As a Chicago divorce lawyer, I know the process of litigating a child custody dispute in Illinois can be confusing to parents. In Chicago, where there are serious child custody disputes the judge will often appoint a child representative or guardian ad litem (GAL). I wrote this article to help explain those two concepts.
FAQ on child representatives and GALs in Illinois
- When does the court appoint a child representative for a child? The court can on its own – or at the request of a party – appoint a child representative (attorney for the child) or a guardian ad litem (GAL) or child representative when the court determines that the child’s best interests need to be protected during the legal proceedings.
- Is the appointment of an attorney for a child free? If the child representative or GAL is from the office of the public guardian (a government department), the services may be free, or on a sliding scale. The court may also appoint a private attorney as a child representative or GAL. Per statute, the child representative is to file an invoice with the court every 90 days; the court shall review and approve fees if reasonable and necessary. Fees for the child representative are shared between the parties or apportioned according to income. Private bar attorneys usually charge an hourly fee and may also charge a retainer.
- Once the court appoints a child representative or GAL, what happens? One of the attorneys in the case will contact the child representative or GAL, and the intake process will begin.
- Does the child representative interview my child? The child representative will interview the child client if the child is verbal. Even if the child is unable to communicate, the attorney will want to meet the child. The child representative is the child’s lawyer, so any information shared by the child in that meeting is confidential and, with very limited exceptions, cannot be shared with you or anyone else without the child’s permission.
- Will the child representative hear my side of the case? Each parent has the opportunity to talk in person with the child representative and relate his or her concerns. These conversations are not confidential, in contrast to the conversations with the child client. It is important to keep in mind that the child representative is not the attorney of either parent, and may not always agree with either parent. It is each parent’s separate responsibility to ensure issues you believe are important are presented to the court.
- How much investigation does the child representative do? It varies. There may be investigation of the child’s school, and the home. Or, a social worker may visit the home, in some cases. If there is a specific issue the court wants investigated, the court may ask the child representative to make a referral to an expert who can evaluate the issue and report back to the court.
- How much weight does the court give to the child representative’s position? Generally, the Court gives significant weight to the position of the child representative or GAL – but the Court need not follow in lock-step.
- Is the child representative expected to testify or required to submit a report to the court? No, pursuant to statute, the child representative is expressly forbidden from testifying and must make their legal arguments to the court like any other lawyer, based on the evidence. However, a GAL for the child may testify and submit a report to the court. Sometimes, because a GAL can testify, the involvement of a GAL can speed up an otherwise potentially lengthy custody dispute.