Make it your legal resolution to get your affairs in order, Part 2

By Lauren Deal
Deal Law Firm

The new year is upon us, and now is a good time to stop and take stock of our legal health. Consider if any of the following apply to you:

Lauren Deal, attorney-at-law
Lauren Deal is a former teacher and prosecutor who is now in private practice with the Deal Law Firm in Macon. Her areas of practice include Family Law and Criminal Defense.

II. Ongoing Litigation:

Are you involved in any ongoing litigation: divorce? Child support? Car accident? Personal injury? Social security? Criminal accusation? Now is the time to contact the clerk of the court where your case is pending and request court dates for the new year. Make sure that both the clerk of court (and your attorney, if you have one) have all of your most recent contact information, especially your mailing address. If you have an attorney, call him or her and ask for a status update on your case, and if there have been any significant developments since your last conversation, consider making an appointment to update your attorney. For cases that are dependent on medical conditions, such as workers’ compensation, personal injury, and social security disability, the new year is an excellent opportunity to confirm that your attorney has all of the necessary medical records.

For more information about these issues, or for help keeping your legal resolutions, contact attorney Lauren Deal at Deal Law Firm, LLC, 901B. Washington Avenue, in Macon, Georgia. Call our office (478)254-9154, or email us at For more information about Deal Law Firm, check us out on Facebook or at

Make it your legal resolution to get your affairs in order, Part 1

By Lauren Deal
Deal Law Firm

The new year is upon us, and now is a good time to stop and take stock of our legal health. Consider if any of the following apply to you:

I. Wills and Estates:

First and foremost, do you have a will? If you don’t already have a will, you need one. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. Consider every piece of property that you own: your home, your vehicle, the money in your bank account…okay, okay, I know that it’s the month after Christmas and maybe your bank account isn’t anything to write home about, but you get the idea….if you die without a will, do you know who will get these things?

Lauren Deal, attorney-at-law
Lauren Deal is a former teacher and prosecutor who is now in private practice with the Deal Law Firm in Macon. Her areas of practice include Family Law and Criminal Defense.

Your next of kin will inherit your property if you die without having a will; generally, if you are married, your next of kin will be your spouse. If you are unmarried, your children, parents, or even your siblings may inherit your property if you do not have a will. Sometimes this can have unintended consequences.

Many years ago, my grandparents built a house. Literally. My father and uncles helped my grandfather build his home. After my grandparents passed away, one of my uncles purchased the house from his siblings, who co-owned the home under the terms of my grandparents’ wills. At the time, my uncle was still married to a woman he met later in life, from whom he had been separated for many years. When he passed away suddenly, without a will, this woman inherited my grandparents’ home. Despite the best efforts of family members who offered to buy the home to keep it in the family, she sold the home to someone else. If my uncle had had a will (or a divorce, but we’re getting to that one momentarily), the house would have remained in the family.

If you do have a will, you should read over it. Make sure that any newly born or adopted children and grandchildren are included, as well as other family members, friends, and institutions for whom you plan to make bequests (gifts through your will). Confirm that you are satisfied with your choice of executor and that the individual you’ve chosen is still capable and willing to perform the task. As you age, your friends and family will age, too, and you’ll want to review your will on a yearly basis to make certain that your appointed representatives are still viable choices.

Regardless of your age and personal health, you should also have a Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare. This form in Georgia designates someone to make important medical decisions for you if you are unable to make these decisions for yourself. It also allows you to choose what types of life support and medical interventions you want in an emergency.

For healthy young or middle-aged adults, a power of attorney may not be necessary, depending on your personal and financial circumstances, although it’s worth considering if you frequently travel out of state for work, are a member of the armed forces subject to deployment, or if you travel to other countries frequently for long periods of time. I have numerous friends with family members who live in Europe, Canada, and China, and they all spend weeks and months at a time overseas to care for their family members, leaving a POA to manage their affairs here in their absence.

