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The guardian ad litems’ investigation.


Most litigants going through a custody battle in Wisconsin have heard of the appointment of a guardian ad litem. Most seem to lack an understanding of what the guardian ad litem is required to do or what type of an investigation needs to be undertaken.

A guardian ad litem is required any time there is a dispute between the parties as to custody (decision making) or placement of minor children. There are other situations that may also require a guardian ad litem to be appointed (such as in cases where a married woman is pregnant from another man, to investigate paternity). The court has discretion to appoint a guardian ad litem any time there is a concern about the welfare and best interests of minor children. The typical appointment is on a custody dispute.

Once appointed, it is the duty of the guardian ad litem to conduct an investigation, to ultimately make recommendations to the court on the custody and placement of minor children. It would be impossible to make those recommendations without an underlying investigation. How involved or in depth the investigation might go depends on the facts of the case and the issues or concerns raised by the parents. There are some basics that most guardian ad litems follow;

  1. The guardian ad litem should meet with each parent and give them ample time to discuss their concerns.
  2. If age appropriate, the guardian ad litem should meet and interview the children, separately and outside of the presence of either parent. If the children are babies or toddlers,  the guardian ad litem may want to at least meet the child.
  3. The guardian ad litem may want to talk to collateral sources, such as grandparents, teachers, caregivers,  of the children. This is within the discretion of the guardian ad litem, and they are not obligated to talk to or interview 100 people that a litigant may put on a list of collateral sources for the guardian ad litem to interview.
  4. The guardian ad litem should do  a Wisconsin circuit access site review of both parties to see their prior civil and criminal court activity and records.
  5. Where allegations have been made of a drug use, alcohol abuse, or medical impairments (whether physical or mental), the guardian ad litem can request that the parties sign appropriate medical authorizations for the release of the litigant’s medical records.
  6. Where an allegation has been made that the home or apartment is not suitable for a minor child, the guardian ad litem within their discretion may decide to make a home visit and bring a social worker with them for the visit.
  7. The guardian ad litem should insist on receiving and reviewing all of the pleadings (legal papers) on the case.
  8. If there is an issue as to a litigants’ mental capacity or issues of psychological or other mental health concerns, the guardian ad litem has the option of requesting of the court that the party or parties submit to an independent psychological examination. This is costly and many times, the courts are not inclined to order such psychological examinations, so there has to be a real concern of why such an examination is being requested.

The parties do not get to dictate what the guardian ad litem should be doing or what their investigation should consist of. It may consist of some or all of the above. My list is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather, a listing of the basic components of what the guardian ad litem might do. How in depth the investigation should be depends on the facts of the case, the issues being addressed and the concerns raised by both parents.

If you have questions on custody or placement, or the role of the guardian ad litem, contact the experienced family lawyers at Karp & Iancu, S.C. today for a free initial consultation,

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