You must file your Declarations and other documents the required number of days before your hearing and deliver them to the other parties and GAL. Ask the clerk if you must also submit "working copies." (See "Can I check with my witnesses who spoke with the GAL?", above.)
If you cannot meet the deadline, and you have good reason (Example: The GAL provided the report too late for you to respond), bring your originals and copies to the hearing. The judge might agree to read them. Hearings are usually short. Courts do not usually allow witnesses to testify at a hearing. For trial, be sure you have met your county's deadlines for giving the court and other parent the names, contact info, and summary of testimony about each witness you want to call.
Your witnesses should know and be able to testify about these parenting responsibilities:
- Focus on your positives. Try to find witnesses who will testify about why you are a good parent, especially if they are not friends or family. Put them on the witness list for trial. The deadline for disclosing witnesses you want to testify at trial is often before the date you will get the GAL report. Try to guess what witnesses you should have testify, so you can disclose them by the deadline.
- Keeping a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child.
- Taking care of the child's daily needs, such as feeding, clothing, physical care and grooming, supervision, health care, and day care.
- Getting the children to school.
- Helping the children develop and keep appropriate relationships.
- Using good judgment about the child's welfare.
- Supporting the children financially.
- Look at what the GAL left out. If the GAL left out important info from witnesses related to parenting responsibilities, ask your witnesses to testify about your positives and about how well you perform those responsibilities.
If the GAL did not speak to witnesses whom you believe are important, or left out information the witnesses provided, be ready to explain why that testimony or declaration is important.
Example: Jody spends a lot of time with you and your children, or has had a long, stable relationship with your children. You should explain to the court why the GAL's report might be different if the GAL had Jody's testimony.
- Make sure the report does not leave out the other parent's behavior that matters to parenting plan restrictions. The court would consider harmful to the children:
- Abandoning the children or not seeing them for a long time
- Substantial refusal to perform parenting responsibilities
- Physical, sexual, or pattern of emotional abuse of any children
- History of intimate partner violence, assault, or sexual assault, or conviction for a sex offense
- Long-term emotional or physical problem that would interfere with the person's ability to be a good parent
- Long-term drug, alcohol, or other substance abuse problem affecting the person's parenting ability
- Lack of emotional ties between parent and children, or impairment or estrangement in their relationship
- Abusive use of conflict creating danger of damage to child's psychological development
- Keeping a child away from you for a long period without a good reason, such as a court order
If any of this information was not in the GAL report, try to get proof like police, medical, or counseling reports or declarations to prove the court should place limits on the other parent. File these things with the court. Send the other parties copies. Keep a copy for yourself. You must disclose these documents to the other parent and the court as potential trial exhibits before any discovery deadlines in your county.
Try not to make general statements about the other parent, such as "Jo is a bad parent," or "the children are much safer now living with me." Instead, you should describe specific things, and state when and where things happened. Example: "I believe Jo has a drinking problem and has put the children at risk. About a year ago, Jo knocked over our mailbox while driving. I ran out to the street to see what had happened. Jo was standing next to his car. I smelled liquor on his breath. I have seen him weaving down the road toward our house in his car three other times this year. On all of of those occasions, the children were in the car with him."
- Countering the negatives about you. If the GAL has concerns about your ability to perform the parenting responsibilities listed above, or mentions there should be restrictions , show how you have been working to address these issues. Read How to Work with GAL's and Parenting Evaluators to learn more. Explain to the court how you have been working to fix your problems and are using any resources available to improve your position.