Thursday, December 4, 2014

What you need to know about a Guardian ad Litem:

A Guardian ad Litem may be an attorney, psychologist or social worker who has been appointed by the Domestic Relations or Juvenile Court to represent a child who is involved in a legal proceeding and/or to advise the Court as to what they believe is in the child’s best interests. Individuals who serve as a Guardian ad Litem typically have training and experience involving interviewing children, identifying domestic violence and dealing with substance abuse. There are requirements which individuals must meet in order to serve as a Guardian ad Litem.

The Guardian ad Litem, or GAL, role in the Domestic Relations court is to  specifically  protect the interests of a minor child. They do so by maintaining objectivity regarding all parties involved. GALs are to appear and/or participate in all hearings. They will also ask the court, submitted in writing, to resolve conflicts.  The Guardian may request psychological evaluations or substance abuse assessments when necessary. A Guardian ad Litem is also required to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest that may arise from any relationship or activity.

A GAL will make reasonable efforts to become informed about the facts of the case they do so by meeting with and interviewing the child and observing the child with each parent, foster parent, guardian or physical custodian and conducting at least one interview with the child where none of these individuals is present.

The Guardian ad Litem may visit the child at his or her residence in accordance with any court-established standards, and will ascertain the child’s wishes. Further the GAL will meet with and interview the parties, foster parents and other individuals who may have relevant knowledge of the case’s issues. Including interviewing school personnel, medical and mental health providers, child protective services workers and relevant court personnel.

The GAL will review relevant court documents whether they be criminal, civil, educational and administrative records pertaining to the child and, if appropriate, to the child’s family or to other parties, and obtain copies of relevant records.  
Finally the Guardian ad Litem will provide the court with a written report of the activities listed above, and a recommendation based on their findings.  

For more information regarding this topic, or to schedule an appointment, contact Joseph Stafford at 216.241.1074    

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Prenuptial Agreements, What You Should Know Before Getting Married.

Getting married, thinking you may obtain a prenuptial agreement, but you are not really sure what they entail? The following information will shed some light on what a prenuptial agreement is, what you should know about prenups, and if they work.

Let's begin by setting forth the definition of a prenuptial agreement.

A prenuptial agreement, ante nuptial agreement, or premarital agreement, commonly abbreviated to prenup or prenupt, is a
contract entered into prior to marriage, by individuals intending to marry. The content of a prenuptial agreement can vary widely, but commonly includes provisions for division of property and spousal support in the event of divorce or separation.

Many couples find prenuptial agreements uncomfortable and upsetting, no one wants to consider the possibility that their upcoming marriage may not work .
However, it depicts a couple’s level of responsibility and confidence. With a prenup in place, the marriage can begin on a firm foundation with clear, agreed upon expectations that can serve to put their minds at ease in the event of a separation or divorce. It may act as a bit of a safety net allowing each partner to let go of various anxieties, knowing they are protected, enabling them to fully engage and invest in the marriage itself. 

What you should know about prenups:

Prenuptial agreements must be in writing, they must provide full disclosure of assets and/or liabilities. They must be executed voluntarily, by both parties in the presence of witnesses. Further they cannot give one party significantly more than the other, and should be in a recordable format.
Lastly, as their name suggests, they must be executed prior to the wedding.

Are prenuptial agreements effective?:
Prenuptial agreements are  effective, if they follow the laws and guidelines outlined for preparation and execution of the agreement.
The State of Ohio is an equitable distribution state, making the prenup a very useful tool to protect the financial security of both soon to be spouses.
 For more information, or assistance with the preparation of a Prenuptial Agreement, call Joseph Stafford at 216.241.1074 or visit

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Should You Date While Going Through a Divorce?

Although it may be tempting to begin a new relationship while you are going through
a divorce.  It would be best to hold off until your divorce is finalized for a myriad of reasons; such as the increase in cost and stress of the divorce.  Dating a new person during an already stress-filled tumultuous time, could cause more tension between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse; resulting in your spouse becoming angry and vindictive, lengthening the process and raising legal fees.
             In many cases the interaction and interrelationship of a child, with any person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests, is a determining factor that is considered in determining the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities of children.  If you have a new girlfriend or boyfriend so soon after separation, or during the pendency of your divorce proceedings, you may be seen as unstable and that your priorities are misaligned.  If you decide to introduce the significant other to your children before the divorce is over or very soon thereafter, you look self-centered and like you aren’t putting your children’s best interests first.  The way you are perceived by the court is very important.
            A domestic relations court, most likely, will not penalize someone who begins dating before the divorce is finalized; however, your new “friend” could be subject to deposition by opposing counsel as well as subpoenaed to testify at trial. This conduct could result in a lot of unnecessary aggravation and costs.  Further, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, as well as actions during the pendency of the case may be used to determine maintenance and awarding of attorney fees.

            For more information regarding this topic, or to schedule an appointment with Joseph Stafford, call 216-241-1074.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Who Is Responsible For Student Loan Debt When Couples Divorce?

            Many divorce couples today have a substantial amount of student loan debt that was incurred during their educational pursuits and lead them to their professional careers.  When these individuals divorce, courts must address who is responsible for the student loan debt.   
            When courts divide marital property, this also includes marital debt.  As student loans have exponentially increased in dollar amounts, so too have they grown in importance during property division.  The average student loan debt for students who graduated in 2012 is $29,000.  If advanced degrees were earned in medical school or law school, even more debt will be owed.  For domestic relations courts, the time period of when the debt was incurred is often dispositive of who ultimately has to pay the debt.  If the student loan debt was incurred before the marriage, it is almost always that individuals separate, non-marital responsibility.  When student loans are incurred during the marriage, the outcome will depend such factors as the length of the marriage, what the student loans were used for and the other factors set forth in R.C. 3105.171.
            It is important for courts to properly allocate the student loan debt when dividing the divorcing couple’s assets and liabilities.  Courts will also consider the allocation of the student loan debt when determining the support issues.  If you have substantial student loan debt, be sure to keep as much documentation in regard to when the debt was incurred, what the proceeds were used for, and don’t forget to tell your domestic relations practitioner about the debt so that your lawyer can properly advise you and protect your rights.  

For more information on this topic, or to schedule an appointment with Joseph Stafford, call 216.241.1074 or visit

Monday, June 2, 2014

Stalking or Sexually Oriented Offense Protection Order

            If you fear for your safety because you are being threatened with harm, followed, or harassed by another person (relative or stranger), you can apply for a Stalking or Sexually Oriented Offense Protection Order.  R.C. 2903.214 is designed to protect you if someone is harming, attempting to harm, threatening, following, stalking, harassing, contacting, or forcing sexual relations upon you. A Stalking or Sexually Oriented Offense Protection Order is broader in application and applies to persons who may not be covered under a Domestic Violence Civil Protection Order or a Criminal Protection Order because it applies whether the offender is a family or household member.  A court can order the Stalking or Sexually Oriented Offense Protection Order for up to five years and the Order is enforceable by the police just like any other protection order.

            The statute defines stalking as including a pattern of conduct that the stalker knows will cause the victim mental distress or cause the victim to believe that the stalker will cause physical harm to her.  This must rise to the level of a “pattern of conduct” and not just a single incident.  Other examples may include, threatening you, making harassing phone calls, sending threatening or harassing letters, damaging your property, or other conduct which frightens you or causes you mental distress.  If you fear for your safety and well-being due to an individual’s threats or harassment, contact Joseph Stafford, 216.241.1074, for a consultation to see if the actions meet the statutory definitions to obtain a Stalking or Sexually Oriented Offense Protection Order.