If you are thinking about filing for divorce in Illinois or you are having custody or parenting issues with the person you share a child with, you may wonder how parenting/children’s issues will be resolved when parents cannot come to an agreement. Who truly speaks to what is best for the children? That is the role of a Guardian ad Litem (also referred to as a “GAL”). As a custody lawyer in this article, our divorce lawyer explains what is a Guardian ad Litem in Illinois, why a guardian may be appointed in a family court case, and what the guardian does in these cases.
What is a Guardian ad Litem in Illinois?
In Illinois, a Guardian ad litem is a divorce attorney with special training who is appointed by an Illinois Family Court to investigate issues regarding custody or visitation and to look out for the best interests of the children involved. Because Illinois family court judges are very busy and do not have the time to investigate claims in family court, the GAL essentially acts as the “eyes and ears” of the court.
When Would a Guardian ad Litem be Appointed in Illinois?
Illinois statutes governing GAL’s state that one may be appointed in any proceeding involving child support, custody, visitation, allocation of parental responsibilities, education, parentage, property interest, or general welfare of a minor or dependent child. How this typically plays out is a follows: in Illinois, divorcing parents or parents who have a child in common ultimately need to designate how the parents will make significant decisions for the children (formerly called “custody”) and how the parents will share parenting time with the children (formerly called “visitation”) in a final document that will govern parenting issues (called an “Allocation Judgment”). Parents need to decide whether they will make shared significant decisions for the children in the areas of religion, education, medical, and extracurricular activities. If the parents cannot agree in this regard (for example Mom wants sole decision-making and Dad doesn’t agree, he wants shared decision-making), then a GAL may be appointed. Or, perhaps, the parents do not agree on the schedule for parenting time, for example, Dad wants all overnights, but Mom wants to split overnights 50/50. In these circumstances, either party may bring a motion to appoint a GAL or the court may, on its own motion, appoint a GAL.
The Illinois family court may also appoint a GAL in a post-decree matter (a “post-decree” matter means that the divorce is final and the issue is arising after the divorce) involving modification of decision making or parenting time. An example would be if parents share joint decision-making and equal parenting time, yet Mom is struggling with alcohol abuse and it has impacted her ability to parent. Dad may come to court and request that he is awarded sole decision-making and the court orders Mom to be sober during limited parenting time. A GAL would be appointed.
What Does a Guardian ad Litem do in Illinois?
The GAL will receive copies of the court file (the motions and responses filed, and the Allocation Judgement if it is a post-decree matter) and may request other relevant documents, such as the children’s report cards, attendance reports, medical records, and/or police reports. The GAL will investigate allegations made by interviewing the parents, the children, and perhaps, teachers, doctors, coaches, other extended family members, or other individuals relevant to the situation at hand.
The GAL then prepares an oral or written report to the court regarding his or her recommendations in accordance with the best interest of the child. That is the standard. The standard is not what Mom wants or what is convenient for her. The standard is not what Dad wants or what is convenient for him. The standard in court regarding issues related to children is in the best interest of the child. Overall, the Judge will take the GAL’s recommendations into account and is extremely likely to follow such recommendations.
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These are general principles regarding GAL’s, the cases they are involved in, what they do, and the weight Judges typically give to a GAL’s recommendations. However, each case is unique, and the Law Office of Deanna J. Bowen can help you navigate this process. Should your case warrant the involvement of a GAL, our child custody attorney meets with you before any appointment the children have with a GAL to ensure that you understand the process and put their best foot forward when interacting with the GAL.