In divorce, custody, and juvenile cases in the states of Illinois and Iowa, a Guardian ad litem can be appointed by the court to represent the legal interests of a minor child in the case. This article will discuss the role of a Guardian ad litem in such cases.
What is a Guardian ad litem?
A Guardian ad litem is an attorney who is appointed by the court to represent the interests of a child. That attorney will meet with the child, visit their home, see their living situation, review evidence, and otherwise make themselves familiar with the facts of the case so as to be able to report to the court what is in the child’s best interest. That goal of advancing the child’s best interests is central to the role of the Guardian ad litem in Illinois and Iowa cases that involve children.
The role of a Guardian ad litem in a divorce or custody case
A Guardian ad litem (GAL) can be requested by either party in a divorce or custody case in Illinois or Iowa, and the court will then determine after a hearing whether to appoint a Guardian ad litem (and how to pay for the Guardian ad litem). Some custody or divorce cases are complex enough that the court will determine that having a Guardian ad litem who can interview the child or children and report to the court what the children want and what is best for the children (which may be different things) is essential to the court’s ability to reach the right outcome for the case. While most custody and divorce cases do not involve a GAL, some cases benefit greatly from having one appointed. For example, a GAL may meet in private with the child and discuss matters that the child may not feel comfortable discussing with each parent, such as where the child wishes to live, or problems that the child is having with a parent, etc. Having a Guardian ad litem who can report to the court their unbiased impressions can help the court sort out the truth from a situation where each parent is saying the opposite of the other parent.
Depending upon the circumstances in the case, the court may order that the party requesting the Guardian ad litem pay the cost of having a GAL, or that the costs be split, or any other resolution that allocates the expense as the court sees fit. It is common that the court will take into consideration the parties income, the circumstances of the case that make a GAL necessary, etc.
Whether seeking a GAL would be beneficial to either parent in a divorce or custody case is a question whose answer turns upon a variety of factors that are unique to each case. There are some divorce and custody cases that I have handled in Illinois and Iowa where my client benefited because we sought a GAL. There are also cases where I am glad that the opposing party’s request for a GAL was denied, as a GAL would not have been beneficial to the client’s case but would have increased the expense of the case for the client. The decision as to whether to seek a Guardian ad litem – and how to respond if the opposing party requests one – is a decision that is best reached after discussing the matter with one’s attorney.
The role of a Guardian ad litem in a juvenile abuse/neglect or adoption/guardianship cases
In juvenile cases that involve allegations of abuse/neglect, or which involve adoption or guardianship, the role of the Guardian ad litem is to investigate the facts and report to the court as to what action would be in the child’s best interest.
For example, in a guardianship case the GAL would visit the home of the people or person who are seeking to obtain guardianship of the minor child to see if that home is suitable for children. The Guardian ad litem would also interview the prospective guardians, the biological parent(s) of the minor, and the minor. Normally, the GAL would then make a written or verbal report to the court with his or her findings, so that the court has the information necessary to determine if the guardianship should be granted.
In a case involving child abuse or neglect accusations against a parent, the GAL may meet with the child to ask the child about the abuse/neglect that is alleged and to get the child’s take on what really happened. The GAL may make recommendations to the court as to whether or not the child is in need of the court’s intervention to keep the child safe, and if so what services the child may need.