What is the Difference Between (1) an Attorney for the Child, (2) a Child Representative, and (3) a Guardian ad Litem?

When a married couple decides to end their marriage and they have a child or children together, they often disagree on how matters should play out regarding the best interests of their child or children, as it is easy to lose sight of what is really important in a heated divorce proceeding. If you find yourself in this situation, then you should be aware of the differences between (1) an attorney for the child, (2) a child representative, and (3) a guardian ad litem.

These three individuals are third party, unbiased advocates that the court can appoint or the parties, through their attorney’s, can motion for to make sure the child’s or children’s needs are put first during a contested family law proceeding. This is important because the court’s determination of parental responsibility (formerly known as “custody”) and parenting time (formerly known as “visitation”) is “the best interests of the minor child.”

The Circuit Court of Cook County in Illinois (www.cookcountycourt.gov) has defined these three advocates as follows:

  • An attorney for the child is “an attorney who represents the parties’ child(ren). The attorney for the child provides independent legal counsel for the child(ren) and owes the same duties of undivided loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation as are due an adult client.”
  • child representative is “an attorney for the parties’ child(ren) that advocates what the child representative finds to be in the best interests of the child(ren) after reviewing the facts and circumstances of the case. The child representative is required to meet with the child(ren) and the parties, investigate the facts of the case, and encourage settlement and the use of alternative forms of dispute resolution. Unlike a guardian ad litem, the child representative cannot be called as a witness to testify.”
  • guardian ad litem(also known as a “GAL”) is “an attorney for the parties’ child(ren). The guardian ad litem is required to investigate the facts of the case, interview the child(ren) and the parties, and testify or submit a written report to the court regarding his or her recommendations in accordance with the best interest of the child. Unlike a child representative, the guardian ad litem may be called as a witness for purposes of cross-examination regarding the guardian ad litem's report or recommendations.”

The court uses the information it receives from these advocates to decide matters such as the allocation of parental responsibilities or parenting time, parentage, support, relocation, property interests, abuse, or the best interests of the child or children. Any one of these matters can be an issue in your divorce proceeding if you have a child or children in common with your spouse. Your attorney will help explain and answer any questions regarding which of these three advocates will be best for you in your own unique situation.



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