If you are in the midst of a court action regarding Wisconsin divorce, paternity, legal custody, physical placement and/or child support, you may already have experience working with a guardian ad litem (GAL). Many people have probably heard of guardians ad litem but aren’t sure what they do. Although their names sound similar, it is important to note that a GAL is not the same thing as a legal guardian. Sometimes, decisions need to be made about custody or physical placement of your children, and the parents have trouble agreeing or there is a specific concern about child welfare. Then, the judge will appoint a guardian ad litem to advocate for the children’s best interests and to help the judge in making these decisions for your family. Below is some basic information about the role guardians ad litem play in processes of Wisconsin divorce, paternity, custody, placement, child support and other family actions.
“Guardian ad litem” translates to “guardian for the suit,” or “guardian for the legal action.” In a Wisconsin divorce, GAL is always a licensed attorney who has completed specific training. Typically, when parents of a child first bring their case to court, the judge will tell them to try to work out any disputes via mediation. Mediation doesn’t always work, and sometimes it isn’t a good idea, such as when there is violence or significant conflict in the relationship. In those situations, or if the court feels that the children’s welfare is in danger, the judge will appoint a GAL to represent the children’s best interests. A particular GAL may either be suggested by the parties or chosen by the judge. The court will decide who is responsible for paying for the GAL, but most often the cost is equally split between the parties.
Once a GAL is appointed, she must determine what legal custody or placement arrangement is in your children’s best interests. The GAL will conduct an investigation. The GAL will always meet with both parents, and with the children. Meetings usually happen at the GAL’s office or at the parent’s home. In addition to these meetings, the GAL will usually interview teachers, doctors, friends, neighbors and other family members. The GAL will also review your children’s school and medical records.
When the GAL interviews people in your family’s lives, he will be considering many factors. These factors include the parents’ wishes, the stability of each household, how much time you spend with your child, how cooperative you are with the other parent, whether childcare is available, any special health or developmental concerns the child may have, and how well your child is adjusting to their day-to-day life at home and school. The GAL will also consider your child’s wishes. However, those wishes alone will not be the sole basis for the GAL’s recommendation to the court. Also, if there has been violence in your relationship, the GAL will look at the seriousness and frequency of these incidents and potential danger to you or the child.
After the GAL completes her investigation, she will usually inform the parties’ attorneys that she has made a preliminary recommendation. At that point, knowing that the court will take the GAL’s recommendations very seriously, the parties may engage in further settlement negotiations. If the parties are still unable to agree, the GAL will make a formal recommendation to the judge as to arrangements that are in your child’s best interests.
Both Attorney David Kowalski and Attorney Emily Wilson have completed the necessary training to be guardians ad litem in Wisconsin divorce matters, and often serve as GALs. Please call us at Kowalski, Wilson & Vang, LLC with any questions you may have.