Protecting the best interests of the child is paramount in child-related cases. In most cases, the child’s best interests are usually protected by at least one parent or by both parents. In the case where neither parent can agree on what is in the best interest of their child, the court on its own motion or that of a party may appoint an experienced family attorney to serve as either a Child Representative, a Guardian Ad Litem or an Attorney for the child (750 ILCS 5/506).
The two most commonly appointed by the court to represent the child’s best interests are either a Guardian Ad Litem or Child Representative. Both the Child Representative and Guardian Ad Litem are similar in that both are granted investigative powers and can interview the child, both parents, and any other interested party to the case. They both also submit a written report to the court regarding their recommendations based on the child’s best interests.
What is a Child Representative
A Child Representative is an attorney that is most often appointed in contested parental responsibility allocation cases. Their role is to advocate what is in the best interests of the child after reviewing all the facts and circumstances of the case. The Child Representative is required to meet with the child and talk with each parent to assess and investigate the circumstances. After the Child Representative meets with all parties including the child they will consider but are not bound by, may express the wishes of the child. The Child Representative’s job is to represent the child and be able to help the judge make a determination in contested custody matters.
For example, in a relocation case where the mother wants to relocate to another state with the child and the father is opposed to the child leaving the state, the court may appoint a Child Representative to help the court in deciding if the mother should be allowed to take the child out of the state. The Child Representative’s recommendation is very important because the judge uses that recommendation as a way to make their decision. The Child Representative is viewed as the court’s eyes and ears into the family dynamic. They are able to interview the child who is at the center of the relocation case, unlike the attorneys for the mother and father. The Child Representative in this situation is more like an investigator, who investigates the reason why the mother is relocating, how much involvement the father has in his child’s life. At the end of it, all the Child Representative gives the court their recommendation which may include the child’s wishes on whether it would be in the child’s best interests for the child to relocate to a different state with the mother.
Guardian Ad Litem vs. Child Representative
Although both the Child Representative and Guardian Ad Litem share a common goal of being an advocate for the best interests of the child, there is a difference between the two.
The primary difference between the Child Representative and Guardian Ad Litem is that the Guardian Ad Litem acts more of an expert witness. When the Guardian Ad Litem gives the court their recommendations, they give it in the form of a testimony, and they are subject to cross-examination by the parties attorneys related to their testimony. The Guardian Ad Litem directly represents the child as a client. The Child Representative, on the other hand, acts as a separate party in the case. Unlike the Guardian Ad Litem, the Child Representative does not directly represent the child as a client, rather they represent the child’s best interest.
Anderson and Boback are experienced family law attorneys in Chicago, with a focus on divorce, child custody, and representation involving child-related issues. Contact us today for a consultation when you have questions about the best interest of the child, guardian ad litem or child representative.