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Episode 89 - 10 Things You Should Know BEFORE Meeting with a Guardian ad Litem

Episode 89 - 10 Things You Should Know BEFORE Meeting with a Guardian ad Litem Image

11/20/2018 9:39 am

A Guardian ad Litem is often appointed by Judges in cases involving contested custody of children. They are appointed to assist the Judge in determining what is in the best interest of the children. What many people don't know is that they can really help their case by being properly prepared BEFORE their first meeting with the Guardian. In this show, Courtney Carpenter breaks down the 10 things you should know before ever meeting with the Guardian ad Litem in your case. Courtney is not only one of own attorneys at Meriwether & Tharp, but she is also a registered and trained Guadian ad Litem.

Transcript

Leh:                    Todd, we've got a show about GALs today.

Todd:                  A show about the ladies.

Leh:                    No, not that. Guardians Ad Litem.

Todd:                  Oh! A little warning would've been good. Guardians Ad Litem. A different type of Gal.

Leh:                    A different type of GAL, yes.

Todd:                  Alright.

Leh:                    Hey, welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd [Orsten 00:00:32]. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Thorpe, and you're listening to Meriwether and Thorpe radio on the new Talk 106.7.

                           Here, you'll learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save you're marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis, and from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online. Atlantadivorceteam.com.

                           Well, as usual, we bring in someone who-

Todd:                  Knows more than we do.

Leh:                    Knows more, or at least as much. No, we know a lot about Guardian Ad Litems, but you know, sometimes people probably get tired of hearing you and me talk.

Todd:                  I'm tired of you already.

Leh:                    So today, we actually have a special guest. We have a Guardian Ad Litem, and also a valuable member of our legal team. Her name's Courtney Carpenter, and she has been with us since 2011. She received her law degree from Emery University in 2010. And she actually has been nominated as a rising star super lawyer, and national top 40 under 40 trial lawyers. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Courtney.

Courtney:           Thanks for having me, guys.

Leh:                    So, we're so excited because, and Courtney came up to me the other day and said, hey, look, what can we talk about, because I feel like there's something that clients need to know. Maybe we can relay some information about Guardian Ad Litems, because Courtney's Guardian trained. So we came up with the idea of going over the top ten things that you should know before you meet with a Guardian Ad Litem.

Todd:                  Yeah, a lot of people go into the process, meaning a divorce process or a custody case process, not really thinking that that's even something that might be on the horizon. That a Guardian might get involved. And what people need to understand is, not only does it happen, it's actually incredibly common for a Guardian to- and we refer to them just as Guardians, but they are Guardians Ad Litem- but it's very common for Guardians to get involved.

                           I've gone through the training, Courtney, you've gone through the training. And I'm not gonna assign a percentage to it, but it is very often when there is a contested custodial issue, a Guardian will be appointed by the court. And so, rightfully so, we believe that a show on this specific topic is incredibly important for anyone who thinks that this kind of a case might be on their horizon.

Leh:                    Yeah, so before we get into the top ten things, we need to get some context to this. So first off, what's a Guardian Ad Litem, Courtney?

Courtney:           Well, a Guardian is a person who has been appointed by the judge to assist in helping the judge and the parents reach decisions regarding custody, parenting time, and other issues involving the minor children in an action.

Leh:                    So why is the court needs a Guardian Ad Litem? Isn't the court charged with deciding what's in the best interest of the children?

Courtney:           Well, yeah, that's a great question. People may sort of wonder why the judges utilize this third party on issues that involve the children. And it's not that the judges don't know what they're doing. Guardians will typically get appointed in custody matters involving really serious disagreements regarding custody, or if there's serious allegations regarding abuse, or one parent's ability to properly care for the child or children in a case.

                           Judges really know that there's nothing more important to parents than their children, and so they appoint Guardians to be the eyes and ears of the court, and to conduct a very thorough investigation. The court doesn't have the time or ability to investigate custody disputes the way that a Guardian does, and they typically aren't gonna want the kids anywhere near a court room. That can be really intimidating and frightening for a child, to have to come into a court room and speak with a judge.

                           So instead, children can speak with the Guardian in the comfort of their own home, and the Guardian can use that information to make an expert recommendation to the judge.

Leh:                    And I think you just hit the nail on the head. It's a recommendation. What's really important to understand about the role of a Guardian, is that the Guardian is not making any determinations.

Todd:                  Right.

Leh:                    The court will make the ultimate determination if the parties can't reach an agreement. But they will use the recommendations and opinions of the Guardian to basically come up with and make a decision on the custody issues.

