guardian ad litem

Lawyers, Legalese and Latin: Why Lawyers Are Such Language Junkies

Hi there,

I think of myself as a down-to-earth person,  but I unthinkingly use language that is the opposite. I blame this on my law school education, although I think lawyers self-select with a love of language and words.

Last week’s post was titled “Domestic Violence Redux.”  It wasn’t until I was asked for the meaning of “redux” that I realized how arcane the normal language of the law can be. So with no further ado a dictionary, of sorts, of the more commonly used legalese you may hear your attorney using in your divorce or other matters.

  • Redux = revisited
  • Pro se = a litigant is by himself, no counsel
  • Guardian ad litem = a guardian for the purposes of the litigation, commonly referred to as a GAL
  • Propounded, as in “we propounded interrogatories” = “we asked”
  • Interrogatories = written questions to be answered under oath in a set time frame
  • Pro bono = literally means “for good.” Lawyers do a lot of pro bono work for free or reduced fees generally representing folks who can’t afford lawyers, and also when writing briefs for causes the lawyers believe are good
  • Res judicata = already
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In Divorce, Compromise is NOT a Dirty Word

Hi there,

While listening to the recent doom and gloom about the government shutdown, I was incredibly annoyed by the perception that everyone in elected office in Washington should have been forced to compromise by their own common sense. It also occurred to me that Washington is not unlike divorce court. Opposing sides, rigid positions, angry murmurs — it could be any morning in the hallways of any divorce court. Where the Constitution balances powers to eventually force compromise, the Probate and Family Court sets up mechanisms to encourage resolutions. And any resolution will require compromise.

The first Probate Court compromise enforcer (huh) is the Family Service office. Generally you would be involved with the Family Service office the first time your case comes into court with motions regarding temporary parenting or temporary support. The FSOs are, by and large, well trained, hardworking and very aware of how the judges in their particular court handle routine issues.

The next point of forced compromise is the pretrial conference. At this point in the process all of the discovery should be done, and if there is a Guardian ad Litem her report should be in. In other words, the … Keep reading

Parental Alienation: Part 2

Hi there,

Parental alienation in the divorce process may be an unavoidable fact of life.  Bad situations can make good people behave in destructive ways, and, of course, not everyone pursuing divorce is a good person.

As I started to discuss in my last post, there seems to me to be a dramatic increase in the number of divorce cases I see with parental alienation involving children age 10 to 18 (and older). In these situations with this particular age group there seems to be a changed dynamic: Dad is most often the parent with whom the alienated children are allied. With younger children the literature seems to say it is primarily mom with whom the kids ally.

Also in most of the cases I have seen (and there have been too many) there is often more than one child involved. The children also tend to be encouraging each other in the alienating behavior, with the older children pushing the younger into it.

In every case of older children alienation that I have handled, there has been an overlay of either physical violence or severe emotional abuse. In the cases of emotional abuse the denigration of mom by … Keep reading

Hi there,

I bet that most divorce lawyers and Probate Judges will tell you that among the toughest cases they see are so called removal cases – where one parent wants to leave the state with the children, leaving the other parent behind.  It is now also clear that moving across the state so that parenting is disrupted can also be grounds for application of the removal laws.

If the departing parent is going to a neighboring state this may be something that can be worked out without a trial and a Guardian ad Litem.  However a move beyond a 2 or 3 hour drive can be disastrous to a parent/child relationship.

The reasons for asking to leave (and you must get either written permission from the other parent or a court order allowing the move) can be very valid and necessary as well, a job, a new spouse, familial support all of these can be critical to the moving parent.

Massachusetts handles removal cases in 2 ways based on what the parenting situation is. If the moving parent is the physical custodian, meaning that  the children’s primary residence is with him or her then the standard is different from the standard … Keep reading

Hi there,

I know I have just spent almost 2 years saying "settle if you can," but there are very compelling circumstances where going to trial may be the most effective choice.

Custody and parenting issues create compelling circumstances – there is nothing more important in a divorce than the kids.

If one parent is actively preventing the other from seeing the kids, or from having a normal relationship with them, then trial may be necessary to try and protect the children’s relationship with both parents.  There is an over-hyped definition of this behavior, Parental alienation syndrome, but the behavior does exist and often requires that a judge make a final determination as to the parameters of the best custody and parenting plan.

Generally, when this is occurring there is no realistic way to fix it short of a change in custody with the non-alienating parent getting the children.  This usually means the hiring/appointment of a Guardian ad Litem, as well as a trial, as it is my experience that a parent who is alienating the kids cannot step back from the fight and so winning that fight is the only hope.  This is an uphill battle, but these … Keep reading

Hi there,

Lawyers like to use arcane language, or at least language that only we use.  GAL is shorthand for a guardian ad litem, which is Latin for a guardian for the litigation, which is an arcane term for a person appointed by the judge in a divorce case generally to perform certain investigatory services in a custody or parenting matter.

The GAL is usually someone with a mental health background, although they can be a lawyer. Often the Family Service officers are appointed to do a similar investigation, usually in cases where money is a real issue. Some of the best investigations I have seen have been done by FSO’s. Like anything else it depends on the individual doing the work.

When two parents cannot decide on who should have custody, when there are allegations by one parent or both parents of abuse or neglect, when one parent has been accused of having mental health issues or drinking issues, or when there are removal issues (when one party wants to take the kids and move out of state) then a GAL may be an appropriate choice. It is an expensive and time consuming choice as well. Often … Keep reading