Domestic Relations Division FAQ

How do I get an attorney from the Public Guardian’s Office appointed for my child?

The court may decide on its own that your child needs a representative, and may appoint the Public Guardian’s Office. If that has not happened and you believe your child needs representation, you must ask the court to appoint a representative for your child.

When does the court appoint a child representative for a child?

The court on its own motion or the motion of a party can appoint an attorney for a child, a guardian ad litem (GAL) or child representative when the court determines that the child’s best interests need to be protected during the legal proceedings. An attorney whose sole obligation is to the child client is often in the best position to investigate the allegations and to take whatever legal steps are necessary to protect the child from harm.

Is the appointment of an attorney for a child free?

It is always at the court’s discretion to order fees paid to the child’s attorney, GAL or child representative. If the court appoints the Office of the Public Guardian, the court may order a retainer which is deposited with the Cook County Treasurer. We operate under a sliding fee scale. Per statute, the child representative is to file an invoice with the court every 90 days; the court shall review and approve fees if reasonable and necessary. Fees for the child representative are shared between the parties or apportioned according to income. Private bar attorneys usually charge an hourly fee and may also charge a retainer.

Does the Office of the Public Guardian have any requirements for accepting appointments?

Court appointments of the Public Guardian in a domestic relations case may be made if all parties and children live in Cook County, if at least one of the parties is represented by an attorney, and if the parties have attempted mediation of their dispute prior to the appointment. Additionally, the Office of the Public Guardian accepts appointment as child representative in the majority of cases (as opposed to GAL or attorney for the child).

Once the Office of the Public Guardian is appointed to represent my child, what happens?

The court order will indicate which party is responsible for notifying the Office of the Public Guardian of the appointment. Once the order and accompanying pleadings are received by the Office, the case is assigned to an attorney and that attorney will contact you or your lawyer about setting up initial interview appointments.

Does the child representative interview my child?

The child representative will interview the child client if the child is verbal. Even if the child is unable to communicate, the attorney will want to meet the child. Generally this is done when one of the parents comes to the office for the initial interview. It is important to remember that the child representative is the child’s lawyer, so any information shared by the child in that meeting is confidential and, with very limited exceptions, cannot be shared with you or anyone else without the child’s permission.

Will the child representative hear my side of the case?

Each parent has the opportunity to talk in person with the child representative and relate his or her concerns. These conversations are not confidential, in contrast to the conversations with the child client. Keep in mind that the child representative is not your attorney, and may not always agree with your position. It is your responsibility (through your own attorney or on your own if you are not represented) to ensure issues you believe are important are presented to the court.

How much investigation does the child representative do?

The degree of investigation varies among attorneys and depends on the issues raised in the case. If school attendance is an issue, the attorney will review school records and may speak to school personnel, with proper signed releases from the parent. If the issue is appropriate accommodations in the home, the attorney may request a home study by a social worker or may visit the home in person. If there is a specific issue the court wants investigated, the court may ask the child representative to make a referral to an expert who can evaluate the issue and report back to the court.

How much weight does the court give to the child representative’s position?

The child representative acts in the best interests of the child and is not obligated to either of the parents in advocating a position to the court. The court does rely on the child representative to be informed about the child and what is happening in the child’s life. However, the court does not have to adopt the child representative’s position at trial or his or her view of the issues as the case proceeds.

What kind of training do court-appointed lawyers for children have?

In Cook County, lawyers who wish to represent children must have practiced in the area of child welfare or child advocacy for several years and go through a screening process including an interview by a committee appointed by the Presiding Judge. They must attend a certain number of trainings provided by the court and have had experience litigating a custody case. Before they can be appointed in any case, their names are presented to the Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division for final approval.

Do child representatives visit the home of their clients?

Home visits may not be necessary in every case. The majority of interviews take place in the attorney’s office. Some child representatives choose to make home visits because they feel that the children are more relaxed at home and the attorney gains important information by seeing the home environment.

Do children take the witness stand and testify in their parents’ custody cases?

Generally, no. The judge hearing the case decides whether to interview the children. The children’s preferences or concerns can be made known to the judge through the testimony of court evaluators and/or therapists at trial, without an interview in chambers. If the judge decides to speak with the children, a court reporter is present and the attorneys for the parents may elect to be present, but only the judge will question the children. Additionally, it is not unusual for the record of the interview in chambers to be sealed by the court, meaning a court order is required for its release.

Is the child representative expected to testify or required to submit a report to the court?

No, pursuant to statute, the child representative is expressly forbidden from testifying and must make their legal arguments to the court like any other lawyer, based on the evidence. (However, a GAL for the child may testify and submit a report to the court.)

What if I feel the child representative is biased against me?

Although the child representative begins as an objective party, at some point in the litigation the child representative will take a position. It is their job to form an opinion on what they think is best for your child. You may have a position that is different than the position of the child representative. It is your responsibility, through your lawyer or on your own behalf, to ensure that the court understands your position.

Does the child representative get involved in all issues that are before the court?

It depends on the specifics of each case, but at times the child representative may not believe a particular issue such as a property issue, maintenance, or even child support, requires their input or investigation.