Courtney:           Right, that's correct. I mean, the Guardians are expert witnesses for purposes of the court in these custody matters. And so what they have to say in their recommendation are gonna weight really heavily on the court and the decision that they make regarding custody. So to your point and what you're saying, it can be very difficult to overcome or attack a Guardian's recommendation if you don't agree with it, if you're heading into a final custody situation, or final hearing regarding custody.

                           So you want to make sure that you're really well prepared, and come in with your ducks in a row if you want to try to make the judge see it differently. Because they do appoint these Guardians, they're officers of the court, and the judges really trust their recommendations and opinions because they have received a lot of training, and they have been involved in a lot of these cases and matters.

Leh:                    And they've done some investigation that the judge couldn't. And I do think it's important to, and the reason why we wanted to do this show, the top ten things you should know before you walk in there, which we haven't gotten to yet, but before you meet with a Guardian, because I have seen about 75 to 80% of the time, the judge adopting the Guardian's recommendation preps with some tweaks or some changes, but adopting it.

                           So if you come in unprepared for that very first meeting with the Guardian, or for dealing with the Guardian throughout the course of the case, well, you could be setting yourself up to, now you're going to trial having to overcome a bad recommendation. Bad for your client, or bad for you personally. Recommendation from the Guardian Ad Litem.

Todd:                  Yeah. You have to take it seriously, because the opinion, building on what you're saying, Leh, it carries a lot of weight with the court. Doesn't mean that the opinion can't be overcome. Doesn't mean that you can't convince the court to do something different. As lawyers, we have done that before. But that's a different show. In terms of how to attack a Guardian's recommendation, but you're right. If I was to assign a percentage, 75, 80% of the time, the court is going to adopt in whole or in part the recommendation of a Guardian.

                           So you have to go in prepared, you have to understand the process, understand the way Guardians think, and that's the purpose of this show.

Courtney:           Well, and I think part of that, too, is that, not surprisingly, the Guardians are gonna be looking at the same things that the judges look at in making determinations of custody, which is the best interest of the children. And you know, when lawyers talk about the best interest of the children, and that standard, what we really mean in a nutshell is, what custody and parenting time arrangements are best going to promote a child's welfare and happiness. And so that's really broad, when you start thinking about welfare and happiness, and so there's a lot of different factors and a lot of different considerations that a Guardian or a judge are gonna take into account when they're thinking about that.

Leh:                    In fact, I think there's, are there 12? There's 12 different considerations that are under-

Courtney:           Right, yes.

Leh:                    Now, we're talking about right now, under Georgia law. But I know that Guardians are, I'm not aware of any state, now they may be out there, but I'm not aware of any state that doesn't have Guardian Ad Litems available to the family law courts. I think this is something that's pretty common throughout the United States.

                           But as far as these standards, we're talking about specifically Georgia. But I think advice we're about to get into, these ten things, I think this applies across the board. It is very practical advice, so regardless of whether you're in Georgia, or Florida, or Tennessee, wherever you may be, this advice, I think, applies across the board.

                           Now, I will say, I'm Georgia and Florida. But if you're listening out of state, and you listen to this, definitely talk to a lawyer about the tips we give, and make sure they're gonna apply in your case. But I'm pretty sure they're gonna apply everywhere.

Todd:                  No, I agree with you. You should definitely contact an attorney in your jurisdiction, and get advice directly from an attorney that knows the laws specific to your jurisdiction. But, when you're dealing with these types of issues and these custody issues where courts, across the country, have adopted the best interest standard, they are going to apply. So I agree with what you're saying, and so anyone can really listen to these things, and hopefully model their behavior and structure their preparation based on the things we're about to talk about.

Leh:                    Yeah. So Courtney, sometimes, we as lawyers make decisions that we want a Guardian Ad Litem involved in the case. What is another advantage of bringing a Guardian into a case?

Courtney:           Well, I think the biggest advantage of bringing a Guardian into the case is it can prevent the parties from having to endure the cost and expense and the emotional toll associated with a final hearing. Guardians can come in, do their investigation, talk to the witnesses, and then in a mediation setting, or even before a mediation, or after a mediation setting, make recommendations to the parties about what they would be saying in a court room to the judge and what that recommendation would be, and I think that can really help parties make decisions about how far they really want to take their custody action. Because it can be very expensive.

                           I always tell my clients that custody actions are amongst the most expensive actions that can be brought in family law litigation, because our children are the most important things to us. And people are willing to go to any cost and expense to preserve what they think is in their best interests.

Leh:                    Yeah, I mean, that's an excellent point.

Todd:                  Absolutely.

Leh:                    And so you avoid the financial cost, the emotional cost-

Todd:                  But it also allows you to dig deeper. Because in court, you may not be able to present all that information at the trail. You don't have two weeks to try your case. And this allows a Guardian to really dig in and review all the facts.

