What is a Guardian Ad Litem and How to Ensure Your Child is Protected in Family Law?

In Wisconsin, for legal cases in which the two parties in a family law case are unable to reach an agreement, a guardian ad litem is appointed.

A guardian ad litem is a licensed attorney appointed by the court to represent and advocate for a child’s best interests in a family law matter. The GAL will investigate the facts of the case, participate in negotiations between the parties involved, and take a position in court on the legal custody and placement of the child. 

During the proceedings of the family law case, the GAL will present their findings to the court and make recommendations for placement and custody of the child based on the facts collected in the investigation. 

While it may seem intimidating to have an attorney responsible for your child’s placement, there are ways for you to help your child’s GAL gather all the relevant information needed to best serve and protect your child in the case. By remaining open, honest, and cooperative during the entire process, you will be able to maintain a positive and professional relationship with your child’s GAL, ensuring that your child’s best interests are protected. Remember: the GAL is a lawyer for your child and represents your child’s best interests, so it is very important to provide all information the GAL may request in order to help them best advocate for your child’s protection.

Here are some recommendations to keep in mind while working with your child’s GAL:

1. Maintain an open dialogue with your child’s GAL.

– Communication and cooperation are key when it comes to working with your child’s GAL. You will be working with the GAL for the entirety of your case, so it is important to keep a positive relationship between you and the GAL. Along with maintaining a strong line of communication with your GAL, make sure to keep them updated and informed of any relevant or changing information in your child’s life. It is important to stay honest and updated with the GAL at all times to ensure they have all the necessary information to make the best informed decision for placement of your child.

2. Make yourself available to your child’s GAL.

– It is important to be as available as possible for the GAL responsible for your child. Your GAL will call you for information regarding your child, along with close friends, family members, and/or relevant references. To ensure the consistency of the case, always be available by phone or another form of contact. If you are unable to answer when the GAL calls, make sure to return their call in a timely manner. If your number changes, inform your GAL immediately. This will ensure that your case remains on track and does not fall behind. It is important for the mental health of you and your child to not draw out the case, as it may cause emotional stress to your family. 

3. Provide your GAL with all the necessary documents regarding your child.

 

– The GAL will need to be provided with various types of documents and information regarding you and your child to help them understand and investigate the case. To simplify the process, it would be beneficial for you to obtain the information that the GAL may need. When you get the documents and information, make a copy of it for the GAL. Be sure to make copies for yourself and for the court, as well. You may also have to sign a release so that the GAL can obtain some of this information. Examples of information the GAL may need include:

● school/daycare records,

● medical records,

● Child Protective Services reports,

● pay stubs/financial records,

● counseling/therapy records,

● criminal records,

● records of court cases involving anyone living in the house, etc.

4. Be flexible and cooperative.

– GALs will sometimes request that the parents undergo psychological and mental health evaluations, parental fitness evaluations, and drug screens. It is extremely important to cooperate and go through with any evaluation that the GAL requests to ensure the GAL receives the necessary information about you and the other party to make a custody decision for your child that is in their best interest.

7. Be prepared for a home visit.

– The GAL will usually conduct a home visit. The purpose of this home visit is to observe the child’s living environment and interactions between the child, their caregiver, and the parties involved in the case. Some of these home visits may be unannounced. Make sure that your house is always a suitable place to raise a child. Do not have people who don’t live at the house lingering around during home visits. Also, you should not act differently when the GAL comes to visit. The GAL will be able to tell if you are putting on a show. Just be yourself and act as you normally would when you are alone with your child. 

8. You have a right to see any of the documents that a GAL uses to write your recommendation. If you want to see any of the documents, ask them in writing before the hearing.

While family law cases may seem daunting, having a GAL appointed to represent the best interests of your child will allow for impartial and thorough judgements to protect your child during family court proceedings. With a GAL appointed, you can trust that your child’s best interests are being advocated for and protected.