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The Role of a Guardian Ad Litem in Alabama

picture of a girl cutting paper representation of a family to illustrate the idea of a divorceWhen children are involved in divorce, things can get complicated quickly. On top of figuring out how assets will be divided, parents are tasked with agreeing on a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the children. In a perfect world, parents would not be selfish or overly confrontational in deciding custody, but the world is not perfect. Sometimes parents can not come to a civil agreement and the best interests of the child get lost in the shuffle. While likely not intentional, it is still an unfortunate reality of divorce and one that needs to be addressed so that the child’s interests are looked after. In Alabama, a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is often assigned to a case in order to look out for the best interests of the child.

The term “ad litem” literally means “for the lawsuit.” A guardian is one who is supposed to help and protect another, while looking out for that person’s best interests. A GAL is appointed by a judge in a divorce to represent the child. Most often, a GAL is appointed when there the divorce involves a contested child custody dispute.

When is a GAL Used?

GALs are often assigned when there is a contested child custody matter. Contested child custody means that the parents are in an often heated battle to receive custody of the child. Unfortunately, a parent may get so wrapped up in the emotions and turmoil of a divorce that he or she loses sight of what is in the best interest of the children. A GAL is assigned so that there is always at least one person in the children’s corner, looking out for their best interests. The court wants to make sure that there is always someone protecting the children, even if their parents are momentarily distracted with their own problems.

What Does the GAL do?

The paragraph above states that a GAL is assigned to look out for the best interests of the child. What exactly does this mean? What actions are taken to look out for the child? A GAL looks out for the interests of the child in a variety of ways. Generally, the GAL will make recommendations for child custody and visitation for the parents. The recommendations come from an independent investigation so that they can come to their own conclusion. It is important to note that the judge is not required to follow the GAL’s recommendation; the report is purely informational. While the recommendation is not binding, the GAL’s report is usually taken  seriously.

The Investigation

To come to a conclusion and make a recommendation to the judge, the GAL will often interview a wide variety of people involved in the child’s life. The GAL will interview the child, the child’s parents, counselors, teachers, grandparents, friends of the family, and other caregivers. Additionally, if child protective services were involved in the family’s life, the GAL will likely interview them to find out additional information. When interviewing the child, the GAL is careful to listen to the child’s opinion, but not lose sight of the best interests of the child if that is contrary to the child’s wishes.

You can prepare for the investigation by the GAL. While there is no guarantee what the GAL might ask you, it is best to be prepared for questions about your parenting style, problems in the marriage, and why an agreement can not be reached among the parents. It can also be helpful to have documents ready for the GAL should they ask. For example, school records, pay stubs, any reports by child protective services, counseling records, or court records are just a few of the documents that might be used in the GAL’s investigation. It is important to not become defensive with the GAL and remember that they are only looking out for the best interests of the child. They are not looking to find out every minute detail of your life, but are looking for an overall picture of your life and the life of the child.

The best way to be prepared for a GAL investigation and child custody dispute is to be honest with the GAL and consult with an experienced family law attorney. The family law attorneys at Massey, Stotser & Nichols, PC are here to help you. We know that this is a difficult time. Child custody can be a sensitive topic and no one wants to think that they are not looking out for the best interest of their children. We approach child custody with care, compassion, and the right amount of strategy to get the best result of the possible under the circumstances. Contact us today for a consultation.

Reasons to Consider a Prenuptial Agreement

picture of a girl cutting paper representation of a family to illustrate the idea of a divorceWhen children are involved in divorce, things can get complicated quickly. On top of figuring out how assets will be divided, parents are tasked with agreeing on a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the children. In a perfect world, parents would not be selfish or overly confrontational in deciding custody, but the world is not perfect. Sometimes parents can not come to a civil agreement and the best interests of the child get lost in the shuffle. While likely not intentional, it is still an unfortunate reality of divorce and one that needs to be addressed so that the child’s interests are looked after. In Alabama, a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is often assigned to a case in order to look out for the best interests of the child.

The term “ad litem” literally means “for the lawsuit.” A guardian is one who is supposed to help and protect another, while looking out for that person’s best interests. A GAL is appointed by a judge in a divorce to represent the child. Most often, a GAL is appointed when there the divorce involves a contested child custody dispute.

When is a GAL Used?

GALs are often assigned when there is a contested child custody matter. Contested child custody means that the parents are in an often heated battle to receive custody of the child. Unfortunately, a parent may get so wrapped up in the emotions and turmoil of a divorce that he or she loses sight of what is in the best interest of the children. A GAL is assigned so that there is always at least one person in the children’s corner, looking out for their best interests. The court wants to make sure that there is always someone protecting the children, even if their parents are momentarily distracted with their own problems.

What Does the GAL do?

The paragraph above states that a GAL is assigned to look out for the best interests of the child. What exactly does this mean? What actions are taken to look out for the child? A GAL looks out for the interests of the child in a variety of ways. Generally, the GAL will make recommendations for child custody and visitation for the parents. The recommendations come from an independent investigation so that they can come to their own conclusion. It is important to note that the judge is not required to follow the GAL’s recommendation; the report is purely informational. While the recommendation is not binding, the GAL’s report is usually taken  seriously.