Leh:                    Yeah. And up next, we're gonna get into those top ten things you should know before you meet with a Guardian Ad Litem in your case.

                           Welcome back, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd [Orsten 00:11:27]. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Thorpe, and you're listening to Meriwether and Thorpe radio on the new Talk 106.7. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call, or visit us online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com.

                           And today, we have Courtney Carpenter in the house. Woop woop! And we're talking about-

Todd:                  Please don't do that again.

Leh:                    I was trying to do something ... Well, Guardian Ad Litems are so important, but it's-

Todd:                  No, no, no. Keep talking about Guardians. If you "woop woop" one more time, I am leaving.

Leh:                    Okay, alright, I'll quit that. I'm just better at being serious, I guess. I'll just leave the comedy to you.

Todd:                  No, I just like mocking you, that's all.

Leh:                    Alright.

Todd:                  Anyone who listens to the show knows that that's my primary purpose.

Leh:                    Just to mock me. Alright, Courtney, let's get into it. Let's get to the top ten things that you should know before you meet with a Guardian Ad Litem. Which we sometimes we call GAL for short. Alright, so what's number one?

Courtney:           Know what custody arrangement you are seeking.

Leh:                    Oh, man.

Courtney:           Please, please, please, know what custody arrangement you are seeking. Are you gonna be looking for 50/50? So, a lot of times, the way that looks would be one week on, one week off, one parent one week, one parent the next. Is it gonna be every other weekend? Probably not, if there's a Guardian involved in your case. 225, which is where one parent will have two days, the other parent will have two days, and then you'd rotate the next five days. Or, I'm sorry, the next-

Leh:                    The weekend, yeah.

Courtney:           The weekend. So know when you want your child to be with you, and why you think that is in your child's best interest. For example, have you always cooked breakfast for your child? Is that the routine that's been in place for years and years and years, and then taking your child to school, and you believe that continuing that routine post-divorce will provide your child the most stability. So therefore, wanting your children to in your care Monday through Friday to continue that stability.

                           You just need to know what custody arrangement you're seeing, and why that's in your child's best interest.

Todd:                  Listen, we talk about this all the time in the context of what you need to present, and how you need to present this information to a judge. You don't want to walk in front of a judge, and when the judge looks at you and says, well, what are you asking for? What do you want in terms of custody? And you're like, well, I don't know.

Leh:                    I want what's fair, judge.

Todd:                  Yeah, right, exactly. Courts want to hear that you have a plan. That you have come in prepared, you've given it thought. Well, the same thing goes for the Guardian. You don't want to go in wishy washy. And if you are represented by an attorney, your attorney should be prepping you so that when you first sit down and have those conversations with a Guardian, that you are going in with a plan. Plans can change, but you're going in with an idea of what you want and a justification for why you think that's reasonable and in the best interest of the children.

Leh:                    This sounds like that's a no brainer. Why wouldn't someone do it? But we've had so many cases where the other side didn't come in, and just said, well, I want what's fair. Well, that's not even the right thing to say, either. What's in the children's best interest? But they don't come in with a plan, which automatically sets them on the wrong foot.

                           So as common sense as that may sound, you'd be surprised how many people don't do it. And you made a really good point, Todd, when you said "thought." You know, you think it through, and you shouldn't be asking for 50/50 custody if you're gonna be living 30 miles apart.

Courtney:           Yeah, absolutely. Be reasonable. If your kids go to private school in Cherokee county, and you agree that your children are doing well in this private school in Cherokee county and you want them to continue going to the private school, but you know that you're gonna have to move to Gwenette county, then let's be reasonable and practical about whether or not a 50/50 custody arrangement is really gonna work and is really in your children's best interest.

                           You know, I think sometimes people think that they're acting in their children's best interest, but really, what they're thinking about is what is in their best interest or what makes them happiest, and sort of assuming that that is, because it makes them happy, also in their children's best interest and makes their children the most happy.

                           But you know, a lot of times with these schedules where people are living so far apart, and we're doing a lot of exchanges, or if you're living in a different county and having to take your kids to private school, they're spending a lot of time in the car. And how fair is that, really, for children that are young, when they could be doing homework or playing with their friends or maybe learning piano, or doing something else that is gonna benefit them long term.

                           Instead, in those situations, I think that parents, with the Guardian, should focus on maximizing their time during summer, holidays, or other non-school days. Especially the summer, because I think a lot of times, people think, oh, I have to give into this schedule that I really don't like. Maybe it's a Thursday to Sunday, or a Thursday to Monday, every other weekend. But maybe in the summers, you could go to a 50/50 parenting time schedule, where you get them every other weekend, or maybe you could split the months. One parent has the entire month of June, one parent has the entire month of July.

