What to Know About Guardian Ad Liems
By: M. Scott Gordon
If you are going through a complicated family law matter and a minor child is involved, you will likely need to learn more about the role a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) may play in your case. While a GAL can also play a role in cases that do not involve children (such as those involving adults with disabilities), questions about the role of the GAL often arise in family law cases where there are contentious issues involving a minor child. We often work with clients who have a variety of questions about Guardians Ad Litems, so we want to give you more information about GALs and how they work in legal cases involving families.
What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
When it comes to GALs in family law cases involving minor children, Illinois law has particular information concerning the representation of a child. According to the statute (750 ILCS 5/506), the court may appoint an attorney to serve in a capacity as a representative of the child in proceedings involving the support, custody, visitation, allocation of parental responsibilities, education, parentage, property interest, or general welfare of a minor or dependent child. Under the statute, a representative of the child may include one of the following:
The statute clarifies the GAL’s role is to determine what is in the best interests of the child and then to “testify or submit a written report to the court regarding his/her recommendations in accordance with the best interest of the child.” All parties in the case will get a copy of the GAL’s report. The GAL also can be asked to testify in a family law matter concerning his/her recommendations in their report. To create the report, the GAL investigates the specific facts of the case and the GAL also conducts interviews with the child and any other relevant parties.
How Does a GAL Get Appointed?
According to the language of the statute, a GAL can be appointed in different ways:
Is There a Difference Between a GAL and a Child Representative?
Given that a GAL is a trained lawyer, it can be difficult to understand the distinctions the law draws among a child’s attorney, GAL and child representative. When a child has an attorney appointed, the attorney serves as an advocate for the child and provides legal counsel to the child. This is different from what the GAL does, which is investigating the facts of the case as a third-party to determine what is in the child’s best interest, and to testify in Court.
What about the distinction between a GAL and child representative under Illinois law? Under the statute, the child representative and GAL both conduct investigations, but the child representative as defined by the statute does not issue a recommendation or report to the court (like the GAL does) and cannot be called as a witness (while the GAL can).
Seek Advice from a Family Law Attorney About Guardians Ad Litem in Your Case