When parents are going through a divorce — or when they are not married but share a child and are engaged in a dispute over custody (now known as allocation of parental responsibilities) — the wellbeing and best interests of the children can be inadvertently overlooked. The court is tasked with making decisions based on the best interests of the children. In order to do this, the court often appoints a Guardian Ad Litem or Child Representative to conduct an investigation.

Who is a Guardian Ad Litem and What are Their Duties?

A Guardian Ad Litem is an attorney who does not represent either parent, but investigates what is in the best interests of the children, and reports these findings to the court. As part of their investigation, the Guardian Ad Litem often speaks with both parents, the minor children, family members of the minor children, the minor children’s school, and any treatment providers for the minor children including doctors, social workers, and psychologists or psychiatrists.

Sometimes the court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem for a limited purpose, such as determining in which parent’s school district the children will be enrolled. Other times, the Guardian Ad Litem is appointed to make recommendations about all aspects of the children’s best interests, such as parenting time and any limitations on parenting time, decision making (now known as allocation of parental responsibilities and formerly known as custody), travel, education, and more.

A Guardian Ad Litem will submit a verbal or written report to the court and make recommendations regarding the children’s best interest. The Guardian Ad Litem can also be called as a witness at hearing or trial to testify about their recommendations.

Who is a Child Representative and What are Their Duties?

Like a Guardian Ad Litem, a Child Representative is an attorney appointed by the court to investigate what is in the children’s best interests. Some judges and courts tend to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem in cases with younger children and appoint a Child Representative in cases with older children. However, this depends on the county, court, and the particular judge hearing the case.

Unlike a Guardian Ad Litem, the Child Representative has confidentiality with the children. This means that nothing children report to the Child Representative will be reported to the court or to the parents. This confidentiality is meant to promote openness and trust between the Child Representative and children.

The Child Representative can file pleadings just like an attorney for a party, if they deem it necessary. A Child Representative does not make recommendations to the court but instead makes legal arguments for the court to consider.