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

During a divorce, couples with children often find themselves in disagreement regarding what actions or decisions are in the best interests of their children amid emotionally charged proceedings, sometimes losing sight of their priorities. In such cases, understanding the roles of certain third-party advocates is crucial.

What Are Third-Party Advocates?

Third-party advocates, appointed by the court or motioned by the parties’ attorneys, ensure the children’s needs are prioritized during a contested family law proceeding. This is important because the court’s decision regarding parental responsibility (formerly known as “custody”) and parenting time (formerly known as “visitation”) is based on the best interests of the child.

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

  • Attorney for the Child
    • Represents the parties’ children independently, owing them the same duties of undivided loyalty, confidentiality and competent representation as adult clients.
  • A Child Representative 
    • Advocates for what they deem best for the children after reviewing the facts and circumstances of the case.
    • Required to meet with the children and the parties, investigate the facts of the case and encourage settlement and the use of alternative forms of dispute resolution. They consider but are not bound by the child’s wishes.
    • Holds the same authority and obligation as the party’s attorney in the litigation.
    • Instead of giving an opinion or recommendations, they offer evidence-based legal arguments to the court.
    • Unlike guardian ad litem, they cannot be called as a witness to testify.
  • Guardian Ad litem (GAL)
    • Represents the parties’ children, tasked with investigating the facts of the case, interviewing the children and the parties and testifying or submitting a written report to the court regarding his or her recommendations per the best interest of the child.
    • Unlike a child representative, the GAL may be called as a witness for purposes of cross-examination regarding their report or recommendations.”

How Does the Court Utilize Third-Party Advocate Advice?

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.

The court will also determine who pays for these services, often considering the financial circumstances of the parties involved. If affordability is an issue, they may appoint the Office of the Cook County Public Guardian, which offers sliding scale fees. This appointment may occur if all parties and children reside in Cook County, at least one party is represented by an attorney and mediation has been attempted before the appointment.

Kogut & Wilson attorneys are skilled in providing guidance and answering questions regarding which of these three advocates will be best for you in your unique situation.


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