Chicago Attorneys Laura J. Henneman and Nate D. French Serve as Pro Bono Guardians Ad Litem in Guardianship Case Involving Chicago Minor
In early March, Ms. Henneman and Mr. French were appointed by the Circuit Court of Cook County to serve as Guardians ad Litem (GAL) in a problematic guardianship case. The case was received through Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. The court appoints GALs to investigate the circumstances involved in the case and make a recommendation to the court as to what is in the “best interest of the child.” The court often appoints a GAL when the parties disagree about either the initial appointment of a guardian, the discharge of a guardian, or the appointment of a successor guardian. A GAL represents the child and advocates on behalf of the child throughout the case.
The child involved was a 16-year old boy from Chicago, Illinois. The Petitioner, the child’s great aunt, filed her Petition for Guardianship in order to obtain full guardianship of her nephew who she alleged was already living with her. The Respondent, the child’s mother, opposed the Petition as she did not feel that the Petitioner was a suitable guardian for her son. Respondent also claimed that her son was not living with the great aunt, and was instead, living with her. As GALs, Ms. Henneman and Mr. French were tasked with determining which person would provide the child with the safest and most stable living environment. From the onset of the appointment, Ms. Henneman and Mr. French set out to make a decision that would serve the child’s best interests. In order to do this, GALs typically conduct a thorough investigation of the circumstances, which may include interviews of all interested persons; collecting and reviewing records, such as the child’s school, counseling, and physician records; and, if necessary, asking that individuals submit to a drug test or home investigation.
Over the course of the next month, Ms. Henneman and Mr. French conducted an initial investigation which involved interviewing the Respondent and the Petitioner and collecting records from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Chicago Public Schools, etc. The initial investigation revealed that both the Petitioner and the Respondent loved the child, and truly wanted what was best for him. Through their interviews, Ms. Henneman and Mr. French confirmed that both persons had proper housing for the child and the ability to care for him. However, the situation between them had become strained mainly because they were conflicted on how to deal with the child’s behavioral issues, such as his refusal to go to school and counseling.
Ms. Henneman and Mr. French planned to interview the child and other family members and obtain additional records, however, during the midst of the investigation, in late April, Ms. Henneman and Mr. French received word from the Petitioner that she wished to withdraw her Petition for Guardianship. In a handwritten letter, the Petitioner explained that she no longer wished no have guardianship of the child. After receiving the letter, Ms. Henneman and Mr. French attempted to get in touch with the Petitioner, but were unable to reach her. Following this, conversations with the Respondent revealed that the child was living with her and would possibly live with his grandfather in the future. She was trying to get the child into another alternative school or program and attend regular counseling.
In light of this, at a status hearing in mid-May, Ms. Henneman reported to the Court that the Petitioner wished to withdraw her Petition for Guardianship. Ms. Henneman further informed the Court of the results of the initial investigation, namely that the Respondent was fit to be the child’s guardian. The Respondent and a DCFS representative were also present. The DCFS representative confirmed Ms. Henneman’s report and agreed with her assessment of the Respondent’s suitability to remain guardian of her son. At that point, the Court closed the estate as it no longer had standing in light of the withdrawal of the Petitioner’s Petition.