Michael Wurster: Hi, I’m Michael Wurster. I’m an attorney here at Zanck, Coen, Wright & Saladin in Crystal Lake, and today, we’re going to talk about what a GAL is, or what is otherwise known as a Guardian Ad Litem is, and what their role can be in your case.
A GAL, 99% of the times, it’s an attorney who has at least five years of experience in custodial issues, parental decision making issues between parties regarding the children. One side or the court on their own can petition and appoint a GAL or Guardian Ad Litem.
This is always whenever there’s an issue again regarding parental decision making and parenting time. It’s not going to be involved in any financial issues. It’s not going to be involved if there’s no kids present. They’re only going to appoint a GAL so that you can help determine what parents should be able to do for parental decision making in parenting.
By that, what I mean is GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) is supposed to be the eyes and the ears of the court.
They’re supposed to be an objective third party who, because they have experience and knowledge of the law, can go in and observe each party. Say mom is saying dad’s not a fit parent, while maybe dad files a petition to have a GAL appointed or mom does as well. The GAL can go to both mom’s house and dad’s house, observe both the parents with the child there, see how the child and the parent interact, will look around the residence of each party, make sure there’s nothing dangerous, it’s kept clean, it’s suitable to have an actual child there.
If there’s black mold growing, it hasn’t been cleaned in months, obviously it’s a health risk for the child, the guardian ad litem is going to put that in the report and make a point of it. If dad seems uninterested while the child’s there, the child seems scared or they can openly talk in front of the dad, but when you go to mom’s house, you can tell the child doesn’t want to speak about dad because he knows mom might get mad.
You have other witnesses that the GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) can talk to, teachers, extracurricular activity leaders, maybe a football coach, a karate teacher. Other people who interact with the kids and can see the parents interacting with the children, they can say, “No, dad comes to every school event. Dad picks up his child on time,” or, “No, mom’s actually a really caring mother. She is always here at every activity. We’ve spoken plenty of times about how their child is doing. She would be a very fit parent in my mind.”
The GAL can look at communications between the parties and speak to witnesses as I’ve already described and then put it in a report. That report will be given to both parties and then normally to the court unless there’s some objection. That is to give the court an objective point of view as to what is happening in the case.
As we all know, there’s always two sides to a story and both parties are going to allege things that aren’t always necessarily true. Instead of focusing on just what plaintiff and defendant have told the court, the court can go to this attorney who, again, knows the law, has been able to interview the parties, the children, other witnesses, local communications between the parties and give this recommendation to the court that yes, only one party should have parental decision making or the parenting time should be set at this.
It’s not set. It’s not as if the court has to accept that recommendation, but they do carry a lot of weight. If you think it’s completely unfair and biased, you can challenge the GAL’s report by trying to cross-examine the GAL, bringing out different facts. It is very hard to do though. A GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) can play a very important role in a case.
You have to know, though, it also does add a lot of extra expense. It’s an attorney. They bill at attorney rates, so you have to be prepared to pay for a GAL to be involved. Sometimes it can be the difference between one party making bald allegations that it’s hard to prove or disprove and you having really no way to overturn those allegations versus having somebody who might go, “No, that’s completely inaccurate,” or, “I have found nothing to support those allegation in my investigation. Based on what I’ve seen, I do believe that this is what should take place. This is my recommendation.” It’s not always that simple, but I think that’s a good general overview of what a GAL is and what their role might be in a case.