By: Guest Blogger
Okay, bear with me on this one. If you’re stuck in the swamp and you’ve been through all these resources, or think you have, look into them again. Family Court changes all the time, as do some of these resources. If you’re new to the swamp: Welcome! It sucks. But we can help. Take a look at some of these resources that can actually be quite helpful to you.
Your Attorney: As stated in some of our previous blog posts, do your research and find the right attorney for you.
Step 1: Google. Take a look at the attorney’s website, reviews, research their reputation, ask around.
Step 2: Pick a few of your top choices and meet with them; most offer free one-time consultations. Remember: if the opposing party has an attorney, YOU NEED AN ATTORNEY. If you can’t afford one, try to see if you’re eligible for a court-appointed one.
Step 3: LISTEN to your attorney; they went to law school. They passed the bar. They know what they’re talking about. Your attorney might be an absolute angel that actually advocates and fights for you; they might be a total pain in the @$$; maybe they make snarky comments you don’t particularly appreciate; maybe they are overloaded with cases and can’t remember each detail of yours (but they will). Did you go to law school? No. Your attorney did. You might not like or agree with their advice, but chances are they are right. (Just please, do not hire Rambo. Just don’t go there.)
RI Judiciary Website: I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH: go to this website and read everything you can about everything!!!! Then: go to Public Resources > Public eService Access and use Smart Search. Within the last year or so the state has made this public portal much easier and user-friendly. USE THIS. It still amazes me that most people don’t even know that this resource exists; anyone with access to the internet can look up any person, any case, and see any charges against them or case they may be involved in, who else is involved, what that person may or may not have done, the attorneys and judges assigned to the case, every single motion filed, and order entered, every court date scheduled for each case. If you are at home doing this, you won’t be able to see the actual documents; if you need these documents, go down to the courthouse (2nd floor in Providence), access the same public portal, and you’ll be able to see (almost) every motion and order entered in any case – exactly as it was entered into the system after the judge signed it. Why do you need access to this? Well, if you have an ongoing case, it’s probably helpful to know ANY of these things. What if your court date was moved? What if the opposing counsel is trying to put you in contempt? WHAT IF you just started dating someone, they seem absolutely perfect and not crazy at all, but you type in their name in the portal and 37 cases come up against them with an enormous criminal record?! People: Be smart, be safe. PLEASE. Use the portal.
Office of the Child Advocate (OCA): This, my friends, is an agency that just may be your best friend if your child has been brought into the toxic swamp for any number of reasons. If you pay attention to local news at all (let’s be honest- just go on Facebook and you can see it), you know that DCYF is under some pretty serious investigation. Besides infant fatalities/near-fatalities, losing track of children in their custody, having extremely overworked and underpaid staff, social workers that barely check on the well-being of the children and/or families assigned to them, employees answering calls on the hotline that do absolutely nothing about a legitimate concern that should be addressed, never mind bother recording it…. Well, there’s a lot wrong with this state agency. The OCA is an independent state agency, separate from DCYF, that oversees them. Yes, that’s right: they are essentially above DCYF. ***If you have a child that has been abused in any way, or has been involved in the DCYF system, the OCA can and WILL help you. If there is a serious, neglectful, awful issue going on with your case, CONTACT THEM. Be patient; they have a lot on their hands, but they WILL address your concern. You can find their link and many, many more resources they offer here: http://www.child-advocate.ri.gov/index.php
Advocates and Advocacy Centers: This resource deserves its own post. I will, however, recommend Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center, Day One, and New England Advocacy Services—from my own personal experience they have been the most helpful and informative. If you have been a victim, contact any of these or any other advocacy centers. They are there for a reason- to help you, to let you know that you are not alone. I also urge you to go down to your local police department; the state of RI has advocates placed in every single department.
CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA is a program you can find in Family Court that advocates for children with an ACTIVE case in DCYF. This program involves mentors, volunteers, court-appointed attorneys, guardian ad litems, more social workers, as well as other resources that may help your child and your family. *Please take note: to be eligible for services through CASA your child must have an ACTIVE and ongoing case with the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). If you don’t or can’t find the help you need here, see the OCA.
Guardian ad litem: GALs are attorneys that are involved with CASA or may be appointed by a judge in your case to represent the child. Yes, you may have to pay for this attorney. The GAL’s role is to protect the child involved in a case, whether it be a DCYF case or a custody case, and to advocate for that child. You might not like the GAL assigned to your case at first. But, if you care about your child and what would benefit your child, you will learn to like this attorney. The *specific* duties of the GAL depend on what the judge deems necessary as well as the details and complications of your case. Remember: Every. Single. Case. Is different.
Therapists: You may or may not be in therapy/have a counselor. Honestly, if you’re in a messy family court case, it’s not a bad idea for you to get one. There are SO many therapists/counseling centers or agencies that specialize, have experience with, or work directly with the court system. No, they are not attorneys or judges and may not know exactly how the laws work or may apply to your case. But, they might be able to point you in the right direction, give you some names or refer you to other services, maybe some advice on what to do… even if none of the above apply, get yourself a counselor, someone to talk to about this. If your case is complicated, horrifying, dragging out… it helps, it keeps your sanity, you can let it all out to someone. No, it doesn’t fix any of this garbage in court; but you’ll probably leave that appointment feeling better than you did when you walked in.
Specialized Therapists or Psychologists: These will most likely benefit your case if your child is involved and there are custody issues. Even if it isn’t ordered by the court (and there are times where counseling for the child IS court ordered), it might be in your best interest to do your research and find a licensed psychologist that specializes in dealing with children. These therapists are here for your child- not for you, not for your attorney, not for the court. Your child might feel torn between his or her parents. Maybe one parent is attempting to turn the child against the other. It’s also VERY likely that the child would benefit immensely from any kind of counseling at all if their parents are going through a divorce, if there is a custody battle, if they’ve witnessed any kind of domestic violence (physical, mental, emotional, financial….) My parents divorced when I was nine years old, and I’m pretty sure if I had gotten into counseling, I might be a different person today. Regardless: These licensed professionals can testify on behalf of the child as to how that child feels, what they’ve said during sessions, and give their professional opinion.
Follow Your Instincts: If you’ve reached out to any of these programs or organizations (or other ones not listed here- there are many, many more); if you’ve contacted an advocate that has given you advice, or lack thereof; if you’ve hired an attorney and they are not respecting your (REASONABLE) requests or blatantly ignoring you…. if you get a bad feeling about any of this, it may be time to try something else or find a new attorney. NOT because you don’t like what you’re being told—but because you just get that gut feeling that something is not right and this person is not looking out for you or your child. Follow your gut, follow your instincts.