What is the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem?

What is the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem?

A Guardian ad Litem’s job is to represent the best interests of the child in any given case, and the Guardian Ad Litem does not represent either of the parents. As such, the Guardian Ad Litem cannot give parents legal advice. Parents must turn to their own lawyers when they need legal advice. If the parents need assistance in presenting evidence, gathering witnesses, etc to advocate for their own position in a case, that is a job for their own attorneys as well, and not the Guardian Ad Litem.

Although the Guardian Ad Litem can make recommendations to the court about custody and visitation in those types of cases, the GAL does not “rule” or make the final decision. Ultimately, only the Court can make the final decision on a case. Of further note is that the Guardian Ad Litem is forbidden from having ex parte communications with the Court. An example of an ex parte communication would be if the GAL had a private conversation with the judge about the case outside of the presence of the attorneys for the parties. As such, the GALs recommendation typically takes the form of a written report that is filed with the Court and thus made simultaneously available to all parties. Some judges do not request recommendations from the GALs and merely expect them to advocate for the child as any other attorney.

In some cases, a GAL may be appointed for a parent or spouse because that person is a minor themselves or is otherwise incapacitated due to mental or physical illness or disabililty. The GAL’s job remains to advocate for the best interests of their client.

Outside of custody and divorce cases, a GAL can be appointed for a minor or incapacitated person in all types of civil lawsuits and their specific role may differ.

Powers of Attorney vs. Health Care Directives

Powers of Attorney vs. Health Care Directives

Powers of Attorney vs. Health Care Directives

Many people are unfamiliar with the legal distinctions between powers of attorney, health care directives, and guardianships/conservatorships.

Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney is a legal document giving authority to another person to act for you in either specified or all legal and financial matters. The person giving power of attorney must presently have the capacity to do so. That is, they must understand what they are doing and be able to make important decisions. If you are concerned that you may become incapacitated for health or another reason (for example, unavailable due to being out of the country), it is a good idea to give power of attorney to someone that you trust. Note: This person will have the authority to conduct legal or financial transactions as if they are you, with no further notice to or permission from you, so be very careful when granting someone your power of attorney.

Health Care Directive

A Health Care Directive, also known as a living will, personal directive, advance directive, or medical directive is a legal document specifying what actions should be taken for a person’s health if they no longer can make decisions for themselves due to illness or incapacity. In your health care directive, you make decisions about whether you would want to be kept alive by artificial means if you are terminally ill or permanently incapacitated, or whether to allow other treatment which would keep you alive but which could not cure you. You can also designate someone to make those decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

Guardianship/Conservatorship

A Guardianship or Conservatorship is granted only in instances in which an individual is already mentally or physically incapacitated and cannot take care of himself or manage his affairs. There must be medical evidence in support of same presented for the Court to order a Guardianship or Conservatorship. A Guardianship applies to matters affecting the person, and Conservatorship strictly applies to their assets and financial affairs.

Please contact Herlihy Family Law if we can assist you or your family with a Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive, or Guardianship/Conservatorship.

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

When it comes to divorce, child custody and visitation disputes are no picnic. These events can be a very emotional and intense process. Frequently in divorce, child custody, or visitation disputes a Guardian Ad Litem, also known as a GAL, will be appointed.

In Alabama, a GAL is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the “best interests” of the child or children involved. A GAL’s duty is not necessarily to advocate for what the child wants which can sometimes be opposed to what is in the child’s best interests. The Guardian Ad Litem will often be asked to present a report and recommendation to the Court for consideration at the conclusion of the case, and, while the Court will take into consideration the recommendation of the GAL, the Court is not bound by what the GAL recommends.

A Guardian Ad Litem is not only appointed in divorce and custody cases but might also be appointed in cases such as;
• Minors involved without living parents
• Juvenile Delinquency Cases
• Child Abuse and Neglect cases
• Guardianships, Conservatorships and Decedents’ Estates in Probate Court.
• Civil Suits of all kinds where minors are involved.

Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Divorce

Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Divorce

We all know that divorces can become very ugly, very fast. It is not in your best interest to have your head in the clouds when your spouse is thinking strategically.

Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Divorce:

  1. Hire an Attorney Immediately!
  2. Gather Copies of Records and Crucial Documents
  3. Have Access to Your Own Money
  4. Be Aware of Outstanding Bills and Debts
  5. Keep a Daily Journal/Calendar of Significant Events
  6. Change Passwords to All Online Accounts (email, banking, Facebook, etc.)
  7. Do NOT Say, Text, Email, or Post on Facebook Anything that You Do Not Want Your Divorce Judge or the Police to Hear
  8. Prepare to Be Treated Like the Enemy by Your Spouse
  9. Keep Track of All Mail Coming to Your House
  10. Do NOT Involve Your Children in Adult Problems

**The above list is for educational purposes only and is not meant to provide legal advice. Every case is different, and it is essential to seek legal advice immediately.**

Tips for Helping Children Cope with Holiday Stress

Tips for Helping Children Cope with Holiday Stress

For most children the holidays are happy, fun and exciting. Children are on a break from school, and the holidays serve as a time to see friends and relatives and enjoy special food and family traditions. For some children, however, the holidays can be stressful and confusing. When parents are newly divorced, the holidays often remind children of what has changed in their lives. Although things have changed, it is important to make sure that both the children and the parents have peaceful holidays.

For those parenting out of two households, seasonal festivities often send stress levels soaring. But with these useful tips, these stressful situations can be manageable for the children as well as the parents.

  • Keep the holidays tension free. Orchestrating a Christmas between split parents can be frustrating. But be mindful that they key to making things work for the children is to have a tension free holiday. If you can reasonably manage your feelings, a holiday together could be meaningful for the children. If not, you will be better having separate celebrations. Just keep in mind that even though you may have personal differences, putting on a tension free front to your children will be for their best interests.
  • Keep the children in the loop, and smooth out transitions. Going back and forth between two households during the holidays can be challenging as well as frustrating for children. Many kids will not understand why they are being shuffled between so many people and locations. Keep the children in the know of what is going on and give them a heads up of what’s next. Instead of telling them when it is time to go without notice, inform the children of what the plan is ahead of time. Set time aside to sit down with your children before the holidays begin and map out a schedule for them. The more they know ahead of time, the easier the transition from one family to another will be.
  • Don’t focus on “fair”, but what is right for the children. When it comes to scheduling holidays between households, parents can often become overly concerned with conflict or competition with each other and forget how it feels for the children. But parents must remember that what is “fair” for the mother and father may not be what is best for the children. Do your best to stay flexible and make sure to keep your children’s needs at the top of your agenda.
  • Holidays present challenges for lots of families. While the holidays can be stressful, keeping the children’s best interest in mind will be the best way to ensure that you and your family have a stress-free holiday. Talk with your children. Ask them what they would like, and do your best to take that into account. By following these tips, you can make sure that you and your children have a successful holiday season.
How Do You Determine Your Filing Status for Income Taxes?

How Do You Determine Your Filing Status for Income Taxes?

By: Brandi Morgan, CPA

It is very important to select the correct filing status as this will impact the amount of your standard deduction and your tax rate. You may fall into more than one category, so you should choose the one the produces the lowest overall tax. An individual may be single, a surviving spouse, head of the household, married filing jointly, or married filing separately. Filing status is determined on the last day of the tax year.

The basis standard deduction amounts for 2016 are:

  • Single 4,050
  • Married filing jointly and surviving spouses 12,600
  • Married filing separately 6,300
  • Head of Household 9,300

You are considered single for the whole year if on the last day of the tax year, you are unmarried or legally separated under a divorce or separate maintenance agreement. You are considered unmarried if you and your spouse did not live in the same household for the last six months of the tax year. If your home was the main home for a qualifying child or relative and you provided more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the tax year, you are eligible to file as head of household instead of single which provides a higher standard deduction and lower tax rates.

A single taxpayer qualifies as a surviving spouse during the two years following the death of a spouse if the household is maintained for a dependent child and you do not remarry. Tax brackets for surviving spouses are more favorable than filing single.

Married individuals may opt to file jointly or separately even if only one spouse had income. In most situations, it is advantageous to file a joint return due to higher deductions and lower tax rates; however, there are special circumstances where filing separately produces a lower tax bill. It is advisable to calculate your tax both ways and use the filing status that yields the lowest aggregate tax. Considerations other than tax savings should also be considered. If you believe your spouse is not reporting all of his or her income or you do not want to be held responsible for any taxes due because your spouse did not have enough tax withheld or pay enough estimated tax, filing separately may be ideal.

If you are unsure which status applies to your situation, consult your tax advisor.

Brandi Morgan is a CPA and Manager at Wilkins, Miller, Hieronymus LLC, Certified Public Accountants and Advisors. She can be reached at wilkinsmiller.com or 251-410-6700. Her office is located at 41 West Interstate 65 Service Road North, Suite 400, Mobile, Alabama 36608.