Written by attorney Ginger L. Murray

The Role of the Guardian Ad Litem (In Wisconsin)


The Role of the Guardian ad Litem

What is a guardian ad litem? A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the best interest of its “ward". In family law matters, that usually means the minor child(ren). There are other exceptional circumstances such as: appointment for a minor parent or an incapacitated parent.

What is the role of the guardian ad litem? To represent the children’s best interests. This usually includes investigating the case and making recommendations. The investigation usually includes interviewing/observing the child, parents, teachers, child care providers, treatment providers for the children/parents, and anyone else that may have relevant information regarding the children’s best interests. Ultimately, the guardian ad litem is expected to provide recommendations to the court regarding custody/placement. In the State of WI, in most cases, the Court cannot hold a final contested hearing on custody or placement unless there is a GAL involved with the case.

Who pays for the GAL? Most often the parents will have to pay the cost of the GAL. Most often they will be court ordered to share that expense. This can be very costly.

Who selects the GAL? The courts will often consider the recommendations of the parties. A good family law attorney should have some insight into who would best serve the case as the appointed GAL. Counsel for the parent should also have some understanding of the differences in the rates charged by different attorneys who are willing to accept GAL appointments. A parent should consult with his/her attorney about the options for the GAL appointment and be prepared to make a recommendation to the court.

DO GALs have specialized training? Yes, the WI state Bar requires an attorney to have training specific to GAL advocacy prior to being eligible for such appointments.

What should you do to prepare for a meeting with the GAL? A good family law attorney will work with his/her client to prepare that parent about the parent’s first meeting with the guardian ad litem. The guardian ad litem is a very integral part of the case. The recommendations of a GAL often form the basis for the final agreement on custody and placement. Given the importance of the GAL, it is very important to prepare for all communications with the GAL and to provide information that will help the GAL perform his/her job. The parent’s attorney should have a checklist of things to do to prepare for a meeting with the GAL, a home visit with the GAL, an “observation" with the child, etc. The level of preparation for the appointment with the GAL can vary widely: a simple discussion to the attorney for the parent actually performing a preemptive home visit.

What should you do if a GAL gives a recommendation which contradicts what you believe to be in the children’s best interests? This is very complicated and difficult. You will certainly want a good family law attorney to assist with this situation. Most likely the attorney will want to hire an expert to assist in the presentation of the case.

What else should I know about the GAL? In most cases, the court will not remove the GAL, unless the GAL makes that request. This further supports the importance of developing a good rapport with the GAL, as that person will likely be involved anytime your family is back in court on your family law matter.

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