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COA finds no error in ordering parents to pay guardian ad litem costs in CHIPS case

Vernon County DHS v. K.F. and M.F., 2018AP863, 9/26/2019, District 4 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

The county filed a CHIPS petition regarding K.F. and M.F.’s four children. The court appointed a guardian ad litem to represent the kids and ordered the county to pay the GAL’s fees, but additionally ordered that the parents reimburse the county.

The parents moved the court to modify that order, but the court found that while they were indigent enough to receive court-appointed attorneys, “[t]here has been no showing of long term, total indigence.” (¶4). They appealed.

The court of appeals notes that the statute, Wis. Stat. § 48.235(8)(b), contemplates this sort of arrangement: “If the court orders the county of venue to pay because a parent is indigent, the court may also order either or both of the parents to reimburse the county, in whole or in part, for the payment.” (¶7). So, a determination of indigence doesn’t foreclose an order to pay.

The parents rely on Michael T. v. Briggs, 204 Wis. 2d 401, 555 N.W.2d 651 (Ct. App. 1996), which held that the county was on the hook for the GAL fees. But, as the court of appeals notes, that case involved a prior version of the statutes that didn’t include the present provision for parental reimbursement.


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