Custody Disputes and Guardians Ad Litem
Child custody disputes are devastating for divorcing spouses and their children. If you are fighting and having trouble coming to an agreement with your divorcing spouse, the courts may appoint a “guardian ad litem” (GAL) to determine what is in the best interests of the child.
According the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, when deciding on whether to appoint a GAL, the court will consider the evidence and will evaluate whether there are other methods available to obtain necessary information, such as through mental health or social service professional recommendations. The expense is considered as well. Some judges may appoint GALs in nearly every case, and others will appoint a GAL only at the request of one of the involved parties.
What does this mean for you, and how should you deal with the GAL to make sure the solution is best for both you and your child? The experienced family law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. can help you evaluate your individual circumstances and find the best way for you to understand how to interact with the GAL.
Here are some answers to questions you might have:
- What is a “guardian ad litem?” In Illinois, a “guardian ad litem” needs to be a lawyer and have completed education requirements in areas such as child development, family dynamics, legal ethics in custody cases, and substance abuse. GALs are appointed by the judge to investigate and inform the court about the best interests of the child. They do this by meeting with and talking to the child and with each parent individually. They want to see where the child would be living and find out how the child would be cared for. They might talk with other people involved with the child, like teachers, babysitters, grandparents, or doctors. The GAL will then report the findings to the judge to help the judge make a custody decision. Often, the report recommends a living situation for the child.
- Sometimes, especially for older children, the appointed attorney is assigned the role of child representative, or attorney for the child. An attorney for the child represents the child in a typical client-attorney relationship. Child representatives have the investigative powers of a GAL, can form their own opinions, and can also file pleadings on behalf of the child.
- What will the judge do in my case? The individual judge will decide whom to appoint based on circumstances in the case. Usually, courts prefer GALs when children are very young or where abuse or dishonesty by a parent is suspected. GALs are good at getting facts because they can investigate all the parties and can be cross-examined by both parties.
- How is the GAL paid? Service may be free or on a sliding scale if the representative or GAL is from the government office of the public guardian. The court may also appoint a private attorney and approve fees as reasonable and necessary. Fees are shared between the parties or apportioned according to income.
- Will my child be interviewed? Even if the child is too young to communicate, the GAL will meet the child. If you’re dealing with a child representative or attorney, any information the child provides is confidential and can’t be shared with you without the child’s permission.
- How can I give my side of the case? The GAL and child representative will interview both you and your spouse, so you can tell them your side of the story and your concerns about issues regarding your child. Make sure you share all relevant information you consider to be important. These conversations are not confidential.
- Can a GAL or child representative testify or submit a report to the court? Child representatives and attorneys can’t testify. They must make legal arguments to the court like any other lawyer, based on the evidence. A GAL may testify and submit a report to the court. GALs are available for questioning by the judge, and their testimony can sometimes speed up a lengthy custody dispute.
The facts and circumstances of each case are different, and since issues are so complex and vital to a child’s well-being, it makes sense to seek legal counsel. The skilled family-law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd., can help guide you through this difficult time. We represent and advise clients in all types of child custody matters, including dealing with GALs.
For a free initial consultation with an experienced and compassionate DuPage County custody lawyer, contact us online or call 630-305-0222 or 312-388-7882. Visit our firm’s child custody information center for valuable background information for a free initial consultation.