Recently, the Will County Circuit Court has been relying on Guardians at Litem to assist in investigating and making recommendations in order to resolve disputes between parents centered on the issues of parenting time, the determination as to who will make major parenting decisions for the minor child(ren), and other parenting issues. Previously, judges were routinely appointing experts to investigate and make recommendations on these types of issues. Unfortunately, even though these experts provided comprehensive, and at times exhaustive, reports and recommendations on what were formerly referred to as custody and visitation disputes, the amount of time it would take to finish their investigations and submit recommendations, along with the expense incurred for their work, made the appointment of such experts unattractive to most parents.
The appointment of a Guardian at Litem (GAL) to represent the minor child(ren) in these disputes is routinely a quicker and more cost-effective way to address the issues involved, and helps provide the Court with guidance in considering the best interest of the child(ren). It is important to keep in mind that GALs do not represent the parents, and parents should not expect a GAL to treat them as a client. Parents must always rely on the advice of their own counsel, especially when dealing directly with a GAL. Most importantly, parents should discuss with their own attorney the subject matter that they may be asked to address when speaking with a Guardian at Litem, as well as how best to present their position to the GAL, while at the same time deciding how to minimize the weaknesses in their case when questioned directly by the GAL. Many parents make the mistake that a GAL is somehow co-counsel in advocating for their position. Many times the GAL receives information from parents that most attorneys would caution against disseminating. Therefore, interacting with a GAL is an important subject that should be thoroughly discussed with an attorney before such communication begins.
Finally, please remember that GALs do not perform the same type of an investigation that an expert would perform. Their investigations tend to be less comprehensive than those conducted by an expert, and the recommendation may also be more limited. If a Guardian at Litem does not believe your position would be in the best interest of the children, you still may be able to successfully contest the GAL’s opinions in a courtroom through cross-examination, and additionally, you may be able to hire an expert to challenge their investigation and ultimate recommendation.
It is important to discuss the potential for the appointment of a GAL in your particular case with an attorney, as well as the possible ramifications of such an appointment. Feel free to contact McNamara Phelan McSteen, LLC for a consultation with one of our family attorneys.
John Rossi is a partner with McNamara Phelan McSteen, LLC. He has been practicing in the field of matrimonial and family law for almost two decades, and acts as an appointed mediator for Will County family mediations. He also acts as a court-appointed guardian ad litem, and is an experienced real estate and probate attorney. Contact John for a consultation regarding the impending changes to Illinois matrimonial law.