In this article, we discuss what happens when you are preparing to work with the guardian ad litem in your child custody or divorce case in Illinois. We answer the questions In Illinois What Does the Guardian Ad Litem do in My Custody or Divorce Case? and How Do I Prepare for a Visit With My Guardian Ad Litem?
A Guardian Ad Litem is an attorney with family law experience who is responsible for investigating the facts surrounding the child and each of the parents and submitting a report to the court containing the Guardian Ad Litem’s recommendation as to how parenting time and responsibility should be allocated in order to serve the best interests of the child. The Guardian Ad Litem is the eyes and ears of the court—and plays a neutral role dealing with child custody issues.
In Illinois What Does the Guardian Ad Litem do in My Custody or Divorce Case?
The Guardian Ad Litem will typically interview both parents and the child. The Guardian Ad Litem may also interview third parties such as psychologists, doctors, teachers, and relatives. The GAL will typically conduct a “home study,” during which she will visit the child(ren)’s residence and interview the other residents.
The Guardian Ad Litem will submit a report to the court containing her findings and recommendations. The Guardian Ad Litem may then be cross-examined by the parties. The judge will often follow the Guardian Ad Litem’s recommendations but is not required to do so.
Once a Guardian Ad Litem has been appointed by the court, he or she will receive copies of all of the pleadings in the case and must be present at all court dates. Guardian Ad Litems can file pleadings, file motions requesting relief on behalf of the children, and may call and cross-examine witnesses.
How Do I Prepare for a Visit With My Guardian Ad Litem?
There are several things to consider when preparing and visiting with the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). Here are just a few:
- Prior to your interview with the GAL make sure your attorney has drafted the parenting plan. It does not need to be a complete plan, but something that provides the GAL with an idea of what parenting time you would like, what type of decision making you would like. Make sure you understand the different terms for a parenting plan. Such as:
- Majority Parent – The residence of the parent the child will be residing with the majority of the time. It will become your child’s primary residential address.
- Parenting Time – Time spent with your child—formerly known as visitation.
- Shared Parenting – Occurs when a child spends 146 nights at each parents’ residence.
- Co-Parenting – Parenting together, while living apart—can you do this?
- Allocation of Decision-Making/Parental Responsibilities – Who will make most of the decisions for the children, or what type of decisions will each parent make. This includes medical, educational, extracurricular, and other parenting decisions. Most of the time parents will share in the decision making. Decision making is not based on where the children reside.
- Do not discuss child support issues with the GAL. This is a topic for you and your attorney to address. Your time with your child should not be motivated by how much support you may or may not have to pay.
- Understand the court relies heavily on what the GAL recommends. The GAL is the court’s eyes and ears. The GAL is the one who is talking to the child(ren), doing home visits, talking to parents, family members, and others the GAL believes are involved in the child(ren)’s life. The GAL will observe the child, and then provide the judge with the recommendation of what the GAL believes is in the child’s best interest.
- Treat the interview with the GAL like a job interview. Be on time for your appointments, be prepared, and DO NOT bring your child(ren) to the appointment unless you are told to bring them.
- Do not bad mouth the other parent to the GAL. The GAL is there to learn about the relationship between you and your child(ren), what you would like for parenting time, and custody. If the GAL asks what you believe the other parent’s abilities are to parent, be honest with facts, but do not put them down. There is a difference between saying “my spouse does not spend time with the kids and watches t.v. all day” versus “my spouse is a lazy good for nothing, and cannot get her fat butt off the couch to take care of the child(ren)” Be diplomatic and factual.
- Focus on the best interest of your child(ren) not your best interest. How do you support your child socially? How are you teaching your child to handle difficult situations? How are you parenting them through the various experiences they are having through life? The GAL knows you want to be with your child, explain how it is beneficial to the child to be with you.
- Be organized, have your documentation, paperwork, schedules, text messages and anything else you and your attorney have decided is relevant ready to provide and discuss with the GAL.
- Discuss with your attorney who would be beneficial for the GAL to interview. But keep in mind the GAL makes the ultimate decision who will be interviewed. You can provide a list, but make sure it is not a huge laundry list. You do not need the GAL to interview everyone. Remember the more individuals the GAL interviews, the more it will cost you.
- Finally, BE HONEST. If you are in a relationship the GAL needs to know. If you have changed jobs or lost your job the GAL needs to know. Keeping secrets from the GAL will end up hurting you as the GAL tries to assess what is best for the child(ren).
If you follow these simple steps, and work with your attorney, the process of working with the GAL will be less cumbersome and go smoothly.