For more information about these issues, or for help keeping your legal resolutions, contact attorney Lauren Deal at Deal Law Firm, LLC, 901B. Washington Avenue, in Macon, Georgia. Call our office (478)254-9154, or email us at For more information about Deal Law Firm, check us out on Facebook or at

The first step in any legal battle is to stop talking

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Remember that old playground saying? It may have been a way to make bullies stop taunting you when you were younger, but when it comes to the law, it’s rarely true. Words often hurt us, in a legal context.

Most of my law practice is split between criminal defense and family law. Back when I was an assistant district attorney, if someone had told me that I would spend more time in a courtroom in private practice than I ever did as a prosecutor, I would have laughed—but the joke is on me! I spend most of my days in courtrooms, either representing my own clients or watching other lawyers while I wait my turn.

Lauren Deal, a family and criminal law attorney at Deal Law Firm.
It seems that no matter how many times we (criminal defense attorneys) say it, people don’t listen: Don’t talk to police. Your Facebook friends or co-workers may say that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about, but this is simply not true. If law enforcement officers want to speak to you as a suspect in a crime, they are looking for reasons to arrest you. When you sit down and talk to them, you are simply giving them reasons.

Good, honest people who have committed no crimes get caught up in terrible situations. I once represented a business owner, who had a large number of employees, in a police interview because one of his former employees was accused of committing a serious crime. Law enforcement came to the business and threatened to charge the owner as a party to the crime if he didn’t come to speak to them. I accompanied him for the interview. Afterward, my client never heard from the police again.

Many people don’t understand how easy it is to become the target of suspicion in a police interview. Hesitating to answer a question could mean that you didn’t exactly understand what was being asked, or that you didn’t remember the details you were asked about, or that you momentarily stopped paying attention to what the officers asked you, or many other things. But when an interviewee hesitates to answer a question, law enforcement immediately interprets it to mean that the person is being deceptive.

Under the stress of a law enforcement interview, many people become nervous. Failing to remember details such as timelines, sensory details (colors, sounds, sizes), or names, is normal, yet police interpret such behavior as lying. Changing details about an event as you remember it is also normal: how many times have you told a story, then as you got to the end of it, you remembered a detail you left out, or a detail you were mistaken about when you first started telling the story? It happens to us all, and yet these common behaviors are viewed suspiciously by law enforcement officers.

Investigators can lie during their interviews to get information out of a suspect. A common tactic is to claim that they already have evidence – DNA, videos, photographs, the statements of other witnesses – to trick people into admitting to things they may (or may not) have done. Officers will appear to agree with you on something that you’re done, as if they, too, would have done it, just to get you to admit that yes, you did what they accused you of doing. To avoid these traps, you need to have a lawyer present when you are interviewed.

It’s not just in law enforcement interviews where your words can hurt you. Many of my own family, friends, and clients are active on a host of different social media platforms, from Facebook to Instagram to I’ve seen activity on social media sites come back to haunt my clients in both criminal AND family law cases. Having a “private” page does not protect you: I have had more than one family law case where “friends” of my client provided the other side with access to my client’s social media accounts. It is quite common that people will share their account login information with their significant other – and if that relationship ends badly, you can expect all of your Facebook messages, photographs, and posts (to everyone, not just your lover) to come out in court.

A note about social media photographs: your pictures speak volumes about you. If you post photographs on any social media platform with alcohol, drugs or drug paraphernalia, weapons, large amounts of cash, or people “throwing gang signs,” you can bet that someone will see them, print them, and use them to accuse you of being an addict, breaking the law, having violent tendencies, selling drugs or stealing property, or joining a gang. I’ve even seen photographs taken out of context, like when teenagers do silly hand signs in their prom photos and someone later accuses them of being in a gang. Remember that in the law, it is often not the absolute truth that matters, but the appearance of guilt. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

I’ve read text messages and other communications between husbands and wives that are truly appalling: name-calling, insults, and threats, to name a few. No matter how frustrated you are with your significant other, you should find a better way to release your emotions besides resorting to awful behavior. It WILL come back to haunt you.
Even your posts on forum websites can appear in court. I recently had a client who’d been a member of an online parent’s forum, and her in-laws had found every post she’d ever made and brought them all into court.

