Deciding how parenting time and parental responsibilities will be structured to best meet the needs of your children during a divorce is perhaps the most important decision divorcing parents will make. Parental responsibility means making major decisions affecting your children such as education, religion, medical care and more. Parenting time means how much time children will live with each parent. If parents cannot agree on these important issues they may be referred to mediation. If this process fails to resolve disagreements the court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to assist the judge in making custody and support decisions.
When a Guardian Ad Litem is appointed many parents have questions about their role. What exactly is a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) and what are their responsibilities?
A GAL is an attorney whose role is to represent the best interests of the children as determined through an investigation. When parents cannot agree or there is a special concern for the welfare of the children, the court will appoint a GAL to conduct formal and informal discovery, hire experts, interview witnesses, investigate claims of domestic abuse, and provide feedback on parenting plans, stipulations, or mediation agreements reached by the parties.
Although the work “investigation” sounds intimidating to parents, most often what a GAL does is informal discovery which includes meeting with the parents, children and other people with significant information to make recommendations regarding the best interests of the children. Parents may be asked to sign a release so that the GAL can look at records, such as health or school records. The GAL may ask for input from experts such as a social workers or mental health providers who may provide future testimony in court. If there are substance abuse issues, the GAL may also ask the judge to order a parent for an evaluation. As necessary, a GAL will conduct more formal discovery through interrogatories, deposition or document production all in an effort to determine what parenting time and parental responsibility arrangement is best for the children.
Ultimately, the GAL considers the wishes of the children and both parents; a child’s adjustment to home, community, school and their ages and developmental needs; the physical and mental health of the parents and children; and the need for the children to have regular occurring and meaningful placement in order to provide predictability and stability. All other significant factors that affect your children’s well-being will be considered before the GAL makes recommendations to the court.
Contact an Illinois Children’s Rights Lawyer
If you have questions regarding Illinois parenting time (child custody) or parental responsibility contact the Lake county Illinois children’s rights family law offices of Schlesinger & Strauss LLC for answers at 847-680-4970.