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Guardian ad litem? GAL? What's that?

Understanding the Role of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) in Family Law Cases

If you find yourself involved in a family law case that concerns custody or visitation issues, you may come across the term "Guardian ad Litem" or "GAL." In Illinois, a GAL plays a critical role in advocating for the best interests of the child involved in the case.


In Illinois, "custody" is now called "allocation of parental responsibilities" and visitation is called "parenting time." However, for the sake of clarity, we will use the terms "custody" and "visitation" in this post, as those are the terms most people understand and are familiar with.



What is a Guardian ad Litem (GAL)?

Under Illinois law, 750 ILCS 5/506, a Guardian ad Litem, commonly referred to as GAL, is a legal representative appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the child during a family law proceeding. The primary focus of a GAL is to ensure the well-being of the child and to provide recommendations to the court that align with the child's best interests.


Key Responsibilities of a Guardian ad Litem

The role of a GAL in a family law case involves several important duties, which are outlined in both state laws and specific court rules. Let's take a closer look at these responsibilities:

  1. Fact-Finding and Investigation: The GAL is tasked with thoroughly investigating the facts of the case. This may include conducting interviews with the child involved, as well as the parties concerned, such as the parents or guardians. Additionally, the GAL may also interview family members and other individuals with special knowledge of the child's circumstances.

  2. Access to the Child and Documents: The GAL has the right to interview the child without limitation. The Court will typically grant the GAL access to the child and all relevant documents pertaining to the custody or visitation issues, if requested by the GAL.

  3. Determination of Services and Recommendations: The GAL must determine what services the family needs to address the custody or parental responsibilities dispute and make appropriate recommendations to the parties and the court. Their goal is to advocate for the best interests of the child throughout the proceedings.

  4. Settlement and Dispute Resolution: Whenever possible, the GAL will explore the possibility of reaching a settlement agreement that serves the child's best interests. They may attempt to resolve custody or visitation disputes through agreements that benefit the child's well-being.

  5. Written Reports and Testimony: The GAL is required to submit a written report to the court detailing their investigation, findings, and recommendations. This report will be made available to all parties involved in the case. Furthermore, the GAL may be called as a witness for cross-examination regarding their report and recommendations.

Qualifications to become a Guardian ad Litem

To become a GAL in Illinois, an individual must be an attorney. This requirement ensures that the GAL possesses the necessary legal knowledge and expertise to fulfill their role effectively.

Local Rule 4.06 - Winnebago County Specific

It's important to note that local courts may have specific rules governing the appointment and activities of GALs. In Winnebago County, for instance, Local Rule 4.06 outlines the baseline of activity required for a GAL in a custody or visitation case. This rule encompasses a range of activities, from interviews and investigations to report issuance and court appearances.


Takeaways

A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a crucial figure in family law cases involving children. Their primary responsibility is to advocate for the best interests of the child and make recommendations to the court based on thorough investigations and fact-finding. If you find yourself facing a family law case with custody or visitation issues, the guidance and expertise of an attorney can help you through best practices with a GAL on your case. If you want to learn more, call now to schedule a consultation or schedule through our website.

Disclaimer: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. It should not be construed as legal advice nor is it a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information provided in this post without seeking appropriate legal or other professional advice from a lawyer licensed in your state, country, or other jurisdiction.

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