Wisconsin Guardian ad Litem Attorneys

Wisconsin Guardian ad Litem Attorney - Family Lawyers in Milwaukee

A guardian ad litem (GAL) in Wisconsin is a licensed attorney. An attorney who wants to become a guardian ad litem in Wisconsin completes specialized training to be certified. The training is normally related to the area of law in which a guardian ad litem wants to work. After completing the specialized training, the guardian ad litem is certified to be a GAL for that type of case.

Guardian ad Litems for Family Law, Divorce, Juvenile Law, & Adult Protection in Milwaukee 

When is a guardian ad litem necessary? A court may appoint a guardian ad litem whenever the court must determine something in the best interests of a child. Specifically, judges frequently appoint a GAL in divorce and other family law matters (including paternity cases). Additionally, a judge will often appoint a guardian ad litem in children’s court, probate court, and civil cases involving settlements to a child.

When is a guardian ad litem involved to decide placement or custody issues?

Wisconsin courts use guardian ad litem lawyers in divorce, juvenile, or paternity cases where custody or placement is at issue. In juvenile court cases specifically, a judge often involves a guardian ad litem when someone seeks to remove a child from a home, or return a child to a home, following an allegation of abuse or neglect. This scenario often arises in children’s court CHIPS, JIPS and TPR cases.

What other situations cause a court to appoint a guardian ad litem?

A judge may also appoint a guardian ad litem in children’s court when the state prosecutes a young child for a delinquency. Similarly, a civil court may require a guardian ad litem review a potential settlement when the case involves a child. Specifically, judges ask a guardian ad litem’s input before approving a settlement for a child in a civil case. Finally, probate courts must appoint a GAL for vulnerable juveniles or adults in certain circumstances. Specifically, probate judges appoint a guardian ad litem when someone petitions a guardianship. Probate judges also appoint a guardian ad litem for review of protective placement or services orders.

 A quick guide to GALs Serving the Best Interests of Children and Vulnerable Adults in Wisconsin

  • What is a guardian ad litem?
  • What determines whether a GAL becomes involved in a case?
  • How is a GAL appointed?
  • What is the GAL’s role?
  • Will the GAL meet with my child and me?
  • How does the GAL investigate issues that affect my child?
  • What factors does the GAL consider in the investigation?
  • What happens when the GAL completes the investigation?
  • Who pays for the GAL?
  • Can I change GALs?
  • How long will the GAL be involved in my case?
What is a guardian ad litem?

A Guardian ad litem (GAL) is an attorney, licensed to practice law in Wisconsin. Specifically, the GAL’s role is to represent the best interests of the ward. The ward is the child or vulnerable adult for whom the guardian ad litem has been appointed.

The guardian ad litem determines what is in the ward’s best interest by conducting an independent investigation. To this end, the GAL investigates the facts and participates in negotiations. When a case goes to court, the GAL offers recommendations to the judge on the issues affecting their ward. For example, when the ward is a child in family court, the guardian ad litem’s recommendation includes an opinion on legal custody and placement. However, the GAL does not have any of the rights or duties of a parent or general guardian. Similarly, the GAL’s involvement also includes the financial issues of a case when those issues affect the ward. For example, in a divorce or paternity case the guardian ad litem will opine on child support and child expenses.

Sometimes people incorrectly refer to a guardian ad litem as the children’s attorney. However, the GAL’s role, in particular, is to advocate for the best interests of the children. For this reason, the guardian ad litem’s role may not be the same as advocating for what the children want.

What determines whether a GAL becomes involved in a case?

Some cases require the involvement of a guardian ad litem. For example, situations that require the involvement of a guardian ad litem in Wisconsin, such as:

  • guardianship petitions
  • review of protective placement and services in guardianship matters
  • young juveniles in delinquency matters
  • CHIPS cases
  • TPR cases.

Furthermore, a guardian ad litem attorney in Wisconsin may become involved in civil cases that involve a monetary award to a juvenile, or in family court cases. For example, when parents cannot agree on custody or placement in family court, the court must appoint a GAL. However, in Wisconsin family court, the parents must first try mediation to reach an agreement, unless the court waives that requirement. If the parties do not reach an agreement, the court will appoint a GAL to assist the court in deciding custody or placement. Similarly, the court will also appoint a GAL if the court has special concern for the welfare of a minor child.

Above all, a judge can appoint a guardian ad litem in Wisconsin any time in the proceeding when the best interests of the children are at issue. An exception to the appointment of a GAL in family court placement and custody disputes is in some modification proceedings. Specifically, there is an exception if the proposed modification would not substantially alter the placement times.  In that situation, in particular, the court may find that a GAL would not assist it in making its orders.

How is a GAL appointed?

A court appoints a guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem may be appointed by, for example, the probate court, family court commissioner or a judge. In family court, a guardian ad litem is usually appointed upon request of one of the parents. The procedure for appointing a guardian ad litem varies by county. Some counties have lists of attorneys who take GAL appointments. In contrast, other counties have contracts with specific attorneys for GAL appointments. In rarer cases, such as monetary awards to juveniles in a civil case, the parties may request the appointment of a particular guardian ad litem. Here is a form to request the appointment of a guardian ad litem.

What is the GAL’s role?