All of this goes to say: once you have written it, or photographed it, and put it on technological media, it’s there forever. Whether it’s a Facebook post, a text message, an email, a blog post, a video, a comment to an article, or anything else, it can be used against you in a court of law if it is found…and “they” can find everything.

Returning to where this all began, the spoken word, it’s important to remember that what you say can be used against you, even when you aren’t speaking to a law enforcement officer. It’s a fact of modern life that you are being recorded all the time, whether or realize it or not. Of course, you are being recorded in police cars, businesses, shops, and restaurants. You’re being recorded on the roads, too, either by dashboard cameras in other drivers’ automobiles or by government cameras. You’re also being recorded on your telephone calls.

Georgia is a one-party state, which means that as long as one party to the conversation knows that it is being recorded, it’s legal to do so. If you’re feuding with your child’s other parent, be careful what you say. Almost every cell phone can record conversations with the touch of a button, and there are many downloadable phone apps that automatically record all cell phone conversations.

If you’ve been involved in a situation that may lead to a criminal investigation, or if you are approached by law enforcement officers who want to speak to you about a crime (except where you are clearly a victim or a disinterested witness), it’s absolutely essential that you do not talk to anyone: not your parents, not your best friends, not your siblings, not your girlfriend. Statements that you make to family members and friends can be used against you, even if they haven’t been recorded. If you have concerns that you may be interviewed concerning criminal activity, talk to a lawyer. Many lawyers, like me, give low-cost consultations.

Our lives are no longer private. Our words – words of anger, words of fear, words of confusion – live long past the moment we utter them, and they can come back to haunt us in a court of law. Think well before you speak (or post, or tweet, or Snapchat), and when in doubt, stay silent and contact a lawyer.

Amicable divorce and joint physical custody benefits parents and children

By Lauren Deal
Deal Law Firm

Following the winter holidays, I frequently see a rise in the number of parents seeking a divorce. In most cases, there isn’t one thing that causes a spouse to decide to end his or her marriage; it’s almost always a combination of factors culminating in long-term unhappiness. But people like to make it through the holidays before announcing their desire to divorce, especially when they have young children. Even when divorce is the best choice, parents struggle with the knowledge that they will spend less time with their children.

Joint Custody
For many parents, an amicable divorce includes a decision to seek joint physical custody of their minor children.

When actress Gwyneth Paltrow ended her marriage to her musician husband, Chris Martin, many people laughed at her use of the phrase “conscious uncoupling” to describe her divorce process. Call it what you will, I see more and more cases where husbands and wives both desire to end their marriage on amicable terms.

For many parents, an amicable divorce includes a decision to seek joint physical custody of their minor children. Although it can be given different names, joint physical custody generally means a custody arrangement where children spend an equal amount of time with both parents. Most commonly, the children spend one week at one parent’s house, then the next week at the other parent’s house, and so on, alternating households on a weekly basis.

The benefit of a week-to-week custody arrangement is that both parents spend the same amount of parenting time with their children, keeping fathers, who traditionally lost out on parenting time following a divorce, active and involved in the children’s lives. It also alleviates much of the burden that women were under as “single moms” who only had two or three weekends a month of parenting downtime.

What factors are important in deciding to implement shared custody? It’s essential that the parents are able to put aside their feelings of hurt, anger, and abandonment to focus on the needs of the children. With a week-to-week custody schedule, ex-spouses must be able to communicate and co-parent effectively. It’s also important that both parents are willing to commit to living within a geographic distance where they can both get the children to and from school, doctors’ appointments, extracurricular activities, and the other parent’s home. Finally, both parents should be prepared to set up living space for their children–although they don’t have to have the same living arrangements at both homes, these children do have two homes.

Long before I began practicing family law, I was exposed to joint physical custody when my brother and my former sister-in-law divorced. Since she was a young toddler at the time of her parents’ divorce, my niece doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t have two homes. She is now a high school senior who continues to live week-to-week with her parents. As she prepares to go (not very far) away for college, I can see where her parents’ choice of custody arrangement contributed to her growing into an independent, confident young woman.

