A Guardian ad litem (GAL) is an attorney who is appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of a minor child. If the parties are represented by counsel, the attorneys often give their recommendation to the Court about who they think would be a good fit as GAL. The GAL is required to have had specific training and/or extensive experience in order to qualify. The Wisconsin State Bar has regular basic trainings for GALs with other more advanced trainings for things such as investigating domestic violence. Some Wisconsin counties keep attorneys on contract throughout the year to serve as GALs in cases.
An important distinction to make is that the GAL does not represent the minor child. Only the minor
child’s “best interests.” The main difference here is that a GAL is not bound to do what the minor child
asks them to do. By contract, an advocate attorney is more bound to do what their client asks them to. See Wis. Stat. § 767.407(4) for more information on this. Instead, the wishes of the minor child are one of the factors that a GAL takes into account when making their recommendation to the Court.
When a GAL is appointed, the parties may be ordered to pay a deposit toward the GAL’s fees. It is
typical for both parties to be responsible for paying one-half of the fees. Different counties
require different down payments and allow GALs to charge different rates.Once the GAL is appointed and any required deposits are paid, they will begin theirinvestigation. They mostly focus on custody and placement issues. They will likely want tospeak with any lawyers on the case, both parties individually, the minor child and other people who have relevant information (i.e., teachers, day care providers, relatives, medical and other treatmentproviders, or child welfare agencies). The GAL may see a need for further professionals to get involvedand conduct investigations such as custody studies or psychological evaluations. Additionally, GALs arerequired by law to investigate and report to the Court if there is any evidence of domestic abuse.
The GAL will prepare an official report to the Court which outlines their recommendation, taking
into consideration any and all evidence of the issues that they believe would be used at a potential trial.
They will include a proposed placement schedule that is in the best interests of the child. The GAL may participate in any depositions or contested hearings which involve custody and placement. They can cross-examine the parties’ witnesses and even call their own witnesses to introduce evidence to the Court.
If a GAL has been appointed to your case, you will want to cooperate with their investigation. If you have an attorney, you will want your attorney to communicate regularly with the GAL to make sure they have everything they need to determine what is in the best interest of the minor child.