In Illinois, it is common for judges to appoint a guardian at litem (“GAL”) to look out for the best interest of the children in a divorce case, and to present an objective picture to the court. Often, the GAL’s involvement is limited to an initial investigation. There are cases, however, where the findings of the GAL give rise to additional litigation that takes a serious toll on the parties.
The GAL’s mandate can give him broad reaching powers. The GAL may interview the child and the parents, and may consult the child’s physician or therapists. This process may take time and may result in substantial fees for the GAL, which often results in litigation over who has to pay those fees.
More importantly, the guardian ad litem can have a strong influence on child custody and visitation. Take the case of Ed and Lynn, for example. After the parties decided to divorce, they agreed to a non-traditional visitation arrangement. In approving the arrangement, the court relied on the report of a GAL. Ed and Lynn continued their post-divorce life under their arrangement, until the GAL filed a motion with the court arguing that the child may have been suffering from gastrointestinal issues caused by divorce-related stress. The court reappointed the GAL even though the father challenged the GAL’s motion, and ordered an investigation.
The GAL’s report found that based on the medical exams, there was no link between the gastrointestinal issues and the divorce. However, the GAL still concluded that based on his observations and discussions with the child’s therapist, a traditional visitation schedule was in the best interest of the child, with custody being awarded to the mother.
Although the father was successful in appealing the new visitation schedule that followed the GAL’s recommendation, it still required lengthy and expensive litigation. If you are facing a divorce that involves minor children, consult an experienced Illinois family law attorney who can explain you your options.