                           The beautiful thing about settling your case and not putting it up in front of a judge, is that you can be as creative as you wanna be. And you get that decision placed in your hands, which I think, ultimately makes people happier long term.

Leh:                    And that's an amazing example of thinking things through. So maybe during the school year, you don't get what you really want, but you thought it through, and so you try to make up time for it in the summer and holidays. And that's a really, I think if you meet with a guardian, you walk that through. And you say, you know what, this isn't what I really want. What I really want is this, but it's not practical for the kids. I think you just scored major points with a Guardian Ad Litem.

                           Alright, well let's go to number two. Unless, am I missing something? Is there anything else we need to hit on this one?

Courtney:           Just one small thing, and then we can move on, and that's that this is something that comes up more frequently than I think anybody even realizes. But it's bedrooms. I get asked a lot about bedrooms for the kids, and I also find, a lot of times in litigation, where a parent isn't gonna have a bedroom for a child. And so I think that, as we're talking about splitting up, this really applies mostly to divorce actions. But when everybody's lived in one house, and then we're splitting households, the funds are a lot less to go around when we're talking about the people lived prior to the divorce and how they're gonna be living after the divorce.

                           And so, people think about downsizing, getting smaller places, but make sure that you have a bedroom or suitable room facility for your child. Whether you're in a one bedroom, and the kid is gonna sleep in the bedroom, and you're gonna sleep on the couch when they're visiting with you, or during your parenting time. You just need to make sure you have a separate bed for the child. And that's something that I think sometimes people don't think through.

Leh:                    I totally forgot about that until you just said it.

Todd:                  Yeah. I've had that conversation with people a number of times, I'm sure we all have. And you know, I'm sort of torn. On one hand, I want to tell people, it's not gonna come down to money. You can be a great parent, you may not have a lot of disposable income, but you're not gonna be punished for that.

                           But then, I have to look at them, and I have to say, 'cause I've had people come to me and say, well, no. What we do is, they come over, and they're in the living room, and they get a sleeping bag out, and they sleep on the floor of the living room. Oh, they love it.

                           Okay. But when I compare that to the other parent, who has furniture and a bedroom, and all of those things, it comes down to an issue of stability. What is gonna be the most stable environment for the child? And if it's a beauty contest, I'm sorry, a bedroom and a bed looks a lot better than, as much fun as it sounds, it's a lot prettier than a sleeping bag on the floor of a living room.

                           So you do absolutely, that's a great point, need to think about these things.

Leh:                    And that's not the, that's just one issue the Guardian Ad Litem is gonna look at. So we're just inching-

Courtney:           Oh, yeah, sure. It's just one small issue.

Leh:                    One of the ten.

Courtney:           But something that does come up that I think people need to be aware of. And like Todd's saying, it doesn't have to be the most magnificent bed or room that's ever existed. But you need to have a plan for where they're gonna sleep when they're with you.

Leh:                    Exactly. Alright. So number two.

Courtney:           Number two is, know what your contributions have been to your child's daily child rearing. And what I mean by that is, what was your involvement in the daily tasks associated with your kid's day to day needs? Cooking meals, homework, getting them to school, taking them to extracurriculars. Make sure that you are able to articulate and talk about the things that you do on a daily basis to meet your child's needs.

                           You'd be surprised when you ask people those questions, how many of them don't really remember or know what they do. And it's not that they're not doing anything, it's just that they've never really sat down and thought about it.

Leh:                    Well, you get into a routine, and you start executing that routine, you don't think about it. Because it becomes a habit.

Courtney:           Right.

Leh:                    So probably a good idea there would be to pull out a calendar and look at any given month, and think about your morning.

Courtney:           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Leh:                    Okay, this morning, we got up, we did this, mom took them to school but dad drove them home, or dad took them to extracurricular activities that afternoon, but then the next day, we flipped it. So walk yourself through the week, and write down everything that you did.

Courtney:           Right.

Leh:                    So that's really good advice.

                           Alright. And what if, in that same scenario, what if you maybe didn't have a whole lot of involvement? Not 'cause you didn't want to, but just, the circumstances of your relationship. Your marriage relationship.

Courtney:           I think, in those situations, I get asked that question a lot. And I think the important thing in those situations to remember is that what you want to focus on when you're talking to the Guardian is, you know, being honest about your involvement and being able to articulate what your roles and responsibilities were in the relationship as you understood them between you and the other parent. And talk about maybe how you're gonna be able to learn or handle those responsibilities going forward.

Leh:                    And up next, we're gonna continue to go through the top ten things that you need to know before your meeting.

                           Welcome back, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd [Orsten 00:22:39]. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Thorpe, and you're listening to Meriwether and Thorpe radio on the new Talk 106.7. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call, or visit us online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com.

