Tragic Case Demonstrates Need for Child Representative or Guardian ad Litem
A seven year old Massachusetts boy has spent more than a month in a coma after being allegedly starved and abused by his father. The man had gained custody of the child in a seven-minute hearing in late June of last year, after only recently acknowledging that he was the boy’s father. Officials and legal experts are pointing the case as a prime example of the need for representation on behalf of the child in custody situations.
For most of his life, the boy was raised by his maternal grandmother, who agreed to transfer custody of the child to his father. The child’s mother has been estranged for two years, but maintained the rights to visitation. In the months that followed, authorities received several complaints of neglect regarding the boy, but a visit by a state social worker had no apparent effect. Two weeks later, the boy went into a coma and was hospitalized with burns and extensive bruising, and weighing just under 40 pounds.
Family members now admit that the boy’s father has a history of violence and mental illness, including bipolar disorder and borderline schizophrenia. According to reports, however, the father’s parental fitness was never called into question and the court transferred custody without checking into the man’s background. He now faces charges for assaulting the child.
Best Interest of the Child
While investigation into this particular case continues, experts fear that parental rights are often prioritized ahead of a child’s well-being. “The focus of the case has to be on the child, not on the parents or anybody else,” said Sanford Katz, family law professor at Boston College Law School. “Even though all the parties may agree the father is the one, an independent look at this might say no.”
In Illinois, as in Massachusetts, a family court judge has the authority to appoint an independent attorney to determine and advocate for the best interest of the child in any custody, support, or relocation proceeding. The court may decide between a guardian ad litem or a child representative, each of whom has the authority to investigate the family situation and make recommendations regarding the final decision. The guardian ad litem and child representative roles differ in the way their findings and opinions are presented to the court, but, ultimately, they are both committed to finding the best solution in light of the child’s best interests.
If you are involved in a family law dispute and you believe the well-being of your child is not being appropriately considered, contact an experienced child custody attorney in Kane County. Attorney Doug Warlick has served as a court-appointed guardian ad litem, and is committed to protecting your child. He can help you petition the court to appoint the necessary representation for his or her well-being. Call 630-232-9700 to schedule an appointment today.