If you’re involved in a family law case with a child, you may hear the term Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or learn that one has been assigned to your child. It’s important to know what a GAL is, what they can and can’t do, and what to expect if one is assigned to your family. Read on for more information.
What Is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A GAL is appointed to a case involving a child’s best interest. In Illinois, the GAL is an attorney who has volunteered to be available for that role. It’s not uncommon for an Illinois judge to appoint a GAL to family law cases involving children, so it’s not necessarily a sign that something bad has happened in the case. Either parent has the option of requesting a GAL as well.
In the role of GAL, the attorney doesn’t represent either parent. Instead, their job is to interview all relevant parties to learn what’s happening with the child in order to make a recommendation to the court that the GAL thinks will best meet the child’s needs. Illinois requires GALs to undergo special training to handle this role appropriately.
When Is a GAL Likely to Be Brought into a Case?
If one parent or the other believes that they have the child’s best interests at heart, they may request a GAL to confirm that. A judge is likely to appoint one when it becomes clear that the parents cannot agree on any of the various child-related issues, including support or custody (also known as parental responsibility) and visitation issues.
There are some situations where the court will bring in a GAL at the beginning of the case rather than waiting to see if the parents can come to an agreement.
- Neither parent nor guardian appears at the initial or subsequent hearings.
- There’s a conflict of interest between the parents and their child.
- There are allegations of child abuse or neglect.
- The court deems it in the child’s best interests to have a GAL in the process.
What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?
It varies from case to case, but generally, they review all files related to the case. They may also request other files and records, including school and medical records or police reports, if applicable. They will also interview the parents and children involved and possibly others, including teachers, doctors, therapists, extended family members, neighbors, coaches, or anyone who could share valuable insight.
Once the investigation is complete, the GAL writes up a report with recommendations, often regarding custody and visitation. It’s critical to understand that the GAL’s report focuses solely on what’s in the child’s best interests. Neither parent’s wishes are going to take top priority. This is sometimes difficult for parents to grasp. That’s why it’s strongly recommended that you have a family law attorney involved if a GAL is appointed to your case.
The role of the GAL in family law is an important one. The judge assigned to the case takes the GAL’s report and recommendations seriously and usually follows those recommendations.
What Is the Difference Between a Guardian and a Guardian Ad Litem?
A guardian is someone who is appointed, either by the court or through a will, to become responsible for a minor. Essentially, the guardian will act as the child’s parent. A GAL will not become the child’s stand-in parent. Instead, they investigate the child’s family and life to determine what the best outcomes in the case would be. Once the case is over, the GAL does not act in a parental role for the child.
Is There Any Way to Challenge a Guardian Ad Litem’s Recommendations?
Yes, but be aware that unless there was provable negligence or misconduct on the part of the GAL, the court holds those recommendations as authoritative. The judge is far less interested in whether either parent thinks they were treated unfairly by the GAL if the GAL’s report shows that it focused on the child’s best interests.
However, suppose you think you have a good case to make that the recommendations aren’t actually in the child’s best interests. In that case, it’s possible to call the GAL into a deposition (and possibly court) for questioning about how they arrived at the recommendations. It’s also possible to bring in another person with specialized skills in evaluating a child’s best interests, and that’s a pediatric psychiatrist.
Note that in Illinois, GALs have nearly complete immunity from being sued for their recommendations.
Is There a Cost for a Guardian Ad Litem?
Yes. A GAL may charge anywhere from $75-250 per hour. They send their invoice directly to the court, where it’s reviewed to ensure it’s appropriate. Once approved, the invoice is sent to the parents. If one or both parents can’t pay, they can take steps to request the fee be waived.
What Should I Do if a Guardian Ad Litem Has Been Assigned to My Case?
Call us at 312-757-4833 for a no-obligation case evaluation. Our experienced family law attorneys will help you understand what role the guardian ad litem will play, what to expect, and prepare you for your interviews. It’s highly recommended that you have an attorney if a GAL has been assigned to your case, as they understand the role of the GAL and how the investigation might unfold. They’ll also help you prepare for your interviews with the GAL.