By Daniel Exner
Divorce Lawyer, Cordell & Cordell
A Guardian ad Litem is a court appointed attorney who is charged with reviewing the parties’ relationship with their minor child(ren) and making a child custody and parenting time recommendation to the court.
The GAL will recommend a custody and placement arrangement that he or she believes is in the best interests of the child(ren).
It’s important to note that the GAL’s recommendation is not always consistent with the expressed desires of the child.
This is because the GAL represents the “best interests of the child,” and the GAL’s determination of what is in the child’s best interest may be in conflict with what the child says he or she wants.
The court will appoint a GAL if the court has reason for special concern as to the welfare of a minor child or the legal custody or physical placement of a child is contested.
If the court has no concern for the immediate welfare of the children, the parties will be given the opportunity to mediate custody and placement issues before a GAL is appointed. By statutory directive in the state I practice in (Wisconsin), the court must promptly appoint a GAL if mediation fails.
After a GAL is appointed, he or she will continue to act on behalf of the best interests of the child(ren) until discharged by the court.
At what point in the process does a GAL become involved? Well, the time for a GAL’s appointment depends on the circumstances of the individual case.
Whether the court will assign a GAL to your case before the temporary hearing depends on your child custody and placement status and the purpose of the temporary hearing. If this is your first temporary hearing, the court will set terms for custody and placement which must be followed while the action is pending.
If you have not begun mediation as of that date, the court will order you both to mediation unless there are domestic violence issues. If this is your second hearing and you and the opposing party have not agreed on custody and placement, and mediation has failed, the court will probably appoint a GAL at the time of the hearing.
If this is your first temporary hearing, please note that the court will proceed to make a decision on temporary custody and placement based on the testimony of the parties or argument by the attorneys.
It is imperative that you take this hearing seriously as status quo is incredibly important in custody and placement cases. Therefore, if an order is issued with a limited visitation schedule to one parent, that parent is going to have a challenge increasing his or her time with the children if the children thrive in the temporary schedule.
As noted, the purpose of a GAL is to provide the court with a disinterested party’s assessment of the family living situation. The court will want the GAL to have plenty of time to review the case before the GAL makes his or her recommendation and the Court resolves the custody or placement issue.
As a practical matter, the court usually follows the GAL’s recommendation, but that is not true in all case. Consult with a local attorney for specific legal advice on divorce.
Cordell & Cordell has mens divorce lawyers located nationwide. To schedule an appointment with one, including Daniel Exner, a Staff Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, office, please contact Cordell & Cordell.