In this article...

In this article, we discuss the role of a ‘guardian ad litem’ in Wisconsin. Specifically, we address:

  • What is a ‘guardian ad litem’?
  • What is the GAL’s role?
  • How does the GAL conduct investigations?
  • What factors does the GAL consider?
  • Who pays for the guardian ad litem?

Perhaps you are a party to a family law case in Wisconsin and someone has requested the appointment of a ‘guardian ad litem’, or GAL. This person has likely been appointed for your children, but what is it? Why do your children need an attorney? In this article, we discuss the role of a ‘guardian ad litem’ in Wisconsin. Specifically, we address:

  • What is a ‘guardian ad litem’?
  • What is the GAL’s role?
  • How does the GAL conduct investigations?
  • What factors does the GAL consider?
  • Who pays for the guardian ad litem?

What is a ‘guardian ad litem’?

A ‘guardian ad litem’, or GAL, is an attorney. In Wisconsin, these attorneys must be licensed to practice law in the State of Wisconsin. This attorney is often appointed to represent children in a divorce proceeding (or guardianship of an incompetent person), usually at the request of either parent or when the judge determines it is necessary. However, they are not appointed to represent your child’s desires legally in the way that your attorney represents your legal interests.  

What is the GAL’s role?

The GAL’s role is to represent the best interests of the child(ren) in your family law case. This occurs when two parents who are involved in a divorce or custody case cannot agree on important issues such as child custody, visitation and support. The court appoints the GAL to assist the Court in making its decision on these issues. For more information on the mediation required before a ‘guardian ad litem’ will be appointed and general information about child custody cases in Wisconsin, check out our article entitled How do I get Custody of my Child in a Wisconsin Divorce? (oflaherty-law.com).  

The GAL assists the Court by participating in factual investigations and negotiations in your divorce and making a decision using these facts that represents what is best for your children. This does not necessarily mean they will represent what your children want regarding custody and visitation.  

The GAL must take a position in court on how parents should share custody and visitation based on their investigations and make recommendations on these matters to the judge.  

How does the GAL conduct investigations?

The GAL investigates facts relevant to child custody, visitation and sometimes child support, through conducting formal and informal discovery. Informal discovery can include interviews of each parent, the child(ren), and other related parties. It can also include review of school records and medical records. The GAL can also use more formal means of conducting discovery with the use of interrogatories (written questions), depositions (in-person interviews under oath) and requests for production of documents.  

The GAL may also interview any witnesses, hire experts and comment on parenting plans agreed to by the parents. For more information on parenting plans in Wisconsin, visit our article Considerations for Wisconsin Parenting Plans (oflaherty-law.com).  

What factors does the GAL consider?

There are several legal factors that the GAL uses to make their recommendations to the Court. While your children may not get to decide who they want to live with, their desires are one of the factors that Wisconsin GAL’s consider. The GAL will also consider the desires of the parents. Other relevant factors include:

  • History of domestic violence between the parents;
  • Child’s relationship with each parent and their family members;
  • Who has cared for the child(ren) in the past;
  • Lifestyle changes that will occur as a result of custody with each parent;
  • Health of the relevant parties;
  • Cooperation and communication between parents;
  • Reports of any relevant professionals (psychologists, therapists, etc.)
  • Substance abuse issues of either parent, etc.  

Visit Factors the Court Uses in Determining Custody in Wisconsin (oflaherty-law.com) for more information on factors relevant to custody in Wisconsin.  

Who pays for the guardian ad litem?

In Wisconsin, the judge decides who pays for the ‘guardian ad litem’. Total costs for the GAL’s services can range from $1,000 to $3,000 and can include the cost of any experts hired, tests ordered and legal fees for the GAL’s time. Typically, each parent is ordered to pay one half of the cost of the GAL and given a deadline by which to pay their portion. Alternatively, an initial deposit may be required from each parent and periodic payments made on the total costs throughout the course of the case. If the parents are proven financially incapable of paying the GAL immediately, the county may pay the GAL and the parents will be responsible for reimbursing the county.  

Divorce and custody cases can be complicated. If you need assistance with your Wisconsin family law case or want to better understand the role of your GAL, contact the experienced family law attorneys at O’Flaherty Law today. Call our office at (630) 324-6666 or Schedule a Consultation at O'Flaherty Law (oflaherty-law.com) today.  

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