                           Well, today, we have Courtney Carpenter in the studio with us, and we've been breaking down the top ten things that you need to make sure that you know before you meet with a Guardian Ad Litem. And we've hit number one, which was, I'm having a brain fart. Oh, know what custody arrangement you're seeking.

Courtney:           Made that big of an impression.

Leh:                    Number two. Know what contributions- well, I'm just so excited about the next one, so. Know what contributions you have made to your child's daily child rearing. And we'd left with a hypothetical, what if you weren't that involved? I actually had a case that was very similar to that. And while we didn't have a Guardian Ad Litem, there was a custody evaluator, psychologist got involved in it. And the psychologist found that it wasn't that the dad didn't want to be involved, it was the roles that the parties had chosen. And since the divorce started, their roles were changing. And he was stepping up, and the psychologist found that, dad's fully capable of doing these things.

Todd:                  And I think judges also will ... They don't automatically react negatively if they find out that, let's say in that situation, a father has not historically been very involved. If their roles were such that father, let's say, was working-

Leh:                    The breadwinner.

Todd:                  -and he was the breadwinner in that family. But now that a divorce is occurring, that father is stepping up. That's what the court wants to see.

Leh:                    Yeah. Or it may not be stepping up, but the roles have now changed.

Todd:                  Sure.

Leh:                    Because, maybe there was an issue with mom has become an alcoholic, and dad had to change what he was doing. And I think of that same case, if I'm remembering correctly, the client actually, he changed his role in his business so he didn't have to travel as much. Or he changed his schedule so he could be there.

                           So anyways, I just wanted to give that example, that I've seen this work out well, but it goes back to knowing what your contributions are, like you said, Courtney, and being honest about them.

                           Alright, so what's next? What's number three?

Courtney:           Know your child's schedule. What days does your child have extracurriculars? What time do they take their medicine? Are there reoccurring doctor's appointments? Is there every week, on a certain day, do they have to submit a certain piece of homework? Or whatever the case may be, make sure that you know their schedule, and that you're able to talk about it, and that kind of leads into number four.

                           Which is, how their schedule, and your schedule are gonna conflict, and how you're gonna propose to resolve that.

Leh:                    So, that's an excellent point, both of them. But the first one, know your schedule, 'cause, you know, I've seen people come in and say, oh, I want Wednesday through Sunday. And they say, okay, well, you're living in this county that's 25 miles away. How are you gonna get them to football practice on these evenings? Or how are you gonna pick them up from school when, on these evenings, you work until nine o'clock at night? How's that gonna work?

                           So, and you lose credibility when you walk in and say, let's say the Guardian met with one parent first, who did know the children's schedule. And then you come in to meet with a Guardian and say, this is what I want, and then the Guardian's like, well, how are you gonna deal with this? You work until nine o'clock at night. Maybe they work in the food industry. You work until nine o'clock at night, and Joey has football practice until seven o'clock. What's he gonna do for two hours?

Todd:                  Well, the analogy, again, is, and we've see this, where we go into court, let's say we have a hearing or a trial. Somebody comes in, and is like, oh, absolutely, I know all about everything, and I'm a great parent. And on cross examination it's, okay, what sports are they involved in? Well, um, uh. Well, how about this? Soccer, I'll give you that one. When are soccer practices? Um, uh. When are the games? Um. What's the name of the coach? If you are not prepared to answer those questions, you are immediately losing credibility with a judge.

                           But the same thing goes with a Guardian. If you are trying to convince the Guardian that you should play a significant role in your child's life, and you can't answer, meaning you haven't taken the time to learn to be able to answer questions about their coach and what their schedules look like and all those types of things, then you've just lost a lot of credibility. And why should the Guardian feel that you should take a joint or a primary role as a caregiver when you haven't done anything to educate yourself?

Leh:                    And you know, there was a judge, and he's retired now, but in Cherokee county, and everybody knew he was in scouts. And so a parent might say, I'm all into scouts, and I was the den leader. And he would ask, alright, what's the first section of the scout book? And they'd hit with "uh ..." And he's like, you're not in scouts. He was famous for doing that.

                           So anyways, alright, know your schedule. And then, know how your schedule and their schedule conflict, and how you propose to resolve that conflict. So let's dig into that a little bit.

Courtney:           Sure, yeah. I mean, the question really becomes, for instance, do you work full time, and does that prevent you from picking your children up from the private school they go to that you know has no bus service, for instance. How do you intend to remedy that? Are you gonna hire a babysitter? Are you gonna have them transported to a local daycare, after school programs, stay with a grandparent, or maybe you even might choose to rearrange your work schedule. But you need to have a solution to that problem.

