Guardians Ad Litem vs. Child Representatives
By: M. Scott Gordon
There are occasions when, unfortunately, divorce cases turn nasty, to the detriment of all involved. This can especially affect children, who wind up watching their parents argue and fight, in many cases with no one to advocate for their interests. The Court in a divorce (or Paternity) case will seek to remedy that if need be, calling in a guardian ad litem or child representative to report directly to the Court (and remind parents of what really matters).
Simply put, a child representative is a representative of the parties’ children, whose purview is to best advocate for the children’s interests in issues like parental decision making and parenting time/schedule. They must meet with everyone involved in the current case – children and parents – and use the information gathered (including from 3rd parties) to advocate for the children, and advance alternative dispute resolution and settlement, if possible.
The important factors to keep in mind about a child representative is that they have the same authority to advocate for the children as the other attorneys may advocate for their clients; their suggestions or information submitted must be given the same weight. They also must keep the child(ren)’s confidence unless contraindicated by law or necessity (for example, reporting a reasonable likelihood that a violent crime was about to be committed). They can take the child(ren)’s wishes into account, but are not bound by them. If a child, for example, prefers to live with their father, but their mother could provide a higher quality of life, the child representative will make both of those facts clear in court.
Guardians Ad Litem
By comparison, a guardian ad litem (GAL) has a very different job to do, with different objectives. They are also charged to advocate for the children’s interests, but they do so by interviewing those involved and then submitting a written recommendation to the court on their opinion as to what would serve the best interests of the child(ren). They may also be called as a witness to testify about their process and their ultimate recommendation, where a child representative may not be called in such a manner.
It is not uncommon for child representatives and guardians ad litem to be confused for one another, but they have very different jobs and interests. While a GAL is tasked with advocating for the children’s interests, they do so by taking an objective approach to the facts of the case, while a child representative is more like a standard attorney, who may be more prone to subjectivity in their statements. GALs are also generally called into different types of cases than child representatives – for example, in acrimonious custody cases, the judge will traditionally seek a GAL’s outside opinion, for a fresh perspective on a difficult case.
Enlist Your Own Advocate
It is a matter of good policy to ensure that the interests of your children are well represented – however, you are of course entitled to your own advocate, who will act for you in what can be a complex and confusing situation. The zealous Chicago and Cook County child custody attorneys at Gordon & Perlut, LLC will help you try and come to an agreement that spares your family the need for acrimonious proceedings. Contact us today for a free consultation.