Guardians ad Litem and their purpose in Illinois.

What Is a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) in Illinois? Understanding a GALs Impactful Role in Family Court.

In the intricate dynamics of family court, where decisions profoundly impact children's lives, a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) emerges as a central figure. At NSLAC, we work closely with GALs on our staff and others to ensure that children’s voices are heard, and their interests are protected during challenging family disputes. 

In Illinois, a Guardian ad Litem is appointed by the court to serve as an unbiased advocate, dedicated solely to safeguarding the best interests of children involved in a family dispute. Unlike an attorney, a GAL brings a unique perspective focused on the child's welfare. This includes considering the child’s relationships with parents and other relatives, living conditions, and any potential risks that they may face.  

Guardians ad Litem ensure that the voices of children are heard within the legal system. A GAL will provide the court with impartial recommendations regarding custody, visitation, and other matters on what they believe is best for the child based upon research and observation. 

What is the importance of Guardians ad Litem?  

Guardians ad Litem are often referred to as the eyes and ears of the courtroom, helping give judges a complete picture of the child’s situation. GALs play a crucial role in ensuring that the voices of children are heard, and a child’s best interests are protected. GALs provide a unique perspective by uniquely focusing on the child's situation and interests, separate from the interests of parents or other parties involved in the case. By conducting thorough investigations and making recommendations based on the child's needs and well-being, GALs help judges make informed decisions that promote the child's safety, stability, and overall welfare.  

What are some common responsibilities of a Guardian ad Litem? 

Common responsibilities of GALs include conducting interviews with the child, parents, caregivers, and other relevant parties; reviewing documents and records related to the case; observing interactions between the child and others involved; attending court hearings and providing testimony; and making recommendations to the court regarding custody, visitation, and any necessary services or support for the child. 

What distinguishes Guardians ad Litem from other legal representatives, such as attorneys or social workers? 

Unlike attorneys and social workers who typically represent specific parties or provide direct services, Guardians ad Litem independently advocate for a child's best interests. They're appointed by the court as neutral observers, unlike traditional legal representatives. Additionally, GALs can be called as witnesses or cross-examined regarding the Guardian ad Litem report or recommendations, setting them apart from child representatives. 

When and how are Guardian ad Litem appointed? 

Illinois statutes outline that a Guardian at Litem may be appointed in any proceedings involving the support, custody, visitation, allocation of parental responsibilities, education, parentage, property interest, or general welfare of a minor or dependent child. The court can appoint a GAL when parents cannot agree on the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. The motion to appoint a GAL may be made by either the court or as a request by one or both parents.  

GALs are selected from a court’s list of trained and approved attorneys. When appointing a GAL, the court may consider factors like availability and specialization, sometimes assigning specific cases to individuals with special experience serving in similar cases. A complete list of GALs approved to serve in Lake County, Illinois can be found HERE. 

It is important to note that an attorney cannot serve as both legal counsel for a party and as a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) in the same case. This separation ensures that GALs can maintain impartiality and focus solely on the child's welfare without conflicts of interest. This separation helps uphold the integrity of the GAL role and safeguards the interest of a child within legal proceedings. 

What is NSLAC’s role as GALs?  

NSLAC’s Domestic Violence Law Practice attorneys are trained and approved Guardians ad Litem by the Lake County’s Judicial Circuit. Our attorneys are appointed to serve as pro bono GALs in cases involving domestic violence and financial need. As appointed GALs, NSLAC attorneys leverage their training and knowledge to carefully review each case to ensure the voices of those they represent are heard and considered in court.  

Have more questions?  

Have more questions regarding Guardians ad Litem or domestic violence? Please call NSLAC at 847-737-4042 or email info@nslegalaid.org. NSLAC provides free legal aid services in the areas of housing, domestic violence, and immigration to low-income residents living in north suburban Cook County or Lake County. Interpreters are available upon request in all languages. Services are available regardless of immigration status.    

Sources: 

“Child Atty/Child Rep/Guardian Ad Litem.” Www.cookcountycourt.org, www.cookcountycourt.org/ABOUT-THE-COURT/County-Department/Domestic-Relations-Division/Child-Rep-Guardian-Ad-Litem-GAL#2971441-what-is-a-guardian-ad-litem. Accessed 1 Apr. 2024. 

“Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) Basics.” Illinoislegalaid.org, 2024, www.illinoislegalaid.org/legal-information/guardian-ad-litem-gal-basics#:~:text=A%20Guardian%20ad%20Litem%20(GAL. Accessed 1 Apr. 2024. 

“Illinois General Assembly - Illinois Compiled Statutes.” Www.ilga.gov, www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=075000050K506. Accessed 1 Apr. 2024. 

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