If you are contemplating a divorce, and you would like more information on amicable divorce, joint physical custody, or other related topics, call Deal Law Firm at (478) 254-9154 for a consultation.

Planning is the key to Summer success for separated families

This article has been cross posted Macon Community News:

Middle Georgia schools will be closing their doors for the summer soon, and students will be going home for summer vacation. Many children will spend the next few months visiting with their non-custodial parents (the parent that they don’t live with most of the time). Parenting plans vary: some children will keep their regular schedule of weekend visits with the addition of one or two-week long visits; some children will alternate from one parent to the other on a week-to-week basis; and some children will spend many weeks, or even months, with their parent who lives out of town or in another state.  How do you know which visitation your child will have? You can always ask your  child’s other parent, or check in your custody papers. If neither one of you are sure of what the plan is, you can contact the courthouse where your child custody case was handled, or your attorney’s office, and ask them for assistance in getting a new copy of the custodial papers.

Children on bridge
The needs of the children should be the first consideration in any plan for Summer visitation. Photo courtesy Prexels.

Regardless of what kind of visitation plan your child will have for this summer, and whether you are the parent with primary custody or the parent with secondary custody, you will want your child’s summer visits to be a success. It’s important that children have the best relationship possible with both of their parents, and even when it is difficult to do so, it helps your child to have your support and encouragement of their relationship with their other parent. The primary custodian (the parent who a child lives with most of the time), especially, plays an important roll in preparing children for summer visits.

Communication is always the most important element in co-parenting. Of course, if communication were easy, many parents wouldn’t be working out their child’s summer schedule of visitation through the court system; nevertheless, if you put it in the framework that what you are doing is for your child, it can be a bit easier. Even if you and your child’s other parent have not gotten along or maintained positive communication in the past, it is never too late to start.

If your child’s other parent lives near you, and he or she will be expected to keep your child in activities like summer school, summer camps, athletic activities, or play groups, it’s important that you let them know what you are expecting, but also remember that this is their opportunity to spend time with their child, and be flexible with your expectations–unless your child’s participation in summer school is necessary for grade progression.

If you are the secondary parent, and your child will be spending more time in your home than usual this summer, reach out to your child’s primary custodian. Ask about your child’s typical schedule: what time your daughter goes to bed during the summer, what time your son wakes up, what kinds of bedtime routines they might have at home. If your children usually only spend the night on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s easy to skip story time, but if they’ll be with you for a week at a time, or more, then it’s an opportunity to interact with them in a way that’s emotionally and educationally fulfilling. Even if your child’s primary custodian doesn’t read stories to your child, you should consider starting this tradition: children whose parents read to them in the summer (or children who read to their parents, if they are old enough) are better prepared for the beginning of the next school year than children who don’t read at all from the end of one school year until the beginning of the next year. Board games and card games that involve numbers and counting are also a fantastic way to spend time with your children and keep their math skills sharp.

As far as summer enrichment goes, check out your local public library for summer programming, including reading programs where your child can win prizes for reading books! County parks and recreation departments have many fun and free activities, as well, including summer movie programs. Raising a child while maintaining two separate households is difficult and expensive, but making summer memories can be as easy as throwing blankets over your sofa to make a pillow fort, or spending a day at the park.

If your child will be traveling to a different county or state to visit their non-custodial parent for an extended (more than one week at a time) visit, prepare your child for the time apart. Discuss your child’s hopes and fears for the visit, and include your child’s other parent in the conversation. Discuss both parents’ expectations for telephone or video chat time with the child during their visitation. For children who can write, send paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps with your child so that she or he can write to you if they want to do so (but don’t push it, especially with older children), and send them mail that lets them know you are doing well without them, and that you hope they are having fun.

