An Illinois Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) serves as a witness to the court in legal matters that involve children. The court will base their decisions on child custody, visitation privileges, and child support on what the best interests of children. Courts appoint a GAL to observe children in their normal environment as they go about their daily routines.
The GAL interviews the children and both parents to conduct a thorough investigation and then reports their findings to the court. Since children are not able to represent themselves in court, the GAL is often referred to as an advocate for the child. The court could also choose to appoint an attorney for the child or someone else to be the child’s representative in court.
The GAL’s job
After being appointed by the court, the GAL will schedule interviews with both parents, the children, and other people who have relevant roles in the children’s lives. The GAL will visit with children and familiarize themselves with the daily activities of the children. A GAL can file motions in court on behalf of children, but the role of a GAL goes beyond that. A GAL prepares a report based on their interviews and findings. The report is available to both sides and considered court testimony. Both sides of the divorce can cross exam the GAL in response to the report.
The court is not bound by the GAL’s recommendations, but it is typically given significant consideration because the GAL is an objective third-party who has specialized training and is basing their findings solely on what they consider the best interest of the children. The court determines how a GAL is paid for their work. Typically, the GAL is paid from the marital property prior to it being divided or each parent is responsible for paying half of the GAL’s fees.
Cooperating with a GAL
Divorce and child custody disputes can become complicated and frustrating. The court must decide many important issues that will affect all parties involved for many years to come. A family law attorney can advise individuals who feel they were not fairly treated or accurately portrayed in the GAL’s report. If the court appoints an attorney to represent the children, that attorney must provide the same loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation they would to an adult client. If the court appoints an attorney to rep. the child(ren), that attorney is called a “Child Representative.” A child rep. (unlike a GAL). cannot be cross-examined at trial! Cook County judges tend to appoint Child Representatives, not GALs.