The Investigation

To come to a conclusion and make a recommendation to the judge, the GAL will often interview a wide variety of people involved in the child’s life. The GAL will interview the child, the child’s parents, counselors, teachers, grandparents, friends of the family, and other caregivers. Additionally, if child protective services were involved in the family’s life, the GAL will likely interview them to find out additional information. When interviewing the child, the GAL is careful to listen to the child’s opinion, but not lose sight of the best interests of the child if that is contrary to the child’s wishes.

You can prepare for the investigation by the GAL. While there is no guarantee what the GAL might ask you, it is best to be prepared for questions about your parenting style, problems in the marriage, and why an agreement can not be reached among the parents. It can also be helpful to have documents ready for the GAL should they ask. For example, school records, pay stubs, any reports by child protective services, counseling records, or court records are just a few of the documents that might be used in the GAL’s investigation. It is important to not become defensive with the GAL and remember that they are only looking out for the best interests of the child. They are not looking to find out every minute detail of your life, but are looking for an overall picture of your life and the life of the child.

The best way to be prepared for a GAL investigation and child custody dispute is to be honest with the GAL and consult with an experienced family law attorney. The family law attorneys at Massey, Stotser & Nichols, PC are here to help you. We know that this is a difficult time. Child custody can be a sensitive topic and no one wants to think that they are not looking out for the best interest of their children. We approach child custody with care, compassion, and the right amount of strategy to get the best result of the possible under the circumstances. Contact us today for a consultation.

Common Misconceptions About Buying a Home

photo of a miniature house to show concept of a real estate closing in alabama

Buying a home, whether it is your first home or your fifth, is an exciting time. You might be turning to friends and family for advice and guidance during this process. While friends and family can speak to their own experience and may have some excellent advice, it is important to keep an open mind and not believe everything that you hear. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions out there and misleading information abounds. The following are common misconceptions about home buying that buyers need to be aware of so that they do not make a misinformed decision.

The process starts with searching for and finding a home.

Obviously, finding a home that is the best fit for your and your family is important and you might think that it is the first step in buying a home. However, this is untrue. It is not smart to start shopping for a home without first talking to a lender or bank to determine how much you can afford. A lender will be able to tell you what you are qualified for so that you do not fall in love with a home that is out of your price range. It can be difficult to find a house in your price range if you have already fallen in love with a home you can not afford. Do not start off your house hunting process with heartbreak.

Bad credit means that you can not buy a home.

Sometime people get in over their heads with credit cards or loans and their credit score is affected. Fortunately, bad credit does not mean that an individual can not buy a home. While good credit is certainly a benefit when purchasing a house, bad credit does not necessarily preclude a person from doing so. There are many factors that go into determining a person’s qualifications for a mortgage. A bad credit score will likely mean a higher interest rate, however. So, while it is not completely necessary to have an excellent credit score and there may be a lender out there for you, working on raising your credit score can help you save money on interestin the long run.

A real estate agent is unnecessary.

With the vast amount of information available on the internet, some people may think that they can handle the home search on their own. A majority of the time, the cost for a real estate agent is paid for by the seller. As a buyer, it can be helpful to utilize the free service of a real estate agent. The agent will likely have access to more homes for sale and homes ready to be toured than is publicly available on the internet. A real estate agent can help save you time, as well, by eliminating outdated listings, listings that are actually scams, and generally having the experience to effectively find potential homes you might like. While you may have none or limited experience buying a home, a real estate agent will have a vast amount of experience in negotiating contracts, getting the best deals, and making sure the buyer is protected.

The only upfront cost is the down payment.

Depending on the type of loan, the amount that is required as a down payment varies. Some individuals think that the required down payment is 20% across the board. This is not true. A Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan only requires that there be a 3.5% down payment. This percentage is for buyers with a credit score greater that 580. Additionally, there may be some loans that do not even require a down payment. However, it is smart to make a substantial down payment to save money over the length of the loan. The down payment, however, is not the only upfront cost. An appraisal and closing cost are just a couple of the additional costs at the outset of buying a home. In some instances, closing costs and other costs can be negotiated to be included in the offer price to the seller, but this is not always the case. It is important to discuss this with your agent or attorney to determine if rolling the costs together is in your best interest.

The real estate attorneys at Massey, Stotser & Nichols, PC are here to help you with your home buying needs. We know that as exciting as this time this might be, it can be daunting and full of misinformation. Contact us today to get your questions answered and allay your fears of buying a new home.

Best Interest of the Child

picture of a girl cutting paper representation of a family to illustrate the idea of a divorceWhen children are involved in divorce, things can get complicated quickly. On top of figuring out how assets will be divided, parents are tasked with agreeing on a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the children. In a perfect world, parents would not be selfish or overly confrontational in deciding custody, but the world is not perfect. Sometimes parents can not come to a civil agreement and the best interests of the child get lost in the shuffle. While likely not intentional, it is still an unfortunate reality of divorce and one that needs to be addressed so that the child’s interests are looked after. In Alabama, a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is often assigned to a case in order to look out for the best interests of the child.