In Wisconsin family cases, the GAL’s role is specifically to represent the best interests of the child or children. To represent the best interests of the children, the GAL may do many things. A GAL may, for example:

  • negotiate settlements
  • conduct formal and informal discovery
  • hire experts
  • interview witnesses
  • investigate whether there has been violence or abuse between parents
  • comment on proposed parenting plans or any stipulation or mediation agreement reached by the parties
  • participate in all court proceedings

Either party may request a status hearing before the court on the actions taken or work performed by the guardian ad litem any time after 120 days from the GAL’s appointment.

Will the GAL meet with my child and me?

The guardian ad litem will meet with both parents. Usually the guardian ad litem with meet with both parents separately in the GAL’s office. The guardian ad litem will also generally meet with your child. The guardian ad litem will decide when and where to meet with your child. Your child’s meeting with their guardian ad litem could be in the GAL’s office, each parent’s home, or another location.

How does the GAL investigate issues that affect my child?

The guardian ad litem an attorney in Wisconsin who investigates facts that are relevant to the issues in your case. In particular, much of the investigation is called informal discovery. The GAL conducts informal discovery through interviews with each parent, the child, or other people with significant information.

The GAL may seek a release authorizing the GAL to review relevant records. Common records a GAL may review, for example, include school, medical, or mental health records. Thereafter, the GAL may ask other experts to provide input or future testimony regarding the case. Other experts the GAL may use include, for example, a social worker or a psychologist. Similarly, if alcohol or drug problems exist, the guardian ad litem may ask a parent to participate in screening tests. The guardian ad litem may also ask the judge to order such AODA assessments.

Finally, the GAL also may use formal discovery to assist in the investigation. Formal discovery could include interrogatories, requests for document production, or conducting depositions.

What factors does the GAL consider in the investigation?

A guardian ad litem must consider all the facts to properly investigate and develop sufficient input for the court’s consideration. In particular, the guardian ad litem must consider the following legal factors:

  • the wishes of your child and both parents;
  • whether a parent has engaged in a pattern or serious incident of violence between parents;
  • the safety and well-being of the child and the safety of the parent who was the victim of the battery or abuse;
  • your child’s interaction and relationship with you and other family members;
  • the amount and quality of time you have spent with your child in the past;
  • any necessary and reasonable custodial and life-style changes you propose to make to spend time with your child in the future;
  • your child’s adjustment to home, school, religion, and community;
  • your child’s age and developmental and educational needs at various ages;
  • the mental or physical health of a parent, the child, or other person living in the proposed custodial household;
  • the need for regularly occurring and meaningful placement to provide predictability and stability for your child;
  • availability of childcare services;
  • the cooperation and communication between parents and whether either one unreasonably refuses to cooperate or communicate with the other;
  • each parent’s ability to support the other parent’s relationship with the child and the likelihood a parent will interfere in the other parent’s continuing relationship with the child;
  • any physical abuse or problems with alcohol or drugs; the reports of appropriate professionals;
  • other significant factors that would affect your child’s well-being.
What happens when the GAL completes the investigation?

After the investigation, the GAL will generally give the parents or attorneys a preliminary summary of the GAL’s recommendation. However, the guardian ad litem’s input could change depending on additional evidence or facts that become uncovered. Generally, the parents’ attorneys will discuss the guardian ad litem’s preliminary recommendations with their clients. Most often, the parties exchange settlement proposals and resolve the case by agreement. If the parents cannot agree, the case will proceed to trial before the judge. Then, the judge will consider the evidence presented and the GAL’s recommendation, before making the final decision.

Who pays for the GAL?

The judge decides who pays for the guardian ad litem’s services. Specifically, the requirements for deciding who will pay vary from county to county. Generally, each parent is responsible for one-half of the guardian ad litem’s total costs. The GAL’s costs include the GAL’s legal fees and investigation costs, including also tests and experts. Often the court requires parents to pay an initial deposit and periodic payments to the GAL during the case. If the judge decides the parents are unable to pay for the GAL’s services immediately, the guardian ad litem still gets paid. In that circumstance, the judge may have the county pay the guardian ad litem’s bill. However, the parents still are responsible for the guardian ad litem fees. If the county pays initially, the county may require the parents to reimburse the county.

Can I change GALs?

Very limited circumstances exist in which a judge would assign a new guardian ad litem to your case. Disagreement with the GAL’s recommendations is not a valid reason to request removal. Only the judge can remove a guardian ad litem in Wisconsin.

How long will the GAL be involved in my case?

Under Wisconsin law, the guardian ad litem serves in a case until it is over. The case is over when either of two things happens. Option one, the parents reach a written agreement resolving the issues and the judge approves it. Option two, there is a hearing and the judge decides the case. However, the judge can discharge the guardian ad litem before the case is over if the GAL is no longer necessary. Similarly, if the parties appeal the case, the GAL’s involvement continues in the appeal process unless the court orders otherwise. Furthermore, if someone files a new motion in the case in the future, the judge may reappoint the same or a different GAL.

In conclusion, we offer a free initial consultation with a dedicated Milwaukee, Wisconsin family law attorney. Our Wisconsin divorce and family lawyers work best to address your concerns for the best interests of your children. Contact us at our divorce law firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.