What is the Difference Between a GAL, a Child’s Attorney, and a Child Representative?

Wheaton Child Custody Attorneys

When a couple with children seeks a divorce, the issues of parenting time and child support are two significant issues to determine in their divorce settlement. When the court determines a parenting time arrangement for a couple’s child, it does so by using a set of factors listed in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act to determine the arrangement that best serves the child’s emotional, physical, psychological, and academic needs. Sometimes, it needs help from an outside professional to make this determination. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the court may opt to appoint a guardian ad litem, a child’s attorney, or a child representative. These individuals play a similar role: to gather information to help the court in its determination of the healthiest parenting arrangement for the child after the child’s parents divorce. But each plays the role somewhat differently, with varying levels of involvement with the child directly.

Your lawyer might recommend that you work with one of these professionals to aid in your divorce. The court might also opt to appoint one in order to help it make its determination. One thing to remember about all of these professionals is that they cannot determine a child’s custody arrangement. They simply provide the court with the information it needs to make this determination in good faith.

A Guardian Ad Litem’s Role

A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an attorney who does not represent either parent or their child. Instead, the guardian ad litem is a neutral party whose job is to gather information to aid the court in its determination of a child’s ideal parenting plan. A guardian ad litem may do any or all of the following to complete this task:

  • Conducting interviews with each parent and any other individuals whose testimony is relevant to the case, such as other relatives living in the parents’ homes;
  • Visiting each parent’s home to observe the conditions and lifestyle present; and
  • Subpoena witnesses to provide evidence that demonstrates the child’s relationship with either parent or the conditions present in either parent’s home to the court.

With his or her observations, the guardian ad litem submits a report to the court detailing all relevant information about the family’s lifestyle and the child’s needs.

A Child’s Attorney

Unlike a guardian ad litem, a child’s attorney does represent a specific party in a divorce: the child. It is rare for a child to have his or her own attorney, but in some cases, the court may appoint an attorney for a child. A parent may also request that the court appoint a child’s lawyer or he or she may opt to hire a lawyer for the child. Typically, a child’s attorney becomes involved in a case where the parents cannot agree about custody. A child may also have an attorney in cases where his or her paternity is disputed or there is a history of domestic violence.

When a child has their own attorney, they have the same rights that an adult with legal representation has. This can include reviewing the other parties’ claims and the evidence provided. A child’s attorney’s job is to ensure that the child ends up in a parenting agreement that suits his or her needs with a focus on the child’s wishes. This can require the attorney to conduct discovery methods like depositions and interrogations.

A Child Representative in your Divorce Case

A child representative is similar to a child’s attorney in that his or her job is to advocate in court for the child. Unlike a child’s attorney, though, a child representative bases his or her desired outcome around what he or she deems to be in the child’s best interest, rather than what the child wants. Although a child representative conducts research in a similar way to a guardian ad litem, a child representative does not submit a written report of his or her data. Instead, he or she provides the parents with documentation of his or her research before trial. If the case goes to trial, the child representative may advocate for the child’s best interest.

Work with an Experienced DuPage County Family Law Firm

If you are considering filing for divorce in the near future, work with an experienced DuPage County divorce lawyer who can help you sort through the issues surrounding your parenting time and child support determinations. As a parent, maintaining a strong, consistent relationship with your child after your divorce is likely your top priority. Work with a member of our team at Abear Law Offices to determine the best strategy for reaching your divorce goals. Contact our office today to set up your initial legal consultation with us.

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