What Role Does a Guardian Ad Litem Play in a Domestic Relations Case?

Imagine being a 6-year-old child in the middle of your parent’s highly contentious divorce. In some instances, when divorcing parents are fighting each other to receive the most favorable divorce settlement, the best interests of the child can fall to the wayside. An objective observer who can focus on the child’s best interests can be extremely helpful.

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

Illinois family court judges have the power to appoint a guardian ad litem to represent minors when parenting or custody issues arise in a domestic relations case. The guardian ad litem is often a volunteer attorney who has the duty to represent the child’s best interests. Guardian ad litems are often called “child representatives.” These court-appointed attorneys act as the eyes and ears of the court. Guardian ad litems have a duty to report any suspicious incidents to the court and advocate on behalf of a child.

What are the Responsibilities of a Guardian Ad Litem?

A Guardian Ad Litem receives copies of the court file involving the child. He or she may also request other relevant documents, such as the child’s school reports, medical records, and report cards. The guardian ad litem conducts an investigation into the domestic relations dispute at hand and can interview doctors, teachers, parents, and the child, if necessary.

After conducting an investigation, the guardian ad litem prepares a written or oral report. In the report, the guardian ad litem gives the court his or her recommendations as to the best interest of the child. The guardian ad litem cannot base his or her recommendations on the best interests of either of the parents. Instead, he or she must base his decision on the child’s best interests. Many Illinois family court judges value the opinions of guardian ad litem and will implement their recommendations.

Parenting Plans and Guardian Ad Litem

Sometimes family court judges will appoint a guardian ad litem to offer parenting plan recommendations when a parenting plan is highly disputed by two divorcing parents. A guardian ad litem may offer specific recommendations as to the following issues:

  • Equal parenting time
  • Vacation and holiday schedules
  • Legal custody disputes
  • Disputes over decision-making authority
  • Grandparent or third-party visitation access
  • Shared vs. primary custody

Challenging the Recommendation of a Guardian Ad Litem

Attorneys acting as a guardian ad litem have the responsibility to act in the best interest of the child they represent. In some cases, however, a guardian ad litem may make a biased and unfair recommendation. When this happens, the attorney representing one of the parents can attempt to cross-examine the guardian ad litem. During the cross-examination, an attorney can attempt to demonstrate any contradictions in the recommendation, any biases, or any mistruths. Challenging the recommendation of a guardian ad litem is not always easy to do.

If you are involved in a domestic relations case, the skilled divorce and custody attorneys at Glasgow & Olsson can help. Contact our Cook County law firm today to schedule your initial consultation.

(image courtesy of Liv Bruce)

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