Addressing Domestic Abuse in Family Court Cases Involving Guardians ad Litem in Wisconsin

Guardians ad Litem (GALs) are attorneys who play a critical role in the family court system by representing the best interests of children while providing a recommendation for custody and placement. Though GALs are required to investigate for domestic abuse in every case, survivors and advocates sometimes find that a thorough investigation was not completed. Our goal is to investigate the barriers GALs face in implementing best practices concerning domestic abuse. This report analyzes data collected through surveys of stakeholders, as well as 25 interviews conducted in select counties. Our analysis shows that GALs face distinct barriers to their practice and to addressing domestic abuse. These fell under five main categories: payments and payment systems, resources, training, uniformity, and pro se representation (or self-representation). We provide seven prioritized recommendations to address these issues through increased county responsibility and shared services, expanded training opportunities for family court professionals, and greater statewide oversight.


  • Course: Spring 2021 Workshop in Public Affairs, PA 869, taught by Tim Smeeding
  • Authors: Oindrila Chattopadhyay, Abigail Harrison, Madeline McIlhon, Charles Pratt, Christine Welcher, and Tia Westhoff
  • Client: Legal Action of Wisconsin, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, and Office of Court Operations of the Director of State Courts

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