What Is a Guardian ad Litem and What Do They Do?

In Wisconsin, the court appoints a guardian ad litem (GAL) when parents can’t agree on custody and placement. The GAL represents the child by investigating their best interest and giving the court recommendations on how to divide the child’s custody and placement.

The Guardian ad Litem's Role

The objective of the guardian ad litem (GAL) is to be the legal advocate for the child in the case. They investigate facts, take part in negotiations, and suggest to the court what the custody and placement of the child or children should be. They can also be involved in the financial issues of a case when those issues affect the children, such as child support and child expenses.

A guardian ad litem’s relationship to guardianship is unique because the court orders the GAL to become involved which creates a temporary form of guardianship that lasts only for the duration of the legal action. Courts appoint these types of representatives to protect the rights of the child. These court-appointed guardians are common in divorces, child-neglect cases, child abuse cases, paternity suits, contested inheritances, etc.

What a Guardian ad Litem Looks For

The role of a guardian ad litem is to act as an investigator for the court. They work in the best interest of the child by completing their duties which are:

  • Speaking with and advising the child,
  • Interviewing the potential guardian(s),
  • Speaking with the potential guardian’s legal representation,
  • Requesting additional evaluations (if necessary),
  • Presenting their findings to the court,
  • Recommending a custody and placement order to the court, and
  • Completing any other duties requested by the court.

Each guardian ad litem is unique and works a bit differently. That is why, here at Sterling Lawyers, our attorneys specialize in specific counties, so they can get to know the GAL’s that regularly work in the counties they practice in.

Is the Guardian ad Litem the Child's Lawyer?

Though people often call a GAL the child’s lawyer, that is not the case. The guardian ad litem’s role is not to fight for what the child wants, but to advocate for the best interest of the child. For example, sometimes the child wants to stay with one parent, but that parent’s living situation is unsafe, so it is in the best interest of the child to only see that parent in places outside their home.

For Immediate help with your family law case or answering any questions please call (262) 221-8123 now!


What Are Some “Must Know” Facts About a Guardian ad Litem?

  • A GAL becomes involved when parents cannot agree on custody or placement of the child. Unless the court waives the requirement, the parents must first try to reach an agreement through mediation.
  • A GAL is appointed by a family court commissioner or judge, usually upon request of one of the parents.
  • The GAL investigates facts relevant to the issues in the case. Much of the investigation is called “informal discovery,” which is conducted through interviews with each parent, the child, or other people with significant information.
  • You may be asked to sign a release authorizing the GAL to check relevant records, such as school, medical, or mental health records.
  • The GAL may use “formal discovery” to assist in the investigation, including interrogatories, requests for document production, or conducting depositions.
  • The GAL generally gives the parents and/or their attorneys a preliminary summary of what the GAL will present to the judge. The findings could change depending on additional evidence or facts that are uncovered.
  • The parents’ attorneys will discuss the GAL’s preliminary recommendations with their clients. If the parents cannot agree, the case is prepared for trial before a judge, who will consider the evidence presented and make the final decision.
  • The GAL serves in a case until either the parents reach a written agreement resolving the issues and the judge approves it or there is a hearing and the judge rules on the case.

Tips for Working with Guardians ad Litem

  • Pay fees associated with their involvement.
  • Help them with their investigation by giving them references or documentation when tasked for.
  • Be honest and do not lie. The truth will eventually come out.
  • Stay in touch. If updates occur you may email them or send copies of relevant information to their office, but don’t overdo it.
  • Give them time. Allow them to do their jobs because they must gather information to determine the best interest of the child. 

Are you ready to move forward? Call (262) 221-8123 to schedule a strategy session with one of our attorneys.


How Much Does a Guardian ad Litem Cost?

There are many factors that contribute to the price of a guardian ad litem, which can be anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000. If a person cannot afford the cost, it is possible to file a motion to request the other party to pay the fee, have the county pay the fee, pay the fee based on the ability to pay, or waive the requirement for a guardian ad litem.

Who Pays for the Guardian ad Litem?

The judge decides who pays for the guardian ad litem’s services. Usually, each parent is responsible for one-half of the GAL’s total costs, which includes the GAL’s legal fees and other investigation costs, such as fees for tests and experts.[1]

When Is a Guardian ad Litem Appointed?

In Wisconsin, a guardian ad litem is a regular part of the custody and placement process when parties cannot agree. The court will appoint one if they have specific concerns for the well-being of the child. A GAL can also be appointed if one party files the necessary paperwork and the court approves it.

A GAL can be appointed to anyone who is a minor or an incompetent person and does not have a guardian of the estate or the guardian of the estate is not present. Another they a GAL could be needed is when the guardian's interest is deemed not to the best interest of the minor or incompetent person. [2]

A guardian ad litem is also always required in a guardianship case. Guardianship is when someone other than the parents gets custody and placement of a child. The GAL will advocate for the best interests of a child in a guardianship case. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What factors does the GAL consider in the investigation?

While conducting their investigation, a guardian ad litem will take into account many factors including the wishes of the child and parents, past interactions between the parents, the child’s relationship with the parents and other family members, and child’s adjustment to any new environment.

What does "best interests of the child" mean?

The best interests of the child refers to a set of principles that are used to determine what will be best for a child under a given set of circumstances.

Can I request a Guardian ad Litem in my case?

Either parent can request a guardian ad litem to be appointed. Even if both parents are in agreement on the need for a guardian ad litem, the court still needs to approve it before a GAL is appointed.

What can I do if I have a problem with the GAL?

If you feel that the guardian ad litem is not considering the best interest of the child, it is best to talk directly with the GAL and discuss your concerns. However, if you do not feel comfortable talking to the appointed guardian ad litem, you may contact the court through writing. You can also fill out a formal complaint form for the guardian ad litem.

Who can be a Guardian ad Litem?

Guardian ad litems are usually Wisconsin-certified attorneys. But GALs can also be another type of qualified licensed professional like a social worker.

What is the difference between a Guardian ad Litem and an Attorney ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem is appointed by the court to act as an investigator on behalf of the child to look out for their best interest. Their goal is to make recommendations to the court. By contrast, an attorney ad litem is appointed as a legal representative for the child to act as an attorney for the child.

What is the difference between a Guardian and a Guardian ad Litem?

A guardian is a person who acts to protect individuals who are unable to care for their own well-being while a guardian ad litem is a person that the court appoints to act as an investigator to advise the court on who the best guardian will be. They help produce solutions that align with the best interests of the child.

References: Videos by youtube.com/c/sterlinglawyers | 1. Guardians ad Litem. State Bar of Wisconsin. (2013, October) | 2. WI Statute, 767.61 § (2)(b). Nomination of Guardian; Powers and Duties; Limitations.
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