                           And I've had so many cases where, one parent who has a dilemma like this, and just has solutions that are either totally not viable, for instance, the kids are gonna just stay with my parents when the other parent's available, or something of that nature. But don't assume that needing a babysitter is necessarily bad. Just be honest about the situation, come up with a real solution, maybe the other parent could care for them during those times, and that might be extra time that that parent gets. Which could make everyone happier. That's another sort of look at a creative solution that could maybe help your case settle, or could also help the guardian see you more favorably if you're looking to co parent in those positive ways.

Leh:                    So, I mean, well, two big benefits there. So you're absolutely right. Just because you have a conflict, doesn't mean that that's a problem. It's how I'm gonna make a reasonable solution to that conflict.

Todd:                  Have a plan. That's what it really comes down to.

Leh:                    Yeah. A reasonable plan.

Todd:                  A reasonable plan. Have a plan, so that when you are sitting down, and you say something, but then all of a sudden, the Guardian is like, yeah, but hold on one second. You work, or you this, or you that. It doesn't sound like it's viable. You need to be prepared. You need to go into that meeting ready to say, well, no, I've thought about that, and I've already got this arranged, and I've already put this into place, and so, no. I'm gonna take care of it so that they will continue to participate in those activities, and it won't be a problem.

Leh:                    Yep. So what's number five?

Courtney:           Number five is know your strengths and weaknesses. I'm gonna kind of focuses on weaknesses here for just a minute, because I think that that's probably gonna be the hardest thing for a parent to own up to. You don't really want to admit you have any, right? You don't want to go into this person who is gonna be making a recommendation to the judge about a custody schedule for your child and say, I have all these weaknesses. But I think it's really important for parents to own up to their weaknesses and be honest about them.

                           You know, maybe you've said some things to the other parent or about the other parent to other people that that parent found out about that you should've have said. If you own up to it, and you're honest about it with the guardian, that's gonna do a lot for your credibility, especially if you can come up with solutions for how to better yourself and learn from that experience. For instance, I think that something I recommend to people in those sorts of situations where maybe there's been a lot of negative talk between the parents is, maybe you go and see a co parenting counselor. You could go on your own, and invite the other parent to join you. Or go see another therapist. And really try to show and make effort that you're trying to turn a new corner, and I think that that goes a long way.

Todd:                  Well, then the focus is on you trying to better yourself, as opposed to the bad behavior.

Courtney:           Right.

Leh:                    Yeah, 'cause I think, you know, people keep forgetting it's, what's in the best interest of the child, not, oh, I get to win, I had more points on my side, per se. And people are afraid to admit those weaknesses because, oh, it's gonna mean I'm gonna lose the case. And then what winds up happening is the Guardian sees the weaknesses, and then says, that parent's not being honest about it. And then that actually is a more negative than owning up to it and working to fix it. Because that makes a bigger impact, a positive impact, on a Guardian.

                           And not to mention, I mean, let's pull back for a second from the case. If you are doing something, and you are in a battle with your spouse, it could be potentially harming your children. I mean, let's pull back from who wins custody in this. If you really care about your kids, you're gonna go do something like you suggested. Go to co parenting counseling to learn how to be a better co parent so that your kids will be healthier, mentally, years from now.

Todd:                  Yeah, insulate them from the strife that you're experiencing with your spouse. And that's something I know, absolutely, a guardian is gonna be looking at. And if one of your weaknesses is bringing conflict into the home, and in the presence of a child, that's something you need to fix and you need to fix it quickly. Not just because of Guardian, and the impact on the case, but just because that's harming a child.

Leh:                    Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Courtney:           Yeah. And maybe you've worked a lot on the marriage, and that was your role in the marriage, was that you were the breadwinner, and so you took on more of that responsibility, but you found ways to structure your schedule so that you can maximize your time with your children now. You just need to be honest about the weaknesses and try to come up with creative solutions for how to make it a positive going forward for the guardian.

Leh:                    Up next, you get to learn how to talk about the other parent's strengths and weaknesses.

                           Hey, Todd, while we take a break here, what do you think about taking a moment to speak just to our podcast listeners?

Todd:                  I think that sounds like a great idea.

Leh:                    Alright. Well, first off, we wanted to thank everyone who is listening and downloading our podcast. We are so glad that you've taken the time out of your busy day to listen to us.

Todd:                  Absolutely. We especially wanted to thank all of you that took a few minutes to post a five star review of our show on iTunes.

Leh:                    Yeah, and if you're enjoying this show and getting a lot out of it, and you haven't posted a review yet, we would be so grateful if you would take a moment or two to post a five star review for us wherever you listen to the show. And if you're really enjoying it, please let us know, what is it about the show that you enjoy in the review. If you want to post a review, but you're having trouble figuring out how to do so, just Google, "How do I post a podcast review in iTunes?" Or Podcast Attic, or SoundCloud, whatever you're listening to.

