A GAL is an attorney who is licensed to practice law in Wisconsin. The role of the GAL is to represent the best interests of the children as determined through an investigation.
The GAL will:
• Investigate the facts
• Participate in negotiations
• Take a position in court on legal custody and placement
The GAL does not have any rights and duties that a parent or general guardian have. The GAL may be incorrectly referred to as the children’s attorney but, in fact, their role is to advocate for the best interests of the children. This may not be the same as advocating for what the children may want.
The court must appoint a GAL when the parents cannot come to an agreement on custody and placement. Unless the court waives the requirement, the parents must first try mediation to reach an agreement. If they cannot reach an agreement, the court will appoint a GAL to assist the court in deciding the issues of custody and placement. The court may also appoint a GAL if it has a special concern for the welfare of a minor child. When the best interests of the children are at issue, the court may appoint a GAL at any time in the proceeding. An exception is in a proceeding for modification if the proposed modification would not substantially alter the placement times. The court may find that a GAL would not provide assistance in making its orders.
In a disputed custody and placement case, the court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to protect the bests interests of the children involved.
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A GAL is appointed by a family court commissioner or judge, usually upon the request of one of the parents. The procedure may vary by county. Some counties have lists of attorneys who take GAL appointments while other counties have contract with specific attorneys for GAL appointments.
In representing the best interests of the children, the GAL may:
• 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 the court hold a status hearing on the actions taken or work performed by the GAL any time after 120 days from the GAL’s appointment.
The GAL usually meets with both parents separately in the GAL’s office. Generally, the GAL will meet with your child. The GAL will make the decision when and where to meet with your child. This could be in the GAL’s office, each parent’s home or at another location.
The GAL will generally give the parents and / or attorneys a preliminary summary of what they present to the judge. The input may change depending on any additional evidence or facts they uncover. The parent’s attorney will then discuss the GAL’s preliminary recommendations with their clients. Many times, there are settlement proposals exchanged and the case is resolved by agreement. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, the case is prepared for trial before the judge who will consider the evidence presented and make the final decision.
The judge will decide who pays for the GAL’s services. The requirements for payment vary from county to county. Generally, the parents are each responsible for one-half of the GAL’s total costs which include the GAL’s legal fees and investigation costs such as tests and experts. The court may require the parents to pay an initial deposit with periodic payments to the GAL during the case. Ultimately, the parents are responsible for the GAL fees, and generally the county will require the parents to reimburse the county for the GAL bill.