Be sure that you help your child pack clothing that is weather-appropriate, including some of your child’s most comfortable outfits. Many parents struggle with clothing more than any other issue: brand new clothes get lost, stained, or forgotten; children grow in big spurts and a secondary custodian may have a hard time anticipating what size is the right one; a parent who pays child support often struggles with the feeling that they are already spending “their fair share;” and the parent who receives child support often feels the same. Compromise: send some favorite outfits that are well-fitting and in good condition, and be prepared that when your child arrives at the beginning of the summer, you’ll need to make a shopping trip. Although flip flops are cheap and seasonal, they are not the most practical footwear for active kids, so do your best to send or buy sneakers.

If your child has special comfort items, like pacifiers, stuffed animals, or blankets, it is worth the effort to have a duplicate at both parents’ homes. If it’s not possible, though, be sure to send those items with your child — and to communicate to their other parent how important these items are. No matter how much he or she begs, your child’s seven-year old, one-of-a-kind Booboo Bear should not go with you on outings to the park, grocery store, or library. (This is actually true even in families that live under the same roof year-round! There’s lots of crying–and blame–when that most important toy is lost forever. It’s not worth it, and I remind my own child of this every time she wants to sneak her blankie out of the house.)

Children’s tastes, allergies, and sensitivities change frequently. If your child has food allergies or seasonal/environmental allergies, makes sure that the secondary custodian knows what allergies your child has developed and how to treat them.  If your child has had a scary experience with a dog or pet, be sure their other parent is prepared for what may happen when Rex the Dog runs up to her. When it comes to likes and dislikes, though, encourage your child to keep an open mind to new foods, new activities, and new experiences during his or her summer visitation.

One of the most important pieces of information that you can share with your child’s other parent is whether or not your child can swim. If you are not certain of your child’s skills in the water, it is always best to check her abilities in a controlled environment, where there is a lifeguard present. If your child is very young, be certain that he always wears an appropriate floatation device near the water. That means that you need to know your child’s weight, too. On open water bodies like lakes, rivers, and oceans, it is always safest to put children and adults in personal floatation devices, even if you don’t plan to get into the water itself.

When family schedules change during the summer, come up with a system to remember younger children are in the car with you. Infants, toddlers, and even preschool-aged children are at risk for accidental death in parked automobiles, and those incidents are most likely to happen when your normal routine is changed. A cell phone in the backseat of your car or one shoe set in the backseat floorboard are good ways to remind yourself to check your child’s car seat.

Whether or not your child’s summer time visitation is a memorable experience is up to you, the parents. Placing your child’s best interest first means communicating with his or her other parent, sharing expectations, compromising, and being safe.

Major DUI ruling from U.S. Supreme Court

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ground-breaking ruling on DUI law: They have ruled that it is unconstitutional for the States to punish drivers based on BLOOD EVIDENCE obtained without a search warrant or a showing of “exigent” (emergency) circumstances.

The decision, in Birchfield v. North Dakota, tells law enforcement officers that they may not use Implied Consent laws to force drivers suspected of DUI to give blood for the purposes of alcohol testing.

Breath tests, such as the Intoxilyzer 9000 used by Georgia law enforcement, do not violate the 4th Amendment prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure, according to this new Supreme Court decision. There are two reasons: one, breath is naturally exhaled, and two, the breath collected for alcohol testing cannot be saved or used for other purposes.

Meanwhile, says the Supreme Court opinion, blood testing is highly invasive because a needle must be used to properly puncture the skin and enter a vein to take blood out. Further, the blood that is drawn can be saved, and potentially it can be used improperly to obtain private information such as DNA or disease status.

There has always been an exigent circumstance exception to the rules of evidence collection, and Birchfield v. North Dakota does not change the exception. Exigent circumstances must be determined on a case-by-case basis, and for the non-lawyer, the easiest way to think of exigent circumstances is as if it were an emergency, when, for some reason, evidence will be lost, destroyed, or damaged during the time it takes to get a search warrant to obtain the evidence. In DUI law, a traffic accident can provide exigent circumstances sufficient to allow a warrantless search of blood evidence.

