Guardian ad Litem: What You Should Know
For a parent navigating a divorce, perhaps the most important determination in the process will be deciding a custody and physical placement plan for their child or children.
A complex and deeply emotional experience, it may be difficult for two parents to agree upon a course of action that will best serve their children. In cases such as this, a guardian ad litem may be appointed to help make a decision regarding child custody.
While the term may sound complicated, the role of the guardian ad litem is simple and will be key in determining the future structure of your family’s schedule. Here’s what you should know about a guardian ad litem.
What is a Guardian ad Litem?
A guardian ad litem is a court-appointed attorney who represents the best interests of the child or children in a particular custody or placement case. Upon appointment, the guardian ad litem will investigate facts, participate in negotiations and take a position in court on legal custody and placement.
It is not accurate to call a guardian ad litem the children’s lawyer; rather, they will be an advocate for the best interests of the children, which may not necessarily align with what the children want. In Wisconsin, there is no age where a child can choose where to live. While a child’s wishes are taken into consideration, the guardian ad litem will make a recommendation in the best interests of the child based on a number of factors.
Not every divorce or custody case will require a guardian ad litem, and parents must first try divorce mediation to reach an agreement. If the parents cannot come to an agreement on their own, then a guardian ad litem will be appointed.
Investigation by a guardian ad litem will mainly consist of “informal discovery,” which is conducted through interviews with each parent, the child, and any other individual who will have insight relevant to the case. Parents may be asked to sign a release to authorize the guardian ad litem to review relevant records such as school or medical records.
The guardian ad litem can also use “formal discovery,” which includes written questions posed to relevant individuals, requests for document production, or conducting depositions.
When developing a recommendation, the guardian ad litem will consider a host of legal factors, including:
The wishes of the child and both parents;
Whether a parent has engaged in a pattern or serious incident of violence between parents;
The safety and well-being of the child and, if applicable, the safety of the parent who was the victim of battery or abuse;
The availability of childcare services; and
The mental and physical health of a parent, the child, or other person living in the proposed custodial household, among other factors.
Once the investigation is complete, the guardian ad litem will present a summary of the recommendation to the parents, who can then discuss and propose settlements. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, the case will be brought before a judge who will make the final decision.
The judge will determine who pays for the guardian ad litem’s services. Generally, the cost will be split evenly between the two parties, but other considerations may factor into the decision and payment requirements vary from county to county.
The Everson Law Firm has four guardian ad litems in our office: Leah Derusha, Raeann Kramer, Randy Petrouske, John Heide. Divorce and custody cases can take an emotional toll on any parent. Our team of experienced family law attorneys can help you understand the process and provide support as you work for a legal outcome that you and your family deserve. Our Everson Law Firm office is open and ready to serve clients in Greater Green Bay and Northeast Wisconsin.