Thursday, April 28, 2011

How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem Part I: Initial Meeting

In Part I of How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem, I will be discussing the initial meeting.  Which, as everything does in the court system, costs some big bucks. 

The cost of the guardian ad litem probably varies depending on the court and the guardian that has been assigned to your case.  The judge ordered both W. and I to pay $250 to our guardian within seven days of our last court date.  (For the mathematically challenged, that means the money was due by the fourteenth of April.)  This money will work as a retainer, much like when you pay a lawyer.  It is important to be prompt in everything while you are in the court system.

As I've mentioned before, you need to always be respectful to your guardian ad litem.  In fact, you should be respectful of everyone else when you're around your guardian.  This means no bashing your ex.  It is one thing to state the facts, but bashing the father of your child(ren) is disrespectful to both your ex and your child(ren).  The guardian will not look upon this lightly.  Even though my daughter is only eighteen months old, I requested that the guardian and I first meet without Jellybean's presence so that she would not have to hear anything negative about her father.  This is something that the guardians are trained to look for specifically, so we agreed to meet at her office without Jellybean, and she thought that it was great that I would think of that.
During our first meeting, I filled out several forms with all of my information: past drug use, alcohol use, if I smoke cigarettes, who is living in my household, health concerns, etc.  I had to fill out the same information about W., and I also had to fill out another form about Jellybean. 

The guardian will then ask you what your concerns are and why you are fighting for whatever it is you are fighting for--in my case, it is restricted visitation under supervision based on W.'s drug/alcohol abuse and psychological instability.  This is your chance to be heard, so don't blow it.  I told her the facts about the situation.  I told her that W. has admitted that he cannot handle taking care of her on his own, that he has never taken her to the doctor or given her a bath, that he has never gotten up with her in the middle of the night.  I told her about all the times I asked him to sit with her so I could shower or use the bathroom and he left her in the pack-n-play to cry by herself. 

What you don't want to do, is go into detail about how things didn't work out between you two.  She doesn't want to know that he cheated on you with your best friend on your birthday or that you smashed his Xbox to pieces or anything related to that matter.  Those types of issues are between you and your ex, and have nothing to do with the well-being of the child.  So, please, don't ramble on like a crazy lady and show just how hurt and broken he left you.  This will make you look like a scorned woman who was left so hurt by an ex that you are now being vengeful and using your child to hurt him. (And if that is what you are doing, then shame on you.)

Another important piece to this puzzle are your witnesses.  Do not skimp on this part, it is very important.  My guardian requested up to four witnesses who would have any information related to my case.  I decided not to use any family members as witnesses.  Your family will side up with you on anything and everyone knows that.  I chose a mixture of business associates, friends and neighbors.

My first witness is my boss.  She has been my employer for four years and can attest to the fact that I hold down a steady job, am responsible, and am always looking out for my daughter.  She can also attest that any time Jellybean has had a doctor appointment or has been sick, I have been the one to call off work to take care of her.

My second witness is a woman that I babysit for.  I have babysat her five children for the past two to three years.  She has known be to be reliable and trusts me to take care of her children.  She can attest that any time I have babysat for her since the birth of my daughter, I have had to bring her with me because her dad would not watch her.  Even during overnight stays.

My third witness is my neighbor.  She and her family have been our friends/neighbors since we moved into the area two years ago.  She was more so W.'s friend in the beginning, as he got to know everyone better than I did.  W. has even spoken with her a little bit about the abuse he received from his parents as a child.  After our daughter was born and as time went on, she was there to witness W.'s lack of interest in Jellybean, the late nights out, and the purposely not coming home until her bedtime.

My fourth and final witness is a good friend of mine.  She has been my friend for the past two or three years and was one of the few people with whom I shared my problems through a difficult time.  She can attest to the fact that, even when W. and I were together, Jellybean came with my everywhere because he would not stay home with her.

These are the kinds of witnesses that you will want to have in your case.  Make sure you ask each individual for their permission before submitting their information to your guardian.  The guardian told me that she will mail letters out to each of them to let them know that whatever they say is not confidential and will ultimately be shared with each party.  Sometimes people don't have the heart to tell you that they don't want to be involved--so instead of calling the witnesses, she gives them a no-pressure way to back out of the situation by asking them to contact her at their convenience. 

