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Wisconsin Court Finds Spouse Responsible to Pay Half of Guardian Ad Litem Fees

walletIn Milwaukee divorce cases involving children, guardian ad litems (GALs) are frequently appointed to help represent the best interests of the child before the court. Ex-spouses may request the appointment of a GAL, or a court may require a GAL to be appointed. In either circumstance, the GAL will have fees for his or her time that must be paid by the parties involved in the divorce. How those fees are paid can be an issue of contention, especially when they rack up over time. In a recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, one spouse attempted to object to having to pay his share of GAL fees.

In Marriage of Arlene Gregerson v. Christopher Gregerson, Arlene and Christopher filed for divorce and sought custody over their two minor children. Since custody was contested, the court appointed a GAL to participate in the proceedings. After some negotiation, Arlene and Christopher reached a marital settlement agreement, which was incorporated into the court’s order of divorce. As part of the settlement agreement, Christopher and Arlene agreed to split the GAL fees 50/50. At the time, they did not know the full extent of what those fees would be. After the proceedings were completed, the GAL submitted a request for payment of her fees. Christopher provided the court with a written objection to the fee petition, but his objection was overruled, and the court approved the payment of the fees. Christopher appealed, arguing that he was entitled to a hearing to consider the objections that he had to the fee petition and that the court failed to credit him the $400 deposit he made toward the payment of the GAL’s fees.

In Wisconsin, county court rules govern the handling of disputes over payment of GAL fees. In St. Croix County, where Arlene and Christopher were located, the county court rules provide that any party who has a dispute with the payment of GAL fees should raise the issue with the judge or commissioner for it to be reviewed. Accordingly, Christopher filed his written objection to the fee petition and also requested that a hearing be scheduled to address his objection. The court reviewed his written objection and determined that it could resolve the issue on the basis of the written submissions. It therefore declined to conduct a hearing and granted the fee petition. On appeal, Christopher argued that the “review” of his petition required more than simply reviewing the documents, and it required that a hearing be scheduled. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals disagreed. It found that the rules gave the court the discretion to determine how to handle any objections to the payment of GAL fees and that if the court deemed a review through the documents sufficient, this satisfied the requirements of the rule. Since the rule did not explicitly require a hearing, the court did not err in deciding not to grant one.

However, the Court of Appeals did note that it was unclear from the record whether the lower court had properly considered Christopher’s arguments that he was entitled to a $400 credit toward the payment of his portion of the fees, based on a deposit that he had previously made. According to Christopher, since Arlene did not submit the $400 deposit that she was required to provide, his deposit was improperly split between the two parties, giving him only a $200 credit. The Court of Appeals acknowledged this issue and remanded to the lower court to properly investigate and document what had happened with Christopher’s deposit. However, the court made clear that on remand, there should be no dispute that Christopher was required to pay his portion of the approved GAL fees, only a question of how much remained to be paid.

GALs can be an important part of reaching a divorce agreement that protects everyone’s best interests, parents and children included. However, their assistance does not always come cheap and may mean that you and your ex-partner are left to split the bill. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our Milwaukee divorce attorney can help you understand how the GAL process works, what their involvement is likely to be, and which kind of fees you may be able to expect from your GAL.  To speak with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer today, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at 414-271-6400.

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