What Is a Guardian ad Litem?
Family law is one of the most sensitive and challenging areas of the law. While the applicable statutes themselves may not be quite as complicated as tax or real estate law, for example, the personal nature of issues such as divorce and the allocation of parental responsibilities make them particularly difficult for who are going through them.
In some cases, child-related disputes can become so contentious that the parties are unable to remain objective and focused on the child’s best interests. When this happens, the court may appoint a specially trained attorney to serve as a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the duration of the proceedings.
The Job of a GAL
In Illinois, a guardian ad litem must be a licensed attorney who has undergone specific training on how to resolve family law concerns. Each county maintains a list of available GALs who may be appointed when needed by the court.
Although a GAL is an attorney, he or she does not represent the interests of any party involved in the case, nor does the GAL represent the child directly. Instead, a guardian ad litem acts as an extension of the court tasked with gathering information and preparing a recommendation regarding the outcome that he or she feels would be in the child’s best interest.
When a guardian ad litem is deemed necessary, it is usually because attempts at reaching an amicable resolution have failed. In such a case, it is not uncommon for each parent to present exaggerated arguments intended to make themselves look better and the other parent look worse. The truth, however, usually lies somewhere in between, and it is the GAL’s job to find it.
To do so, the GAL may conduct interviews with each parent, the child, and any other person who may impact the outcome of the case, such as teachers, new romantic partners, grandparents, and roommates. The GAL may also visit each parent’s home and review financial documents or court records to generate a comprehensive understanding of the situation surrounding the child.
Making a Report
Based on the GAL’s findings, he or she will prepare a report and a recommendation for the court regarding an ideal outcome. The recommendation must take into account everything that the GAL has learned and his or her training. The GAL’s proposal is treated as expert witness testimony during courtroom proceedings, which means that both parties have the right to cross-examine the GAL about his or her investigation, techniques, and conclusion. For its part, the court will usually give substantial weight to the GAL’s recommendation, but the court is not required to institute it in full.
Questions About GALs?
If you are in the midst of a child custody (parental responsibilities) dispute and a guardian ad litem has been appointed, it is important to know how to conduct yourself during the investigation. Contact an experienced Kane County family law attorney to get the help you need today. Call 630-232-9700 for a confidential consultation at The Law Offices of Douglas B. Warlick & Associates today.