After speaking with her for about an hour, she told me that our next step was for her to see how Jellybean interacts with each parent and she will also need to inspect each home.

Introduction to How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem

Part II: Preparing For The Home Inspection
Part III: The Home Inspection & Parent/Child Interaction
Part IV: Consulting The Witnesses
Part V: Drug Testing
Part VI: Do What The Guardian Tells You

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem.

For those of you just joining us in this never-ending divorce/custody/visitation/bullshit battle, you can catch up here, here, here and here.  And most recently, here.  All caught up?  Good.  Then you already know that we have been assigned a Guardian Ad Litem, who is basically a court-appointed lawyer for the best interest of the child.  She doesn't care about me, she doesn't care about W.  She just cares about what is best for Jellybean.  Which is great.

In order to get a full report, the guardian needs to hear both sides of the story from each parent.  She also needs to do a home inspection of each home and to see how the child interacts with each parent.  In most cases, the guardian will speak privately with the child(ren), but since my child cannot form real sentences, she probably won't be interviewing her.  After all that, she will write a report on the entire situation and make a recommendation to the court.

I have scoured the internet looking for some sort of reading material on how to impress the Guardian Ad Litem.  There is absolutely nothing out there.  Not that I am trying to hide anything, I just want to be as prepared as humanly possible.  And since there isn't anything out there, it looks like it's up to me. 

So begins my series of How To Impress The Guardian Ad Litem.

The most important thing to remember is that this lady is going to make or break your case.  Whether you are fighting for custody, trying to obtain visitation, or aiming to keep someone potentially dangerous out of your child's life, she is your lifeline and the court is likely to make a decision based on her report.  (And by "likely to" I mean your entire case depends on that report.)  She's kind of a big deal. 

The second most important thing about a guardian ad litem is that she is there for your child(ren), not you.  Nor is she siding up with the other parent.  She doesn't care that he cheated on you with your best friend on your birthday or that you threw all of his belongings out the window when you caught him.  So don't waste her time or your breath going on and on about such things.  She is looking out for the best interest of your child, which is what you should be focused on as well; so you two should see eye-to-eye on many things based on this point.

The last important piece of information that I would like to point out about a guardian ad litem, is that time is money.  And her time is worth about $100/hour.  You can be respectful to your bank account by being respectful of her time.

Part I: The Initial Meeting
Part II: Preparing For The Home Inspection
Part III: The Home Inspection & Parent/Child Interaction
Part IV: Consulting The Witnesses
Part V: Drug Testing
Part VI: Do What The Guardian Tells You

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter (It's More Fun With Kids!)

Holidays are difficult in blended families.  You have to make sure that everyone gets to see the kids and the kids get to see everyone.

So on Saturday, we spent the day at my parents' house in M-Ville.  They got Easter baskets filled with candy, coloring books, and other misc. toys.  And these awesome golf sets.

My parents held an indoor Easter egg hunt (which, for their age group, was really more of an Easter egg pick-up).  Ace figured out how to unwrap candy wrappers and took it upon himself to distribute candy to his younger siblings.  I'm not sure if he was doing this to be nice, or to get them involved so that if he got in trouble he would have accomplices.  Nevertheless, the kids had candy for breakfast and lunch.  Which may be considered bad parenting, but I'm not terribly concerned. 

After our nutritious lunch of chocolate and marshmallow, it was time to color eggs.  (I love our faces in this picture...)


I stole the muffin pan idea from my friend at Hand Over The Cookies!.

The kids all had a ton of fun and they were disappointed when we were done coloring eggs.  But, for the life of me, I cannot capture a picture of them having fun.  Ever.  Here are Dango and Ace looking like they've been working the grind for twelve hours and have just had enough.

My dad got this cool egg-spinner from WalMart for about $5.  Ant and Dango took it for a spin.  (Get it?)


That egg spinner made some very cool eggs.  So with all of the after-Easter sales going on, it might be a good idea to snatch one up for next year.