For the run-of-the-mill DUI stop, though, the Supreme Court is clear: Because the less-invasive breath test is available, officers cannot require blood evidence without a search warrant or exigent circumstances; nor can drivers be punished for refusing to submit to blood testing under Implied Consent laws.

IF you are currently facing prosecution on the basis of a DUI-blood test or DUI-blood test refusal, contact Deal Law Firm today to learn more about how the Supreme Court ruling may affect your case.

In contested divorce, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Beat up houseI recently concluded a long hearing on a claim of contempt of court for violating a divorce order. In the final order, my client lost the marital residence, a house the family had lived in for seven years. But since the children were still in school, the judge ordered that my client would remain in the house until several days after school ended for the summer. Nice, huh? My client got to live in the house for six more months before having to move with the children.

When the spouse moved back into the house, after my client left, there was a claim of serious, costly damage to the property and theft of many items that were supposed to remain on the property. The damage and theft were, of course, blamed on my client.

My client won the contempt hearing, and did NOT have to pay the $45,000 that the spouse claimed was due for the destruction and loss of property. Why? Because the spouse did not have what I call “independently verifiable proof” that my client did anything wrong. There was no independently verifiable evidence to document the contents and condition of the property at the time of the divorce. Nor was there independently verifiable evidence to document the property at the time my client left.

Unfortunately, this was a difficult divorce, and the attorneys were so glad to be done with it, they neglected a few steps that might have saved my client time, worry, and money down the road.

If you and your spouse own a lot of stuff — whether it’s a house and furniture, tool sheds loaded with tools, expensive camping and outdoor living equipment, or anything else — documentation is key. If one party to the divorce will remain in the house for any period of time without the other, and if the house or its contents will be a contested issue, you must document what’s there and what kind of condition it’s in. A house that’s been lived in with kids and pets can look very different from a house whose only residents were both adults.

What is “independently verifiable proof”? It’s the photographs or video recording taken by an independent party. Many people choose to have each spouse’s divorce attorney, or their paralegals, walk through the house together with both spouses. Take pictures or video of every room, every drawer, ever item worth arguing. Will it cost you? Yes, probably. But it’s better to pay extra upfront than to be confronted with a claim for $45,000 a year after you thought your divorce was done!

DO you HAVE to use your attorney? No, you don’t. You can hire an independent group or person. Home owner’s insurance companies sometimes offer such services as part of documentation for home owner’s insurance policies to guard against fire or other natural disasters and thefts. There are independent sources who will also offer such a service, through home security companies, surveillance camera installers, and others. The most important thing is that you use a trusted source, but also one who is truly independent (not your cousin or your spouse’s best friend).

If you and your spouse can cooperate and work together, the two of you can go through your property alone, or with friends or family members, and using a video app or a digital camera, document for yourselves. Make sure each of you have a copy. Of course, if you can cooperate well enough to accomplish this, chances are that you won’t need it…but divorce is tricky business.

Even if you think that documentation of every single box, bin, and drawer is excessive, do not skip a tour of the home. If my client had had the opportunity to walk through the house with the other spouse and their divorce attorneys before the divorce was finalized and again upon moving out of the house permanently, there would have been independently verifiable proof of the condition and contents of the home.

Although documentation beforehand can’t prove WHO caused damage, or WHO took property against the court order, it can help establish that SOMEONE damaged or took SOMETHING. It also reduces the likelihood that a spouse would intentionally commit bad acts — or would wrongfully accuse the other spouse of committing bad acts.

My client was lucky: we had a good judge, the facts and the law were on our side, and the right outcome was reached. But it could have gone much differently. Regardless, extra care early on may have avoided the situation entirely.

Adoption – nothing in law is more rewarding than helping a new loving family

Through the fall and winter, I have been working with a beautiful young husband and wife, Dustin and Reta, to official welcome a new member into their family.

When I opened my law office in October, Dustin came to help with my technology needs. When he learned that I practice in family law, he told me about a baby, very soon to be born, whom he and his wife wanted to adopt. Dustin and Reta had been married many years, but they had no children of their own.

