When Should a Guardian Ad Litem Be Appointed?

When Should a Guardian Ad Litem Be Appointed?

By: M. Scott Gordon

When child custody cases—or cases concerning the allocation of parental responsibilities—in the Chicago area become particularly contentious or difficult, a guardian ad litem (GAL) may be appointed for the children. According to the Cornell Legal Information Institute (LII), “courts frequently appoint guardians ad litem to represent children’s interests in cases involving adopting, child custody, child support, divorce, emancipation, and visitation rights.” In other words, the GAL acts on behalf of the child or children in a particular situation. But when should a guardian ad litem be appointed in an Illinois family law matter? And how does a guardian ad litem get appointed?

We will say more about the guardian ad litem process, and when a guardian ad litem should be appointed in a family law case in the Chicago area.

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

Before getting into questions about the appropriate timetable for appointing a guardian ad litem, it is important to understand what a GAL is and what that party’s role is in a family law case.

A guardian ad litem is an attorney who represents the interests of a party who cannot adequately represent his or her own interests. Guardians ad litem in family law matters are most commonly appointed in cases involving minor children, as well as cases involving adults who lack capacity.

Under Illinois law (750 ILCS 5/506), a GAL’s duty in a family law matter is to “testify or submit a written report to the court regarding his or her recommendations in accordance with the best interest of the child.” The GAL is required to make his or her report available to all parties involved in the case, and the GAL later “may be called as a witness for purposes of cross-examination regarding the guardian ad litem’s report or recommendations.” It is the GAL’s duty to “investigate the facts of the case and interview the child and the parties.”

When Should a Guardian Ad Litem Be Appointed?

Generally speaking, a guardian ad litem should be appointed at any moment in which it is important for a third party to represent the needs of a child in a family law case. In most situations, a GAL is appointed when there is a custody dispute, or as Illinois law now says, a dispute regarding the allocation of parental responsibilities.

Although the judge in any custody case ultimately will make the final decision about how parents will share parental responsibilities (if they will in fact share parental responsibilities), the guardian ad litem can provide information about what is in the child’s best interests through an investigation. As soon as a child custody dispute arises, it is generally a good idea to have a guardian ad litem who can give a neutral assessment of what is in the child’s best interests after performing a thorough investigation, and to make a recommendation concerning the allocation of parental responsibilities to the judge.

It is important for families to understand that a guardian ad litem may be asking difficult and personal questions, but the guardian ad litem is not working for one side in a divorce or child custody case. Rather, the GAL is solely appointed to represent the child, and to ensure that the outcome of the case is in the child’s best interest.

Learn More from a Chicago Family Law Attorney

If you have questions about child advocacy and how a guardian ad litem may play a role in your child custody case, you should speak with a Chicago family lawyer today. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC for more information about the services we provide.