Todd:                  Absolutely. We'd give you a step by step guide on how to do it, but as soon as the show comes out, Apple or Google is probably going to issue an update that changes everything.

Leh:                    Yeah, absolutely. Hey everyone, thanks so much for listening.

                           Welcome back, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd [Orsten 00:34:50]. Todd and I partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Thorpe, and you're listening to Meriwether and Thorpe radio on the new Talk 106.7. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call, or visit us online. AtlantaDivorceTeam.com.

                           Well, in the studio today, we've got Courtney Carpenter, who is actually a registered Guardian Ad Litem. And we are breaking down the top ten things that you need to know before you meet with a Guardian Ad Litem. And we've gone through the first five, and these are all important, but they're not as intense as the first five. But we're gonna hit the last five in this last segment. So Courtney, what's number six?

Courtney:           So in number five, we talked about knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and number six is gonna be, know how to talk about the other parent's strengths and weaknesses. So something I like to talk to my clients about is, make sure that you give the other parent credit when it's due. Remember that you did have children with this person, so there was something about them that you liked before you found yourself here in this predicament. And I think it is important to be able to identify positive aspects of the other parent.

Todd:                  And obviously, that may not always be possible. I mean, when we're talking about really, really bad behavior-

Leh:                    Alcoholism, or drug use.

Todd:                  Yeah, then obviously, it's like, well, he mows the law nicely. Obviously-

Courtney:           Not in a straight line, though.

Todd:                  Right. That's right. So it may not be possible. But in the situations where it's not an extreme, where there's not some extreme behavior-

Leh:                    Which is most of the cases.

Todd:                  Right, exactly. Then you can't just come in and attack, and just say, oh, he or she is the worst, and they're a terrible parent, and a terrible co parent. There have to be some positives. So you need to be ready to go, well, look, they've done a couple things right over the years, but right now, this is why I think this would be better for the kids.

Courtney:           Mm-hmm (affirmative). And you know, when talking about their weaknesses, I think that it's really important, and I try to express to my clients, the importance of not making their weaknesses the focal point of the litigation. You really want to make sure that you're focusing more on your own positive parenting skills, versus focusing on the other party's negative parenting skills.

                           I think that when parents do that, and they spend a lot of time critiquing the other parent over, and we're not talking about the serious things like what you were talking about with alcoholism and drug use and things like that. I'm talking about the petty stuff like, they butter his toast wrong, he likes the crust cut off, they don't cut off the crust of the peanut butter and jelly. I mean, those sorts of things, I think that as a Guardian, you see that attitude from that parent more about them winning the litigation against that parent than them actually being concerned about what's in the child's best interest.

                           Because you know, I think, sometimes, it can become, parents can kind of get drug down in the litigation in a way that it does become almost a battle between them and the other parent. And you can't get lost in that.

Todd:                  I will say, though, that bread crust is a choking hazard. Alright, no, for anybody listening, no it's not.

Courtney:           Nine out of ten children do not like bread crusts.

Leh:                    I know I do cut my younger son's crust off. But not my older. I know the difference. Trust me, I get an earful from my kids when I don't do it right.

Todd:                  That's why you're a good daddy. Alright, next.

Leh:                    I do want to say, real quick, that is so critical that I just want to emphasize it for 20 seconds. Just, it is so critical to come in there, 'cause if all you do is bad mouth the other parent, then the Guardian will sit here going, well, okay, but what makes you a good parent?

Todd:                  Right, 'cause it's not about the kids anymore.

Leh:                    Right. Yeah. Then it's all about hammering the other parent and saying how bad they are.

Todd:                  That's right, yep.

Leh:                    Okay, number seven.

Courtney:           Number seven is, know your emotional ties and bonds with your child. And so, guardians are really gonna be looking for the things that you and your child like to do together, how do you share a unique connection with your child. It could be that you both are really into baseball, and you coach their baseball team. It could be that you come every month and read to their class. It could be that you really both enjoy building with Legos. But they're gonna wanna hear about that, and why you and your child have a unique connection.

                           Something else that I think people don't really think about, but that could become important in a positive or negative way with the litigation is, step-siblings and half-siblings. You know, on one hand, there could be a really strong bond between your child and any step-siblings or half-siblings that live in your house or the other parent's house. But there could also be a lot of butting heads with step-siblings or half-siblings. And that could really factor into the litigation, and where the Guardian maybe thinks a child might be better placed.

Leh:                    Good to know. Alright, so number eight.

Courtney:           Eight is, know your child's school and teacher's names. It is okay, it is okay, if the other parent has been the primary contact for your child's school and for their teachers. A lot of times, it happens just organically, that one parent ends up being the person that does most of those communications, 'cause they're the drop off parent. Or for whatever reason. But you still should know the information. And so it's important that you know it, and that you show that you're capable of handling those communications going forward.