The term “ad litem” literally means “for the lawsuit.” A guardian is one who is supposed to help and protect another, while looking out for that person’s best interests. A GAL is appointed by a judge in a divorce to represent the child. Most often, a GAL is appointed when there the divorce involves a contested child custody dispute.

When is a GAL Used?

GALs are often assigned when there is a contested child custody matter. Contested child custody means that the parents are in an often heated battle to receive custody of the child. Unfortunately, a parent may get so wrapped up in the emotions and turmoil of a divorce that he or she loses sight of what is in the best interest of the children. A GAL is assigned so that there is always at least one person in the children’s corner, looking out for their best interests. The court wants to make sure that there is always someone protecting the children, even if their parents are momentarily distracted with their own problems.

What Does the GAL do?

The paragraph above states that a GAL is assigned to look out for the best interests of the child. What exactly does this mean? What actions are taken to look out for the child? A GAL looks out for the interests of the child in a variety of ways. Generally, the GAL will make recommendations for child custody and visitation for the parents. The recommendations come from an independent investigation so that they can come to their own conclusion. It is important to note that the judge is not required to follow the GAL’s recommendation; the report is purely informational. While the recommendation is not binding, the GAL’s report is usually taken  seriously.

The Investigation

To come to a conclusion and make a recommendation to the judge, the GAL will often interview a wide variety of people involved in the child’s life. The GAL will interview the child, the child’s parents, counselors, teachers, grandparents, friends of the family, and other caregivers. Additionally, if child protective services were involved in the family’s life, the GAL will likely interview them to find out additional information. When interviewing the child, the GAL is careful to listen to the child’s opinion, but not lose sight of the best interests of the child if that is contrary to the child’s wishes.

You can prepare for the investigation by the GAL. While there is no guarantee what the GAL might ask you, it is best to be prepared for questions about your parenting style, problems in the marriage, and why an agreement can not be reached among the parents. It can also be helpful to have documents ready for the GAL should they ask. For example, school records, pay stubs, any reports by child protective services, counseling records, or court records are just a few of the documents that might be used in the GAL’s investigation. It is important to not become defensive with the GAL and remember that they are only looking out for the best interests of the child. They are not looking to find out every minute detail of your life, but are looking for an overall picture of your life and the life of the child.

The best way to be prepared for a GAL investigation and child custody dispute is to be honest with the GAL and consult with an experienced family law attorney. The family law attorneys at Massey, Stotser & Nichols, PC are here to help you. We know that this is a difficult time. Child custody can be a sensitive topic and no one wants to think that they are not looking out for the best interest of their children. We approach child custody with care, compassion, and the right amount of strategy to get the best result of the possible under the circumstances. Contact us today for a consultation.

Can I Change My Child’s Last Name?

reasonable person lawyer birmingham Sometimes, what we think we want turns out not to be what we want at all. This “want” can range from employment and living arrangements to changing a name. As it pertains to changing your child’s last name, there may be several reasons why you would want to make such a big change. You may want to change your child’s last name because one of the parents has decided to give up his or her parental rights. You may want to change your child’s last name because someone whom you have married has decided to adopt your child. Regardless of the reason you have for wanting to change your child’s last name, it is important to know whether the state of Alabama allows for children’s last names to be changed at all. If you or a loved one is seeking information in this area, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced Birmingham family law attorney so that we can strategize about the best possible outcomes for your situation.

Changing Your Child’s Last Name in Alabama

 

In Alabama, an adult, which is any person over the age of 19 years old can apply for a name change of a minor or anyone under the age of 19. To change your child’s last name in Alabama, the child must be a legal resident of Alabama, typically for at least six to 12 months. Once citizenship has been established, you must provide a certified copy of your child’s birth certificate to the court and both parents must sign a consent form. In the event that one of the parents is unknown or cannot be located, then an attorney is required for the name change.

Lastly, if your child is 14 or older, then he or she must sign the legal document and consent to the change, as well. It is important to note that even though there are consistencies throughout the state, the county that you and your child live in will determine the requirements as to the documents that are needed for you to obtain the name change for your child. Also, if the court finds that the child’s name being changed is not consistent with public interest or that a parent is trying to escape his or her obligations, the court may deny a request to change your child’s name. Because of this, seeking advice and representation from an attorney in the beginning can save you time, money, and energy.

Need Legal Advice?

 

Regardless of the reason for changing your child’s last name, Alabama has specific requirements that must be adhered to before a name change can be accepted. Changing your child’s last name can be a simple task or a difficult one depending on the parties involved and the documentation that you have. Because of this, it is invaluable to seek legal advice and representation if you are considering changing your child’s last name. If you or a loved one would like to change the last name of your child, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced family law attorney at Massey, Stotser, & Nichols, PC to help you navigate through this process.