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Monday, February 18, 2013

GALs (Guardian Ad Litem) -- when and why

Guardian Ad Litem (GALs)

By Shara Herr

Today I had the chance to speak with our Family Law attorney, Stephen Salweirak, discussing the topic of GALs and their importance in difficult Divorce/Child Custody cases involving neglect or abuse of children.

What is the role of a GAL?

In some cases, especially those involving abuse or neglect, the children involved have rights and interests they are unable to protect on their own. The GAL provides the voice for these children, protecting their safety and needs and finding the best options specific to the case. Good GALs will not only interview the child in their home environment, but also take them out of their typical environment so the child is able to speak freely about any neglect/abuse in the home. They may also interview teachers, other child care providers, family members and anyone else that would have relevant information about the child’s best interests.

These attorneys are appointed by the court, and are required to have training specific to GAL advocacy. Your attorney may make recommendations to the court as to who is best qualified to represent the child. This is important because the expense of the GAL is often court ordered to be split between the two parents and may be very costly. In such a case, your attorney would review with you the options and rates of qualified GALs.

Preparing for GAL investigations

The Guardian Ad Litem is vital to the case. He or She investigate extensively, and then report back to the court, recommending where and with whom the child is going to be placed. It is important to speak with your attorney and create a checklist of things to be discussed with the GAL prior to any home visits to ensure they get the most important information about the child’s needs. Maintaining a good relationship with your GAL is very important.

“The GAL is charged by the court with the task of representing the best interests of the child, and it is important to demonstrate that you put the same interests above all else, even if it means tolerating the GAL’s occasional incursion into your home,” –Stephen Salwierak, Esq.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

So you are a witness...

For some people, there is great anxiety in appearing in court. This is especially true if the case in question revolves around you personally. Always a challenge! However, as trial attorneys, we have learned a few tricks that make appearing in court easier. Specifically, what the heck happens when you "go on the stand" -- this article will talk about immigration court, and state court specifically (criminal law, and family law), but it applies to any hearing where you are in adversarial proceedings.

The key thing to remember about testifying is -- everything you say can and will be used against you. It is the job of opposing counsel (or the state, in criminal cases) to try to learn everything he/she can about you, and then use that information against you, or against some individual in the trial.

Remember, you are speaking under oath. That means, if you lie, bad things can happen to you. Perjury is the act of lying under oath (to perjurer one's self).

What do attorneys ask of their clients? We want you to do the following when answering opposing counsel:
  • Answer only the question asked.
  • Keep your answer simple. Provide as little depth as possible to what is asked.
  • Be polite, and always respectful.
  • DO NOT be evasive or argumentative.
  • Stick to the story! Remember, prior to trial you will have already chatted with your attorney and described what happened. Don't change things!
  • If you get confused or don't know what to say, look at your attorney so he/she can object to buy you time.

Whenever possible, site (mention) supporting documents. Use outside evidence to bolster your story.

The VirginiaCLE website has a useful summary:
Witnesses must come to understand that there is no "truth" unless it is proved in court by persuasive evidence. An online definition of "finding of fact" reads, "the determination of a factual question vital (contributing) to a decision in a case by the trier of (jury or judge sitting without a jury) after a trial of a lawsuit, often referred to as findings of fact." And yet, the definition of a "fact" is variously "the quality of being actual," "an actual occurrence," or "a piece of information presented as having objective reality." A person limiting herself to presenting Sergeant Friday's "Just the facts, ma'am" will be presenting subjective observations as perceived by her, not unassailable truths.

Remember, work with your attorney to practice and test your statements. Tell the truth, but be ready to be thorough and be questioned. You can do this!

Do you need trial help? Call us now to get prepared for your hearing. It can make the difference between success and failure.


Sean R. Hanover, Esq
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