Todd:                  Yeah, and I think you hit the nail on the head. You may be in a relationship where the other spouse took on that share of that responsibility. But now you're going through a divorce or a custody action. You need to show that you've taken the time to educate yourself so that you are aware of these things. And I can't tell you, I mean, if I had a dollar for every time we went into court, and we were questioning an opposing party, let's say. And it's like, well, okay, who is your child's teacher? How about english, how about history, how about this? And they're like, well, I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.

Courtney:           Or they only remember the kid's teacher from kindergarten, and the kid is now in tenth grade.

Leh:                    That's right. High school, yeah.

Todd:                  Yeah, so you need to at least educate yourself. You may not have ever talked to the people that we're referring to, but at the very least, when you sit down with that guardian, you need to show the guardian that it is important enough to you that you took the time to learn their names and you have that information ready.

Courtney:           Absolutely.

Leh:                    Yeah, and if you're bad with names, have it written down somewhere. I know I'm bad with names. If you ask me their names right now, I couldn't tell you, but I could pull out my phone and say, oh, his history teacher is this, you know ...

Todd:                  If I was a guardian and somebody came in, and I asked them, tell me about school. And they were not able to tell me the name of a teacher, as opposed to someone was like, listen, I'm terrible with names, I've written it down. Is it okay if I look? I'd be like, absolutely. Tell me, go ahead. Look. Oh yeah, history is this. Then I'm gonna be more impressed with that person, because they came prepared to that meeting.

Leh:                    Right. So it's a matter of being honest. Going back to that whole honesty thing. Who knew it was so important?

Courtney:           That's really the most important thing throughout all these.

Leh:                    Alright, so number nine.

Courtney:           Number nine is know their doctors, medical concerns, and how to treat any medical concerns that your children have. And it kind of just goes along with the thing that we just talked about with teachers and schools. Again, you may not be at every doctor's visit, but you definitely need to familiarize yourself with your child's doctors' names, and any medical concerns that your children have. And especially if they have some sort of ongoing or daily treatment that they have to receive for something like asthma or diabetes. You need to know what medications they take, how much of that medication, how to administer it. The Guardian is not gonna be very impressed if you don't know that your child has diabetes, for instance.

Todd:                  Or how to treat-

Courtney:           Or how to treat their diabetes, right. So you need to make sure that you're very well acquainted with that.

Leh:                    And I think a subset- I don't know if it's a subset under eight or nine. 'Cause I've seen somebody get caught up on this. Know your child's clothing sizes.

Courtney:           Yeah. That just goes to the capability, again. But you need to know it, 'cause you're gonna have to buy clothes if you think you want to have your child live with you most of the time. You're gonna have to go out and buy clothes.

Todd:                  I wouldn't be too bothered as a Guardian with that, because, I'll be honest, I'm thinking about my kids. I think I know what their sizes are. But they're bigger now. When they were still babies, and it was the, what is it, like 8T, 9T, ten. I have no idea. I would have to look all the time.

                           My wife, she knew better. But did I buy clothes for them? Yeah, absolutely. So I wouldn't be bothered by that as much as I would by the no teachers names, no doctors names-

Leh:                    Medical concerns.

Todd:                  -medical concerns.

Courtney:           Those are definitely more important.

Todd:                  And I've seen those, where people literally had no idea and came into court unable to discuss medical treatment.

Leh:                    Alright, Courtney, number ten.

Courtney:           Number ten. Know how you can provide your child with stability. You want to talk about your home environment, and why it is ideal for your child. Why your child is going to thrive in the home environment that you've created. Talk about your child's needs, and how you can meet them. Again, doctors, schools, does your child maybe respond better to the way you communicate. Sometimes parents and children butt heads, and children might communicate better with one parent than another, and if that's the situation that you have, that might be something very important to bring up with the guardian, if the guardian thinks that the other parent and the child are gonna be constantly butting heads, and it's gonna create a lot of turmoil, that's gonna be something they're gonna consider.

                           I would say another thing is, is the other parent constantly in and our of relationships, and introducing the child to these short term relationships, whereas you've been in a long term, more stable relationship that might provide your child with more consistency and stability. These are very important issues.

Leh:                    Well, Courtney, that about wraps up the show. We have more notes, we could keep talking. But hey, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Courtney:           Thanks for having me.

Leh:                    Because this is some great information. But unfortunately, it's the end of the show. We'll have to come back and just dive into Guardians a little bit more some other time. If you want to read more about Courtney or us, you can always check us out online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. Thanks so much for listening.

Speaker 4:          This audio program is not established an attorney client relationship with Meriwether and Thorpe.