The use of a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) or Child Representative(Child Rep) in a custody case is very common. However, how they are used varies and not just case by case but county by county. The Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) recently started an initiative to form a consensus as to what are the best practices in using attorneys to represent children and to accommodate for economic and other factors which impinge on those practices. The ISBA hopes that by taking a statewide approach, it will enhance their ability to improve practices and train new attorneys in this important field.
Although a GAL and Child Rep seem to have similar roles, there are some distinct differences. A GAL serves as a witness in the case, investigating the facts of the case and submitting a report and recommendations to the court. A child rep serves as an advocate for the child’s best interests, functioning as an attorney in the case. The child rep also has the investigatory powers of a GAL. However, child reps are not supposed to testify or submit reports in child custody cases; even though many times they are asked to do so by the Court because of limited resources.
The committee has already recognized that one of the main challenges in applying a uniform approach, is that economic and human resources varies across the state. While some counties have a large pool of professionals from which to draw, others, particularly in southern Illinois, have few if any child psychologists and psychiatrists to appoint in a case. This limits a court’s ability to benefit from the expertise when evaluating child custody cases.
The committee also wants to examine the varying qualifications that circuits require a GAL or child representative to possess. Some districts require ten (10) years of practice and at least one complete custody trial before an attorney is qualified to be appointed. Each circuit also has its own training programs for attorneys.
Hopefully the committee will be able to review each county’s practices and structure a program that all counties can abide by. A uniform system in how GALs and Child Reps are used will not only benefit the court system but the children it advocates for.