The next morning (Easter Sunday) was a blur.  The kids got their baskets for 10 minutes before we rushed out the door to Ant's mom and step dad's house in H. Town.  Where they each got another basket and these delicious marshmallow lollipops.

Ed picked up the boys minutes later and we headed to my mom's house for ham, then home to clean clean clean before the Guardian Ad Litem arrives to inspect our home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Working Vs. Staying At Home

There seems to be an ongoing war between working moms and stay-at-home moms.  There are pros and cons to each side and I'm not bashing either choice--mostly because we moms are defensive creatures and I'd like to spare myself the wrath of hundreds of women weilding soccer schedules and brief cases.  But I digress...

When you look past the turned-up noses and passive-aggressive comments, I'd say that a great deal of this dispute can be chalked up to envy.  Because we all want what's best for our kids.  We want more time with them.  We want to be there for every milestone, every fever, every boo boo.  And when we can't be, we end up feeling like less of a parent.

When the stay-at-home mom down the street tells me about all the time she spends with little Tommy each day and how her structured lessons and playtime have really payed off because he is only two but already knows his ABC's, can count to 100, is fully potty-trained and even drives her to the grocery store on Tuesdays... well, I feel just a little inadequate.  Between working full time and taking care of three toddlers, there are days when we all eat T.V. dinners and go to bed without baths.
On the other side of the fence, whether or not we want to spoil our children, we still want material things for them.  You know, the whole "roof and food" thing.  And whether you have chosen to pursue a career or you are working for minimum wage to barely make rent, you have to admit that getting out of a house full of kids is what is keeping you out of the nuthouse at the moment.  We all know that the more career-driven women in this world can make a stay-at-home mom feel like she is barely contributing to the world.  Like she has no excuse to be exhausted and her house should be spic-and-span because she is home "all day with nothing to do."

I have mad respect for the stay-at-home moms. (Unless you're a stay-at-home-mom with two kids who are both in school for six hours a day and you still send laundry home with your mom because you "just can't find the time!" while you were spending two hours on Facebook this morning--you suck.)  Moms who stay home with their small children all day, every day, for years at a time must have a patience level far superior to my own.  On my day off, I feel like all I do is make meals, clean up after meals, change diapers and pick up the same toys over and over and over.  And while I'm doing these things non-stop all day long, I get to enjoy the constant soundtrack of temper tantrums, expensive things being broken, and the Dora The Explorer theme song.  All day. 

Back to my point--there is no need for the snide comments, the snooty-patooty attitude, or this "war" in general.  Whether you're at home pulling your hair out, or at work wishing you were home, you will never be 100% satisfied with your situation.  We are all going to screw our kids up one way or another, and they'll all hate us when they're teenagers anyway.  So let's just agree to smile at each other as we drop our children off for therapy, and concentrate on bashing the real crazy bitches out there: the work-at-home moms.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Yet Another Pretrial

For those of you who have been following along in my divorce/custody battle, you may remember that yesterday was our third pretrial.  This time we were seen by the judge.

First of all, I would like to point out that at each pretrial, W. has stylishly arrived in dirty pants and a greasy work jacket.  I know he thinks he is making the statement, "Look at me!  I'm a workin' man!"  But mostly he is stating, "Look at me!  I forgot to shower this morning!"

Once again, W. was unrepresented.  I'm not sure if it is due to inability to pay, lack of family support, or just plain stupidity.  Whatever the matter, he has chosen to represent himself in this battle.  (The judge even quoted Abraham Lincoln, "A man who represents himself has a fool for a client.")  So instead of understanding the proper protocol, i.e. when to stand, when to say "Your Honor" and when to shut the hell up, W. just wings it.  Believe me, there is no greater cure for my anxiety than watching him make an ass out of himself.

Upon entering the courtroom unshowered and unrepresented, W. starts the pretrial off right by interrupting my lawyer while she was making statement of the fact that he never filed an answer.  "I did too file an answer!"  That kind of thing tends to piss off a judge.  He allowed my lawyer to finish her statement and then asked W., "Mr. ____, you claim that you did file an answer?"


