Guardian ad Litem

A Guardian Ad Litem is often referred to as a “GAL” and is someone who has undergone training, received certification and is appointed by a Court in your case when you and your spouse cannot agree on the allocation of parental responsibilities (formerly known as custody and including decision making regarding a child’s health, education, religion, and extra-curricular activities) or parenting time (formerly known as visitation), spring break, winter break, summer vacation, or holidays, relocation of a child to another state, parentage, allegations of abuse, adoption. A GAL will also want to verify that they each parent is able to provide a safe environment that meets the children’s needs, and general child welfare. Most importantly, a GAL may interview children in an age-appropriate manner to discuss their relationship with their parents, their desires, and their concerns. Whether your situation involves divorce or paternity, the GAL’s directive is the same.

A GAL is directed by a Judge to investigate the facts and to make recommendations to a Judge as to how parental responsibilities should be allocated and as to what parenting time arrangements are in the best interests of your child. The Judge in your case will ultimately make the decisions as to which parent should have which allocated parental responsibilities and what parenting schedule is in the best interests of your child. The Judge has no independent knowledge of the facts of your case. A Judge will appoint a GAL to investigate the basic facts and report back to the Court.

The role of a Guardian Ad Litem role is defined by Illinois law. A Guardian Ad Litem’s role in simplest terms is to conduct an investigation and give an opinion and recommendations to the Judge as to who should have which or all parenting responsibilities and what parenting time each parent should have moving forward. A GAL’s recommendations are ultimately based on what the GAL perceives to be in the best interests of the child.

Once appointed by Court Order, the GAL has two principal duties. The first is to determine the best interests of your child. The second duty is to investigate and report to the Court on all matters the GAL deems relevant to the best interests of your child up and until parental responsibilities (custody) and parenting time (visitation) matters are resolved. The GAL will then give his or her opinion, the basis for their opinion, and recommendations to the Judge based on their investigation and opinions regarding these matters. Following a GAL’s investigation, the GAL will issue a written and/or oral report to the Court providing recommendations regarding outstanding issues that the parties would or could not resolve. The GAL may also be called as a witness during a divorce trial. While the Judge does not have to follow the GAL’s recommendations, typically, a Judge does follow them as the opinion and recommendations of a GAL carry a great deal of weight from an impartial person whose goal is to reach a resolution that will meet the best interests and needs of the spouse’s children and not to advocate for one spouse in particular.

As soon as the Guardian Ad Litem is appointed the GAL will frequently try to identify first what issues exist between the parents. Often, parenting time (the time each parent spends with the child) is an issue. Other times, one parent wants to move with the child outside the State of Illinois or a certain radius or School District where the other parent lives.

Often, a Guardian ad Litem’s investigation requires looking into private matters of the parents and the minor child. The GAL may ask about your family’s history, what brought you to the present disputes, what is currently going on, and what the future looks like with respect to your child’s needs and the present or ongoing issues between you and the other parent.

Sometimes, it is necessary to involve third parties, such as relatives, teachers, neighbors, friends of the child, daycare providers, extra-curricular coaches, therapists and doctors, and others with information pertaining to the child’s welfare. In fact, you may be asked to sign releases for medical and school related records. The ultimate goal of the GAL’s investigation is to help to bring about a fair and expedient resolution of all of the issues involving your child.

Usually, the Guardian Ad Litem will schedule at least one visit to the child’s residence to meet and interview all those who live there and perhaps one or more visits with each parent and the child in their home. Occasionally, a Guardian Ad Litem will ask for a background check perhaps including a criminal background check or even a fingerprint check the Illinois State police under the uniform conviction information act.

Susan knows the divorce process, and can provide a clear perspective on child custody, allocated parental responsibilities, and parenting time concerns. In particularly contentious and difficult battles regarding the children, Susan knows what is required and expected of the Court appointed GAL (having gone through the GAL training and receipt of certification herself) and can hold the GAL accountable to maintaining a high standard of service that includes proper investigation and analysis of the facts of each case.