Terms you should know if you are in the legal system seeking a separation or divorce from an abusive partner-
Guardian ad litem?
A Guardian ad litem (GAL) is a person the court appoints to represent
the best interests of a child in a divorce or parental rights and
responsibilities case. The GAL will investigate the family situation
and advise the court about where a child should live and what type of contact parents should have with their children.
What is divorce mediation, and how is it different from arbitration?
Divorce mediation is a process in which divorcing spouses try to
negotiate an acceptable divorce agreement with the help of a neutral
third party: the mediator. The mediator helps the spouses to communicate
and negotiate but doesn't make any decisions for them.
mediation and arbitration involve a neutral third party who is not a
judge. In mediation, the neutral party has no power to make decisions.
In arbitration, the neutral third party -- the arbitrator -- listens to
the facts and then decides the case, just as a judge would. Although the
parties can present evidence and make arguments, they have no say in
the final decision.
Visitation is the arrangement set out for contact between the child
and the parent (or 3rd party) who does not maintain the primary
residence for the child. Visitation can be set out in a number of ways
including a flexible visitation schedule, reasonable visitation as
determined by the custodial parent , a structured visitation schedule to include holidays, weekends and summer vacations and supervised visitation..
If one parent has sole legal custody, that parent has the authority to
make long range decisions regarding the health, education and religious
decisions for the child. . The parent who does not have legal custody,
should not attempt to subvert those decisions. For example, if the
parent with legal custody has decided to raise the child in the Jewish
tradition, the parent with visitation rights should not take the child
to be baptized in a Catholic church.
How do you determine a visitation schedule?
The courts encourage parents to work together to determine the
visitation schedule that will be in the best interest of the child.
Such factors as school and work schedules, family traditions, distance
of the parents homes, other siblings and family members, health
requirements and other personal issues effect each visitation schedule
uniquely. If parents are able to work together to set a schedule that
will benefit the child’s needs and accommodate the parents schedules,
the courts have mediation resources available to assist. Court
certified mediators are available in every county to provide neutral
assistance to allow the parents to meet the needs of their child.
Who can be awarded visitation?
Obviously a biological parent can be awarded visitation . Additionally,
grandparents (even when the parents weren't married or are not
currently divorced) and step-parents may be awarded visitation rights.
While there are no reported cases of brothers or sisters being given
visitation , a strong argument could be made that it would be in the
best interest of the child.
When can visitation be denied?
If the child is in an unsafe situation, it is important that the
problem is brought to the attention of the court and other agencies that
might be appropriate. The court has the power to deny visitation to a
parent. Normally the court will only stop visitation for a certain time
or until a certain task is performed. If the parent with primary
residency denies court ordered visitation , the parent who has been
denied visitation should consider filing an action for contempt and/or
modification of the existing order.
Are visitation rights contingent on the payment of child support and vice versa?
No. Court ordered visitation rights may not be denied to the
non-custodial parent, even though the non-custodial parent is not paying
child support. A parent who has been denied visitation does not have
the right to stop paying court ordered child support. Not following
court orders will place you in contempt and will only get you in trouble
with the possibility of jail time.
When is supervised visitation or monitored exchanges appropriate?
Supervised visitation protects the safety of the child and centers are
available throughout Maryland. "Monitored Exchange" programs allow the
child to be exchanged and move from one parent to the other without
the parents having contact.
Many parents and children who are
separating or divorcing in difficult circumstances need help from a
neutral third party in arranging for visitation . Although emotions may
be running high between the parents, it is in the child's best
interests that they should consider that in most situations children
want to continue relationships with both parents. If the child’s parentl
wants to maintain a relationship with the child, judges are unlikely to
terminate the rights of the parent to visit. In particularly volatile
situations, supervised visitation or monitored exchanges should be
considered. Supervised visitation is visitation between a parent and
child held at a neutral location. Supervised visitations are closely
monitored by staff who may intervene when necessary to ensure
appropriate parent/child interactions.
Monitored exchange occur
at a neutral center where the parents pre-arrange times at which the
parents exchange the child. Staggered pick-up and drop-off times are
usually arranged so that the parents do not have to be in contact with
one another. The actual exchange is monitored by staff who generally try
to ease the process for the child.
When might I consider using one of these services?
Supervised visitation may be useful in situations where the parent who does not have primary residence:
is working on improving his/her parenting skills;
may have a drug or alcohol abuse problem;
has been abusive or has had trouble controlling anger; or
may have been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with the child.
Monitored exchanges may be useful in any of the situations described
above, particularly if the parent who does not have the primary
residence completed treatment and is ready for unsupervised visits.
Monitored exchanges may also be helpful when parents separate and find
themselves arguing or when there is a history of domestic violence. If
any violence was directed at the child, supervised visitation may be
How do I arrange for these services?
people find the services through referrals from the courts, Family
Services, or Child Protective Services. Others negotiate visitation
agreements that include one of these arrangements.
* I am not an Attorney. Please ask your lawyer or advocate information. Educate yourself on the system. Ask questions about EVERYTHING. You are paying a person (or blessed to have a Pro-bono atty), talk to them, inquire about what's going on. Voice your concerns. Try to keep your emotions in check. I know it's not easy. This is the tough part! Listen, take notes, ask questions and if need be take someone with you or ask if you can record the meeting to make sure you don't miss anything.
Think about things to ask your legal person before you go to make sure you hit the things you feel are important. Be reliable, upfront and honest! Depending on circumstances in your break-up, you may have children or pets to protect.
Leave no stone unturned! If your legal representative seems as though they aren't truly listening or understanding- FIRE THEM! Don't be afraid to fire them. You can do this! Surprised? It does push back your court proceedings when this happens but make sure you feel comfortable with the person representing you.
Pick someone that can work with you, whether it be someone that has worked with abuse victims before or someone that is sympathetic and not just out for a fat check.
You can actually do much or all the separation/divorce yourself. Now this is frustrating, empowering and can be rewarding. Many states offer Legal Assistance or Legal Aid or even some Pro-Bono attorneys that can help you, prepare, file, give advice or represent you if you need it! Honest! Call or check out your local governments website for more information.
Women's Shelters- If you are lucky and don't have to stay in a shelter that is wonderful. These places can not only help you if you need shelter in an emergency, but they have resources for counseling, legal assistance, advocates, housing, help with job searches/resume and more! (Guys you can call too!)
Stay safe! Read and learn all you can about the courtroom.
I'm rooting for you!