As I got to know Dustin, I learned his inspiring story. Dustin, along with several of his younger siblings, was taken from his home by the Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services. After being passed around the foster case system, Dustin was eventually adopted by his grandfather. His siblings were also adopted by various families. As a young man, Dustin and his siblings reunited.

Happy new parents, Dustin and Reta, Baby Matthew and Judge Nunn
Happy new parents, Dustin and Reta, with Baby Matthew, his grandparents and Judge Nunn

In the summer of 2015, one of Dustin’s younger brothers and his wife learned they would be having a baby. He was their third child, and from the beginning, they were confident in their decision to give this baby to be adopted by Dustin and Reta. From their perspective, their baby boy was a blessing they could give to his big brother. When baby Matthew was born, Reta caught him and cut the umbilical cord. Dustin and Reta cared for him in the hospital, fed and bathed and changed him. They took him home with prayers that it was forever.

From a legal perspective, Dustin and Reta’s adoption was quite interesting: Georgia law provides one avenue for adoptions of children by their family members, which is in the law at O.C.G.A. section 19-8-7; the law also provides for adoptions by “third parties,” what you might consider an adoption by strangers, which is in the law at O.C.G.A. section 19-8-5.

There are two significant differences between family and third party adoptions. If a third party wants to adopt a child, the law requires a home study and criminal background check, which must be presented to the court with recommendations either for or against adoption; this is not a requirement for a family adoption. A third party adoption also requires that certain documents be sent to a state agency, the Office of Adoptions, who are not required to be notified of a family adoption. For an adoptive parent who has been through the foster care system as a child, these differences in the adoption process are stressful in a way that is unique to children who grew up in the system.

Because Dustin and his siblings were adopted by different families, they are no longer brothers. It’s a strange reality, for siblings who knew each other as children, lost track of each other in adolescence, and reunited as teenagers. They feel like brothers. Dustin’s adoptive son looks like him – same dimples, same smile, same eyes. And yet, an act of law renders Dustin a stranger to this child.

Nevertheless, my clients had their home study and background check completed by another caring local attorney. She recognized the love that Dustin and Reta already felt for their son, Matthew, and his love for them. Dustin has worked hard to overcome his difficult youth. He provides for his family so that Reta may stay home with Matthew, whom she has cared for since the moment of his birth. Together, Reta and Dustin have built a cozy home, a strong faith, and a close-knit family. They were whole-heartedly recommending for adoption.

Today, a short four months after meeting Dustin, I had the pleasure of filing the finalized order of adoption. Dustin and Reta are now Matthew’s legal and forever parents. There were moments of stress and confusion along the way, and I am grateful to the help and advice of attorney friends and the patience and faith of my clients. Nothing that we do in the law is better than creating new families, and the one they have made is absolutely beautiful.

If you are looking for an attorney for an adoption, please contact Lauren Deal at the Deal Law Firm in Middle Georgia. Call us at 478-254-9154, or use our automatic contact link on this website.

I’ve got a court date….now what? Part Two

IN my earlier blog post, I talked about the importance of having a lawyer to represent you if you are going to court.

Today, I’ve got suggestions for you, the client, that can better prepare you for your interactions with the judge and jury who will be deciding your case.

1. Be on time for court.

The most important thing for you to do is to show up, on your court date, on time. Early is better, but late is terrible. Judges are busy,Taking an oath in court and even judges who are late to court themselves get angry at parties to a case (and their family members) when they arrive late. Check out your car the night before: fill your gas tank, check out your tire pressure, be sure your fluids are topped off if you’ve got a leaky engine. If you’re riding with a friend or family member, ask them to do this for you. If you’re using public transportation, check the route times. Get your clothes ready, get your alarm clock set, and make sure everything you need is ready to go.

In criminal matters, a late arrival can mean a bench warrant. In civil matters, it can mean that you lose your case.

What if you have an emergency? Be prepared for the unexpected by programming your phone with the numbers for your lawyer, the clerk of court, the district attorney or solicitor (in criminal cases), and the other side’s lawyer (in civil cases). Call them all if there is an emergency and you will be late or you won’t be in court. Shouldn’t your lawyer call everyone else for you? Yes, in a perfect world, he should. Do it yourself, too.

