Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Ten commandments in dealing with an independent children's lawyer

I recently came across an interesting article by M Debra Gold, a Georgia (US) family law attorney and guardian ad litem (similar to an independent children's lawyer) as to the ten commandments for parents in dealing with guardians ad litem. With Debra's kind permission, I have altered it slightly to refer to Australian jargon and practice:

1. Thou shalt honor thy children.

It is probably the most unfortunate consequence of parenting disputes that at some
point many children find themselves caught up in the middle of their parents’
battles. Be conscious of what you say to or about the other parent while in the presence of, or anywhere near, the children. Know that children can be very adept at
picking up on innuendos and body language. Don’t put your children in the position
of feeling that they must protect or defend the other parent. By the same
token, don’t put your children in the position that they feel they need to take care of you or your feelings. Your children have the right to love and be loved by both of
you. Do not interfere with that right.

2. Thou shalt be truthful with thy independent children's lawyer.

Tell the independent children's lawyer everything relevant to your parenting case, good or bad. It’s better that the bad things about you come from you rather than the opposing party because the latter will not hesitate to talk about those bad things and you never know what kind of spin they will put on them. Listen to the independent children’s lawyer's questions and answer them as clearly and concisely as possible. Give specific examples of your complaints rather than broad generalisations. Do not play word games with the independent children's lawyer as he or she is not stupid. It is always amazing how some people think that their lies and
deception cannot be found. What’s even more amazing and actually a little scary is
when they actually believe their lies. If there is a fact, it can be discovered.
Trying to cover up the truth accomplishes nothing other than to do
irreparable damage to your credibility. And don’t even begin to think that exaggerating or stretching the truth does not fall under this commandment.


3. Thou shalt NEVER instruct thy children as to what they should or
should not say to the family report writer.


Children’s acting skills are not quite as honed as their parents’ and they are generally much more transparent when they say or do things that do not come naturally to them.

4. Thou shalt be thyself and not pretend to be someone else.


Your own acting skills are probably not as honed as you think they are. The independent children's lawyer will be involved in your case for a long time. He or she and any family report writer will get to know the real you. It will be almost impossible to keep up a fa├žade for such a long time. Further, both will be talking to other people who can give him or her a truer picture of who you are. Don’t think the independent children's lawyer or family report writer is so easily fooled.


5. Thou shalt honor thy judge, thy independent children's lawyer, thy family report writer, thy lawyer, thy opposing lawyer and all other people associated
with thy case.


If you show disrespect or other untoward behavior toward the people who to some
degree hold your fate in their hands, then it is indicative of how you comport yourself in everyday life.

6. Thou shalt respond timely and provide complete information and documents to thy independent children's lawyer.


As one judge said, it is a case of "show and tell" not "hide and seek". Don’t pick and choose what you want to give the independent children's lawyer. Give him or her anything that is relevant to the dispute. If you send some e-mails but not others,
the independent children's lawyer is going to wonder what occurred during
the gap. If you provide documents with missing pages, the independent children's lawyer will notice. Delaying or refusing to sign authorities so that the GAL can obtain information from your medical or mental health providers will only keep the independent children's lawyer guessing as to what it is you are hiding (and increase the chances of subpoenas issuing). Showing up late, or not at all, to random drug
or alcohol testing leads to the obvious inference. Don’t do anything that would tend to cast a shadow of doubt on your credibility. Without your credibility, you have
nothing.

7. Thou shalt remember that thy children’s best interests are always paramount.


It sounds a little trite, but even the best parents place their own interests before those of their children. Unfortunately many parents involved in parenting disputes
are so filled with anger, hurt, bitterness and frustration that they lose sight of the forest for the trees and, whether intentionally or not, they place their
needs and interests over their children‘s. Be conscious of this pitfall when embroiled in custody disputes and don’t allow it to happen to you.



8. Thou shalt comply with all court orders.

Need anything further be said here? Spending time in jail on contempt is not conducive to building a strong relationship with your children or to building
a strong custody case for your children to live with you.


9. Thou shalt not seek legal advice from thy
independent children's lawyer.


The independent children's lawyer is not in a position to give legal advice. It
would be a conflict of interest for the independent children's lawyer to provide
any legal advice to either of the parties (and no doubt would play havoc with their professional indemnity insurance). Furthermore, the independent children's lawyer is not your therapist or counsellor. If you have questions or need any advice, call your lawyer or your counsellor.


10. Thou shalt never forget that thy independent children's lawyer is
watching.


Your actions are not slipping under the independent children’s lawyer's radar.
If there is something to be found out, the independent children’s lawyer will
find it.

The independent children’s lawyer cannot get to the truth of the matter in a
vacuum. His or her recommendations will be based upon what he or she learns through the investigation. Cooperation and truthfulness are key. Behaviours speak
volumes. By following these 10 commandments one has a much greater chance of obtaining favorable recommendations from the independent children’s lawyer.

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