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Divorce in Wisconsin
Custody and Physical Placement: Frequently Asked Questions
Guardian Ad Litem
GUARDIAN AD LITEM
A "guardian ad litem", or GAL, is an attorney who is appointed by
the court to represent the best interests of minor children who are
involved in a court action. A guardian ad litem may be appointed in
any action affecting the family in which the court has reason for
special concern as to the future welfare of the minor children. If
the parents cannot agree on custody or placement of the children, a
GAL will be appointed.
WHAT WILL THE GUARDIAN AD LITEM DO?
The guardian ad litem will collect information in order to make a
recommendation to the court regarding custody, periods of physical
placement, child or family support, and any other relevant matters
regarding the children. S/he may interview each of the parties in the
action, including the children. The children may be interviewed
either in the presence of one of the parties or alone depending on the
age of the children and the GAL's preference. The GAL may also ask
for personal references from each of the parties (friends, relatives,
neighbors), as well as professional references (school personnel,
physicians, counselors). The GAL may contact these references and any
other person who might be able to assist him/her in making a
recommendation. The GAL may also visit either or both parents' homes
if s/he thinks such a visit is necessary.
If the case goes to trial, the GAL will act as an attorney, and he/she
has the right to call witnesses and cross-examine your witnesses.
The GAL will also make a recommendation to the court. Most courts
take the recommendation of the GAL very seriously and give it much
weight. The GAL must consider the statutory factors for custody and
placement when developing a recommendation.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF A GUARDIAN AD LITEM IS APPOINTED?
Since the GAL represents the best interests of the children, and
since the Judge will give significant weight to the recommendation
of the GAL, you want to impress the GAL favorably. Be sure to be on
time for all scheduled appointments. Do not miss an appointment if
possible, but if you cannot make a scheduled appointment, be sure to
let the GAL know and reschedule your appointment.
If the GAL asks you to fulfill certain tasks, such as writing a
personal history, or gathering school or medical records for your
children do so promptly. If you have reason to be concerned about
releasing your medical, or therapy records, talk the matter over with
your lawyer before signing the release of information requested by the
Be sure to let your attorney know what information you have provided
HOW SHOULD I ACT WITH THE GAL?
Maintain a mature and respectful attitude when working with the GAL.
This is not the time to run down the opposing party regarding matters
unrelated to the children. The GAL wants to hear your concerns and
opinions about the opposing parties' parenting of the children.
S/He does not want to hear about the wrongs you feel the opposing
party has done to you personally unless those acts have affected the
welfare of the children. The GAL's job is not to right past wrongs
and reward the better person with time with the children. The GAL is
only concerned with determining what is in the best interest of the
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF THE GUARDIAN AD LITEM COMES TO MY HOME?
Keep in mind you need to make a favorable impression on the GAL so
have your home clean and neat and, if the children are present, make
sure they are presentable. Also, try to insure the children's good
behavior so you do not need to spend a lot of time guiding their
behavior. You might want to be sure that there are appropriate
activities available for the children to do while the GAL is in the
house. If you have any questions or concerns, consult your attorney.
WHO PAYS FOR THE GUARDIAN AD LITEM?
The judge will decide who pays for the GAL. Generally, each parent
will be responsible for one-half of the fees of the GAL. The fees
include the time the GAL spends on the case and investigation costs. A deposit may be required by the judge. If both parties are unable to make payments because they are indigent, the court may have the county pay the GAL fees and then have each parent reimburse the county for one-half of the total amount paid to the GAL by making monthly payments to the county. If only one parent is indigent, the court can order the non-indigent parent to pay the entire fee.
CAN I ASK FOR A DIFFERENT GAL IN MY CASE?
Only the judge can remove a GAL and appoint a new one. In general,
the judge will not appoint a new GAL in a case. Only in very limited
circumstances would a new GAL be assigned to your case.
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The above is intended to provide general information only and is not a
substitute for thorough and specific advice on an individual case.
Depending on the complexity of your legal problem you may need to
consult an attorney for advice or representation.
This was prepared by the staff of Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc., on
behalf of low-income clients and was funded by the Legal Services
Corporation, Washington, D.C. 20005. Any opinions contained herein are
those of the authors and should not be construed as those of the
Legal Services Corporation.
Updated: August 2004