2024 Changes in Illinois Law Regarding the Reports and Recommendations for Guardian Ad Litems 750 ILCS 5/506
On January 1, 2024, the Illinois law relating to the reporting requirements for a guardian ad litem appointed in cases such as divorce cases, and parentage cases dealing with custody issues, will change. In divorce and parentage cases where there are disputed parenting/custody issues, a court has the authority to appoint a guardian ad litem to become the eyes and ears of the Court and to conduct an investigation, including conducting home visits, and interviewing the children and interested parties. The guardian ad litem is also directed to provide a report and recommendation to the Court after the investigation is concluded. Previously, the Illinois statute 750 ILCS 5/506 stated that a guardian ad litem should investigate the parenting issues and then provide a report and recommendation orally or in writing. Courts typically would not order the guardian ad litem to provide a written report and recommendation unless there was going to be a hearing or trial on the contested parenting issue.
The new statute taking effect in 2024 now provides that, unless the Court directs otherwise, the guardian ad litem shall submit to the court and the parties a written report, written recommendations, or a proposed parenting plan not less than 30 days before a final hearing or trial. This changes the standard procedure from an oral testimony by the guardian ad litem to a written document. The guardian ad litem must also now be made available for a deposition prior to a hearing on the parenting disputes, regardless of discovery cutoff deadlines. The new statute also clarifies the authority of the guardian ad litem, authorizing the guardian ad litem to be present for all proceedings, issue subpoenas, and file pleadings.
One advantage of receiving a written report and recommendation from a guardian ad litem should be that the parties will have a clearer understanding of the guardian ad litem’s recommendation and the bases for that recommendation. A guardian ad litem should be able to provide a more detailed and thorough analysis and explanation for the recommendation in writing rather than orally in court where there is limited time allocated for the report in a court status hearing. The requirement of a written report should also presumably put additional pressure on a guardian ad litem to support the recommendation, since the recommendation will likely be subject to more scrutiny than would be possible if the recommendation consisted of only a brief oral summary. A disadvantage of a written report and recommendation will be that it will take time for the guardian ad litem to prepare a written report and recommendation. That means that it will cost the parties additional funds for time billed by the guardian ad litem to prepare the documents and for time billed by the attorneys to review the documents. The time required to prepare and review such documents could be significant, particularly in more complex cases. Another potential disadvantage with the new law is that the parties will now need to wait for the guardian ad litem to prepare the written report and recommendation before a hearing can occur because it must be provided 30 days before a hearing or trial. This means that there could be potential delays in scheduling a hearing or trial if the guardian ad litem is not able to prepare the report in a timely fashion. Although the new statute makes clear that the norm should be to require a written report and recommendation or parenting plan, it still ultimately gives the Court discretion to decide that oral testimony will suffice. It thus remains to be seen the practical effect the new statute will have in divorce and parentage cases.