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Illinois Divorce Lawyer: What is a Guardian ad Litem?

Most of the cases that we manage at Law Offices of Michael F Roe are complex cases, sometimes involving serious issues with child custody, and often a HCP (High Conflict Personality/Parent). Within these divorce or parentage cases the courts in Illinois follow a pattern of addressing the issues of the best interests of the minor children in terms of where the child(ren) with live primarily, and what allocation of parenting time and decision making will be awarded to each parent. Mediation, while mandatory in Illinois, usually is not effective in these complex cases. More typically, the court will initially appoint a Guardian ad Litem to investigate the circumstances of the parents and the family and give recommendations to the court on allocation of parenting time and decision making.

Practice Pointer: The role of the GAL in a child custody (allocation) case is important, but in my view, it must also be kept in mind that the role of a retained clinician (custody evaluator) is equally significant and important in a complex child custody case. As valuable as GALs are, they do not possess the clinical experience and psychological education as evaluators (most custody evaluators have Ph.Ds in psychology, or the equivalent). Many times, a good GAL in tandem with a good custody evaluator gives the Court the ability to capably assess and evaluate the best interests of children in a complex custody case. 


In this article, I discuss the role of a ‘guardian ad litem’ in Illinois.

  • What is a ‘guardian ad litem’?
  • What is the GAL’s role?
  • How does the GAL conduct investigations?
  • What factors does the GAL consider?

What is a ‘guardian ad litem’?

A  GAL, is an attorney with specific GAL certification in each county. In Illinois, these attorneys must be licensed to practice law in the State of Illinois.

What is the GAL’s role?

The GAL’s role is to represent the best interests of the child(ren) in your divorce case. This occurs when two parents who are involved in a divorce or custody case cannot agree on important issues such as child custody, visitation and support. The GAL assists the Court by conducting  investigations and making a recommendation to the judge using these facts that represents what is best for your children. This does not mean they will recommend what your children want regarding parenting time.

How does the GAL conduct investigations?

The GAL investigates facts relevant to child custody through conducting formal and informal discovery. Informal discovery can include interviews of each parent, the child(ren), and other related parties. It can also include review of school records and medical records.

What factors does the GAL consider?

There are several legal factors that the GAL uses to make their recommendations to the Court. Relevant factors include:

  • History of domestic violence between the parents;
  • Child’s relationship with each parent and their family members;
  • Health and behavioral history of the parents;
  • Cooperation and communication capacity between parents;
  • Reports of any relevant professionals (psychologists, therapists, etc.)
  • Substance abuse or mental health issues of either parent.

Who pays for the guardian ad litem?

In Illinois, the judge decides who pays for the ‘guardian ad litem’, but typically, each parent is ordered to initially pay one half of the cost of the GAL’s retainer and given a deadline by which to pay their portion. Thereafter the court can allocate the GAL’s fees based on different factors.


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