Guardian Ad Litem in Family Court Matters

In Wisconsin, Guardians ad Litem (GALs) are licensed attorneys appointed to represent the best interests of the children in family law disputes. Sometimes GALs are described as the child’s attorney, but this description is inaccurate. A GAL’s role is to represent the best interests of the child, even when the best interest differs from the child’s wishes.

A GAL becomes involved in family court matters when appointed by a family court commissioner or judge. In custody and placement disputes, the Court must determine what is in the best interests of the child in making a final order. A GAL is appointed to assist the Court in making this decision.

The GAL generally meets with both parents, meets with the child, receives input from collateral sources, and completes other investigations to determine and advocate for the outcome that would be in the child’s best interest.

The GAL must consider statutory factors to determine what is in the child’s best interest. Some of these factors include:

  • The wishes of the child and the parents
  • Relationship and interaction between the child and parents
  • Child’s environmental and educational needs
  • Availability of child care services
  • Whether there is a pattern or serious incident of violence between the parents
  • The child’s need for regularly occurring and meaningful periods of placement
  • Parents’ ability to support each other’s relationships with the child
  • Parents’ personal history including criminal record, alcohol or other drug addiction, and reports of abuse.