Guardian Ad Litem or Child Representative: Knowing the Difference

GAL, CR, Illinois family law attorney, Illinois child custody lawyer, In any court proceeding dealing with child custody or visitation, Illinois law permits the court to appoint an attorney to represent the child or children. Due to the contentiousness that often arises between the adults in such cases, it is an unfortunate reality that sometimes the best interests of the child can get lost in the chaos. When deemed necessary, the court assigns attorneys most often as either a guardian ad litem (GAL) or as a child representative (CR).

Guardian ad Litem

While a guardian ad litem must be an attorney, its primary function is as an expert witness operating as an extension of the court. An attorney must be properly trained and certified to act as guardian ad litem. Once appointed, the GAL is granted investigative powers to determine what he or she believes to be the true best interest of the child. The GAL may interview the child, both parents, and any family members relevant to the child’s situation. He or she will also study the lifestyle and home life of the family and review any previous legal proceedings.

The results of the investigation are condensed by the GAL into a recommendation that is provided to the court as testimony. As with any expert witness testimony, the recommendation presented by the GAL must be consistent and within the scope of his or her training. Although the testimony is subject to cross-examination, the court is expected to give serious consideration to the findings of the GAL. The law assumes that if the court appointed a guardian ad litem, one was likely needed, and his or her work should not be wasted.

Child Representative

An attorney appointed as a guardian ad litem certainly looks out for the best interest of the child. However, as an extension of the court, the GAL’s role as true counsel for the child is somewhat limited. Thus, the law provides for a child representative, which combines courtroom representation for the child with the investigative authority of the GAL.

A CR is allowed the same access to the family as the GAL to determine the child’s best interest. Rather than submit his or her findings as expert testimony, though, the CR is expected to build a case around the results. In any and all proceedings the CR will then pursue, argue, and, in necessary, litigate the case based on its merits. An attorney serving as a CR is expected to handle the case just as they would handle that of any adult client, with one exception. The CR must take a child’s stated wishes into account, but is not required to specifically follow them if the attorney does not believe they reflect the child’s true best interest.

Illinois law does include more specific provisions for both the guardian ad litem and the child representative, but the main differences are fairly clear. Regardless of which is chosen, any time the court appoints an attorney to serve in a child representation capacity, it is meant to protect the child. If a guardian ad litem or child representative has been appointed to your case or you feel one is needed, contact an experienced Aurora family law attorney. We will help you understand the system and make the best decisions for you and your situation.

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