family’s lifestyle, routines, personalities, and attitudes.
- A GAL may ask for a background check if he or she feels your situation warrants it.
- Documentation from your child’s therapist, doctor, teacher or the court may also be reviewed by the GAL.
- A GAL can make recommendations based on information in a parent’s history that may include mental health, chemical dependency, and domestic abuse.
When and where the GAL may meet your child (ren)
Meetings with your children and the GAL can take place at home or at school. As a parent you may be present, or in some situations you may not be present. The GAL has a responsibility to investigate, witness and report to the court what he or she feels is in the best interest of your child so the GAL will take the steps necessary to fulfil this duty.
Guardians ad litem and the Illinois Court
The Illinois court has three significant rules regarding a GAL:
(1) The GAL must accept the appointment in writing with the court.
(2) The GAL can get all copies of pleadings in the case.
(3) Unless specifically excused, the GAL will be present at all court proceedings.
Mandatory GAL appointment
While not every custody or divorce case requires a GAL to be appointed to your case there are certain instances when this appointment is mandatory. These include:
- If there are allegations of physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse
- If there are chemical dependency or drug issues of the parents that adversely affect the minor child(ren)
- If there are allegations of or a documented history of neglect, insufficient food, clothing, or shelter for the child (dren)
- A lack of education, medical care for the child (ren)
- Other serious concerns
The court has the authority to appoint a GAL if there are indications that the interests of the child require this. For example, a GAL may be appointed if one parent is blatantly hostile or indifferent to the child’s interests, although this is not typical. An experienced family law attorney can answer your questions about the role of a GAL in your specific case.