The Domestic Relations Division of the Office of the Public Guardian was initiated in 1988 to provide legal representation to children whose parents are involved in contested custody or visitation disputes. Currently, the Division is staffed by a supervising attorney, seven lawyers, and a social worker. All of our cases are by court appointment only, and are concentrated in the divorce courts and parentage courts at the Daley Center.
Pursuant to statute, the court may appoint a representative for the child in one of three capacities: attorney, guardian ad litem (GAL) or child representative. Each role has distinctive functions spelled out in the statute (750 ILCS 5/506).
The Public Guardian accepts appointment as child representative, and has the following guidelines for acceptance of cases in the division:
- The parties, including the children, should reside in Cook County.
- The parties must have attempted mediation or emergency intervention. This allows the parties a chance to resolve the issues prior to adding the expense of a lawyer for the child.
- At least one party must be represented by counsel. This enables the office to concentrate more fully on a number of cases, rather than one or two cases where the parties are unrepresented, and therefore require more assistance.
The office does not have an income requirement, and fees are requested on a sliding scale basis. A retainer may also be ordered by the court at the time of our appointment. The retainer and fees are generally apportioned between both parents, upon approval of the court.
Our role as child representative is to advocate for the best interests of our child client regarding issues of custody, visitation, support, removal from the jurisdiction (move away cases), and risk of harm in orders of protection hearings. As child representative, we have the authority and obligation to participate in the litigation as any other lawyer, but also have the powers to investigate as a GAL. Additionally, the child representative is charged with encouraging settlement and alternative forms of dispute resolution where possible in the case. Once we become involved in the case, we will meet separately with the child client as well as with the parties. As the child’s lawyer, our conversations with the child are privileged, just as in any other attorney-client relationship. We will investigate the child’s situation, relationships, and allegations made by either party in order to take an informed position regarding what is in the child’s best interests. This may involve contacting school personnel, therapists, visitation supervisors, family members, family friends, and a myriad of collateral sources if the situation warrants. Our investigation and assistance may also include locating resources and services for the family that we believe will help the family resolve its difficulties. Finally, if the case does not settle and goes to trial, we do take a legal position to represent and serve the child client’s best interests.