When you begin to engage in a case within the Cook County Domestic Relations Division, whether it is a Chicago divorce case or a parentage case, you automatically assume there will be four (4) key players: you, your attorney, your spouse/former significant other, and their attorney. But, if you are engaged in a matter which involves minor children, there are other key players that may be appointed by the Court or agreed upon by the attorneys to aid in the case. So, who are these other key players and what are their possible roles?
In every case in Cook County – whether it is a Chicago divorce or paternity case – involving children, the Court’s preferred first step is to require both parties to engage in mediation to address and hopefully reach an agreement on child-related issues (such as parenting time and decision-making) prior to proceeding to litigation on such matters. Mediation can either be done through the use of a private mediator or through Cook County Family Mediation Services. Regardless of which way you decide to go, a mediator is a neutral attorney who is appointed to assist the parties in resolving all pending issues. Your attorney can help guide you through the mediation process by advising you on the law and your options. In regards to the mediation process itself, first, the mediator will speak to both parties individually and work to identify any and all issues and areas of concern that each party may have. Then, the mediator will meet with both parties jointly to attempt to help find reasonable solution to all areas of concern and bridge the gap to reach a comprehensive settlement. If mediation is successful, this process serves to keep the parties out of the Court system and reach a settlement on amicable terms. However, it is important to note that not all mediations are successful. If you are engaged in mediation and it is not proving to be successful, don’t despair; mediation can often be a good tool for you and your attorney to identify the position of the Opposing Party which is very helpful if you are proceeding to Court. Unlike some of the other key players listed here, all discussions held with a mediator will remain confidential and any discussions held during mediation cannot later be used against you, especially if you change your mind, if mediation proves unsuccessful.
In Cook County, Chicago divorce or paternity cases, if you and your spouse or other parent are unable to come to an agreement regarding your children in mediation, or amicably amongst yourselves, the Court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem. A Guardian Ad Litem is an attorney appointed to represent your child. Specifically, they are appointed to advocate for and inform the Court about what is in your child’s best interest. During their appointment, a Guardian Ad Litem will investigate any claims being made and will spend time speaking to you, your children, the other parent, and any ancillary people they deem necessary. The Guardian Ad Litem is the right-hand-person of the Court whose primary job is to investigate the current and future situation of the minor children and present their findings to the Court. The most frequent question when it comes to a Guardian Ad Litem is, why are they needed? Why can’t your attorney tell the Court what is going on? Well, your attorney can. But, oftentimes the Opposing side has a different version of the facts, and they will represent that. Therefore, the Judge will only hear those conflicting allegations. A Guardian Ad Litem is appointed by the Judge so that a third person can act with boots on the ground in the best interest of your children. Essentially, they act as the eyes and ears of the Judge, and therefore, it is important to keep in mind that the recommendations of the Guardian Ad Litem will be highly regarded by the Judge. Unlike a mediator, what you say to the Guardian Ad Litem is not confidential and is subject to be represented to the Court.
Similar to a Guardian Ad Litem, in Cook County, Chicago divorce or paternity cases, a Child Representative is an additional attorney who is appointed to represent the child and assist the Court in deciding what is in the best interest of your child or children. However, unlike a Guardian Ad Litem, a Child Representative cannot be compelled to testify in Court. Also, unlike a Guardian Ad Litem, a child representative does not provide a formal report to the Court. Instead, a Child Representative, when the case proceeds to trial, will provide a pre-trial memorandum to the Court outlining his/her specific position. While a Child Representative provides much of the same functions as a Guardian Ad Litem, and their recommendations are highly regarded by a Judge, a Child Representative may not reveal their opinion or recommendations until much later down the line, whereas a Guardian Ad Litem reveals their recommendations throughout the pendency of a case at large. Finally, it is important to remember that what you disclose to a Child Representative is not confidential and can be used in Court for or against you at any time. However, the discussions of your child are held confidential by attorney-client privilege as the Child Representative is an attorney for the child.
Once your Chicago divorce or paternity case has been resolved and all issues related to parenting time and decision making have been worked through, you may think that the assistance of an attorney is no longer needed. However, in many cases parents will often enlist the services of a parenting coordinator for future use. A parenting coordinator is an attorney who is hired to assist parents in resolving disputes which may arise from your Allocation Judgment. A parenting coordinator is a neutral third party that parties can enlist to either make suggestions, or even be the final arbitrator if a dispute arises. For example, if you have a provision in your Allocation Judgment for makeup parenting time, but you are unable when the time arises to agree on what reasonable makeup time is, both parties can submit the dispute to a parenting coordinator to make the final call. In general, parenting coordinators are highly useful when the relationship between the parties continues to be contentious as the parties can submit any disputes to a neutral third party who then takes an active role in resolving said dispute, rather than having to go back to either mediation or even back to Court.
If you are currently in the midst of a case in Cook County involving children, or are considering initiating a Chicago divorce or paternity case involving children then the attorneys at WARD FAMILY LAW, LLC are well-versed in this area and would love to help guide you through the process. Contact our founder, Jennifer R. Ward at email@example.com for a free consultation today.
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