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chicago custody lawyerA parent’s relationship with a child is one of the most precious and enduring joys of life. Unfortunately, sometimes the strength of this relationship can be threatened by divorce and the process of splitting a family into two separate households. Parents in Illinois are often understandably worried about what this means for their relationship with their children. As a result, making decisions about child-related issues during divorce can become contentious and difficult. 

About five years ago, the Illinois legislature updated the law regarding children’s issues when parents get divorced. Rather than referring to “custody” or “visitation,” Illinois law now uses the terms “parental responsibilities” and “parenting time,” respectively. It is important to understand what these two terms mean and how they might apply to you.

What are Parental Responsibilities? 

The recent changes enable Illinois courts to address changing social mores. Over the past many decades, parents who got divorced could expect the mother to obtain “custody” and the father to obtain “visitation.” Today, changes in gender roles see many more women in the workplace and many more fathers playing an active role in rearing their children. 

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chicago custody lawyerWhen questions arise in an Illinois court case regarding the best interests of a child, there are many different people who may potentially be involved. Attorneys for each parent, child welfare agents, and other parties advocating for the best interests of the child may each play a role with slightly different responsibilities. 

In this article, we will examine the roles of child representatives, guardians ad litem, attorneys for the child, and custody evaluators. If a guardian ad litem has already been assigned to your child custody case, read our previous article to find out more about what you can do. 

What is a Child Representative? 

Child representatives are attorneys for a child and are tasked with advocating for the child’s best interests. They must investigate the circumstances and facts surrounding a case, meet with children and other relevant parties, and can be involved in court hearings related to allocation of parental responsibilities, parenting time, or overall parental fitness. Unlike a guardian ad litem, child representatives may not be called as witnesses to testify in court, and they do not submit a report to the court but instead provide evidence-based legal arguments. 

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chicago child custody lawyerIn Illinois, child custody is broken down into two components. The allocation of parental responsibilities refers to how parents divide child-related decision-making responsibilities. Parenting time, formerly called visitation, refers to the time a parent spends directly caring for his or her child. Parents are asked to reach an agreement about parenting time, parental responsibilities, and other parenting concerns and describe the agreement in a parenting plan. However, reaching an agreement about these issues is not always easy – especially when divorcing or unmarried parents disagree about what is best for their child. In some child custody disputes, a guardian ad litem is assigned to the case.

Understanding the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem

In any child-related legal dispute, the child’s best interests are the court’s top priority. When parents disagree on how to allocate parental responsibilities or parenting time, the court may intervene and make a decision on the parents’ behalf. In some child custody disputes, a guardian ad litem (GAL) is assigned to the case. GAL’s are attorneys with special training in family law issues. The GAL is not an attorney representing either parent. Instead, the GAL’s job is to investigate the circumstances of the dispute and use what he or she learns to determine what is in the child’s best interests. The GAL shares his or her findings with the court and makes an official recomendation about the case’s outcome.

What Does a Guardian Ad Litem Do?

If you are a parent, grandparent, or other guardian going through a child custody dispute, you may be shocked to learn that a guardian ad litem has been assigned to your case. You may even feel offended that the court deems a guardian ad litem necessary. Remember, the GAL’s job is to ensure that the court’s decision is as informed as possible. Having a GAL assigned to your case does not mean that you are being accused of anything.

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