"And when did you file this answer?"

"This morning."

"...You filed it just this morning??"

"Yes.  I have the papers right here."

The judge stared at W. so hard, I thought daggers might actually shoot from his eyes.  "Mr. ____, you had 28 days after October 7 to file an answer.  I think you're a little late."

This isn't the first time that W. has delayed things by waiting until (quite literally) the last minute to complete court orders.  While I understand that doing so only makes him look worse, it still frustrates me to no end.
However, there was a bit of relieving news that managed to shine through the bullshit.  The judge clarified with W. that this is not a battle over custody, only a battle regarding visitation.  W. concurred.  You see, in the State of Ohio, custody and visitation are two wholly separate issues.  Whether his lawyer-less ass realizes it or not, if he is only fighting for unsupervised visitation then I will be rewarded with sole legal custody. 

The judge appointed a guardian ad litem  to the case and ordered her to bring her full report to the next pretrial on May 26. 

At the last minute, a representative from the Safe House (where W. and Jellybean have participated in supervised visitation since November) stood up an announced that although cases are only supposed to go through Safe House for 90 days, our case has been there for five months.  The judge said that he would take that into advisory.  Later, my lawyer explained to me that this simply means that he didn't feel like making a decision on that so he is going to pretend like he is considering it but really his mind is made up until the next pretrial.

So once again, we are left waiting.  Waiting for the guardian ad litem to examine our households.  Waiting for court on May 26.  And waiting for W. to screw up in between.  That is the one way in which W. has never let me down.  He always screws up.

For those of you who haven't been following along with me for the past six months and might think that I am being a bit vindictive here, you can see why here, here, and especially here.  I am not trying to remove him from her life, I am simply trying to make sure that I keep my little Jellybean safe.  That, my friends, is the #1 goal of a 22-year-old-full-time-working mom with a precious little girl.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Posh Tots: For Tots Who Are Posh And Parents Who Are Out of Their Minds

If you haven't shopped at, then you simply haven't lived.

They believe that a child's room isn't just a place to sleep.  It's a place to play, learn and dream; an environment where a child can enjoy all the simple pleasures of being a child.  And the only way to accomplish that for your children is to purchase items that are at equal or greater value of your family's vehicle.  Or local school bus.  Whatever.

My child's ass will never be changed on anything less than the Braided Vintage Versatile Dresser/Changing Table WITH Gold Accents for $3,542.00.  I mean, she just might break out in hives if she were to be changed on any surface that wasn't accented with gold. 

And I would be absolutely mortified if I were the only mom at the playground without a diaper tote made from 100% calf skin leather for $169.00.  Because if at least three baby cows weren't slaughtered to create this product, it simply isn't fit to hold my child's diapers and Cheerios!

If your little princess isn't drifting into dreamland in one of these bad boys, then you clearly just don't love her enough.  Okay, seriously?  Who the hell would actually purchase this for their spoiled brat?  Is this website even making money?  They won't even list the price, which means that this probably costs significantly more than your average two-story house, given that they will shamelessly list the prices of beds costing upwards of $50,000.  And why is this bed being modeled outside?  That is the only way I would consider purchasing a bed so ridiculous: if I were forcing my daughter to sleep outside. 

And if you love these products but your child is getting a little too old for the La Belle Au Bois Dormant Coach Bed, Posh Tots thought ahead with their line of beds specifically for tweens starting at $4,000.00. 

Of course, when your tween turns into a full-fledged teen (you know, two years from now) you will have to purchase him or her a real bed for a teenager because, well, otherwise it would just be embarrassing.

Seriously, Posh Tots, get real.  The only people who are buying your ridiculously-overpriced-hand-crafted-from-the-skin-of-dead-baby-animals-plated-with-gold-that-was-shat-out-of-the-ass-of-the-queen-of-England-but-daddy-all-of-the-other-kids-have-a-chandelier-in-their-bedrooms-and-besides-I-didn't-even-get-a-new-pony-this-year-merchandise are people who dress their kids like this:

So if you have three years' salary to spend, lottery money to blow, or if you want a good laugh, check out Posh Tot's website.