Anytime two people go to court over a dispute regarding the care and custody of minor children, the court must carefully assess what is best for the child. Although the vast majority of parents truly want what is best for their kids, reasonable people can certainly disagree about what is indeed the best thing. Jealousy, anger, resentment, and any number of other hostile emotions are frequently at play in a divorce or separation case, so it is not uncommon for the court to find it difficult to ascertain what is really going on outside of court. This is where a guardian ad litem (GAL) comes in. The GAL does not represent the parties, so if you need representation, you should speak to an experienced family law attorney near you right away.
Understanding the Role of the GAL
No matter how good of a parent you think you are, remember that the judge does not know you personally. He or she must rely on what you and your spouse (or your respective attorneys) tell the court. Because the judge’s primary concern is protecting minor children, the judge will want to get a glimpse into the home life, parenting, and other elements that may make a difference. A court-appointed guardian ad litem acts as the eyes and ears of the court. The GAL will typically speak to each parent separately and find out as much as possible about their point of view, what they want for the child, and how they propose to handle issues that may arise. The GAL will also speak to the child, assuming the child is old enough to communicate. The GAL then prepares a report to the judge, which summarizes the GAL’s findings, opinions, and recommendations.
Confusion About the GAL’s Position
Many people get confused about the various attorneys and representatives that can be involved in a child custody dispute. Section 5/506(a) of the Illinois Family Code sets forth the obligations and responsibilities of GALs, as well as other representatives. For instance, in a child custody dispute, there may be up to three additional individuals involved in the process, beyond the attorneys representing the parents. These may include:...