Many divorcing parents understandably feel concerned about the effect the legal divorce proceedings and the surrounding circumstances will have on the children. One way children could become directly involved in a divorce proceeding is if mediation or other alternative dispute resolution methods fail and the court appoints a person to represent the child’s (or children’s) interests in child custody proceedings. For any parent involved in a divorce litigation in which a child’s legal representative has been appointed, it may be helpful to understand the role these types of child advocates may play in the proceedings.
Three Types of Child Legal Representatives in Illinois
In Illinois, a child’s interests could be represented in divorce proceedings by a professional in one of three roles: Guardian ad Litem (GAL), an attorney for the child, or a child’s representative. According to Section 506 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, any party to a divorce proceeding or the family law judge may appoint an attorney acting in any of the three capacities mentioned above to represent the bests interests of the child. Though similar in many ways, there are significant differences to each of the three possible roles.
Guardian Ad Litem: a Guardian ad Litem is an attorney or a layperson who has been appointed by a court to represent the legal interests of the child. Sometimes a non-attorney relative who knows the child well is appointed. Other times, such as when a non-biased relative is not available, an attorney who is trained in acting as a GAL is appointed to represent the child or children’s best interests.
Once a GAL is appointed, she meets, observes and interviews the child or children she represents and reviews facts of the case. Then the GAL composes a written report about which actions would be in the best interests of the child, and presents her findings to the court and both parties. During divorce litigation hearings, either party may call the GAL as a witness for the purpose of cross examining the GAL’s report.
Child’s Attorney: a traditional attorney may be appointed to provide independent legal counsel to the child. Just as with adult clients, this attorney is bound by duties of confidentiality, loyalty and competent representation towards her client, the child. An attorney may be best used to represent an older child who is able to articulate her preferences.
Child Representative: a child representative is also an attorney for the child but acts primarily to facilitate dispute resolution between the spouses. The child representative investigates facts of the case, meets with parents and encourages divorce settlement between the parties through alternative forms of dispute resolution. Unlike a GAL, the child representative cannot be called as a witness during divorce litigation hearings.
Payment to each of these professionals is ordered at the family law judge’s discretion. The payment may be split between parents, ordered from the divorcing couple’s marital estate or paid out of the child’s personal estate, if applicable. If the parties cannot afford to pay, the county court that has jurisdiction over the matter may agree to fund all or a portion of the child’s attorney’s fees.
Our legal team at Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C. is accustomed to working with GALs and children’s attorneys or representatives during divorce proceedings in northern Illinois. If you are seeking guidance from experienced Illinois divorce and family law attorneys, we encourage you to call our office at (877) 889-4515 to begin discussions about your case.