2. Always dress your best.

How should you dress for court? Over the years, I have seen the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Wildly inappropriate outfits stand out in my memory the most: I will NEVER forget the older woman who wore a leather jacket, short leather skirt, fishnet stocking (yes, really) and over-the-knee fringed leather boots to court. My advice is always the same: wear the nicest, best fitting, cleanest outfit you possibly can wear. If you own a suit or a Sunday dress, wear it. If you can afford to buy something, even at a thrift shop or consignment, go get the nicest, best fitting outfit you can afford. Tie your shoes, tuck in your shirt, put on a tie if you have one….because the people who work in the court are watching, and they are judging. Justice isn’t blind to fashion, or should I say, to attire. When a man walks in with a suit on, or a woman walks in with a nice dress, every person who routinely works in the courtroom notices. We also notice the miniskirts, cleavage, sagging pants, and exposed chest hair.

We live in a time when it’s difficult for me to criticize clothing and fashion choices, but the harsh reality is that people WILL judge a book by its cover. I recommend caution when it comes to hair styles, body art, and jewelry: anything that can be covered SHOULD be covered. In the past, I have used clear retainers in facial piercings with great success at hiding them. If you don’t have access to clear retainers, check with your piercer about whether or not you can safely remove your piercing for the time you will be in court. And if you aren’t pierced, inked, or dyed, I don’t recommend doing work when you know you have a court date coming up. Sometimes, judges and juries are looking for a reason to find you’re guilty of something — even if that “something” is your appearance. Is it fair? No. It’s not fair. But it’s reality, and there is very little that your attorney can do to prove that the judgment against you was unfairly based on your appearance, even if you both know it to be true.

3. Bring support.

Evidence bagI’ve seen young men and women come to court by themselves, without a single person to stand for them. Especially in criminal cases, the lone defendant appears to have isolated every ally, burned every bridge, severed every tie. It’s much easier to send an isolated person to jail than it is to send a person with a loving and supportive family. This, too, is an unfair judgment, but it’s one that prosecutors, judges, and juries make. You combat this by bringing all the support you can: your parents, your grandparents, your friends, your bosses, your church mates…anyone who can sit with you in court or stand before the judge in your favor will make your side seem better to the court. Parents work, friends have responsibilities, and church members are sometimes as scared of the system as you are. So what then?

Never underestimate the value of a good letter. When I say “good,” I mean well-written. Ask a boss, a preacher, or a teacher to write a letter on your behalf, and give a copy to your attorney for your file. If you’ve completed substance abuse treatment, anger management classes, or defensive driving, ask for a letter to certify you’ve finished the course. If you are part of a group that does service work, for animals or kids perhaps, ask another member to write about your participation. Your goal is to show the court that you are a productive member of society, and letters can help you to demonstrate that.

4. Mind your manners.

It ought to go without saying that court is a time to be on your very best behavior…but unfortunately, it has to be said. I’ve seen everything from people going to sleep to young couples very nearly making out in the courtroom! Court is not a date night. No hanky-panky, no selfies, no chewing gum, no sleeping on the benches. While it’s good to bring family to support you, court is not a reunion, and you should remind your supporters that their behavior reflects on YOU, too.

One of my last jury trials for the state ended in a conviction. The large group of family and friends there to support the defendant went nuts: shouting, sobbing, fainting, threatening the victims…it was a nightmare. The sheriff’s office had to bring in reinforcements to clear the courthouse, and the victims and I had to be escorted out of the building. The judge observed all of this, and I can guarantee you that he remembered it when the family came before him again.

The court demands respect, and you need to be sure that your behavior — and the behavior of your supporters — is respectful.

This brings me to a final note…

5. Come to court substance-free.

Again, you’d think this would go without saying. But I have seen it, time and time again. Do not get drunk the night before your court appearance and come in smelling of alcohol. Do not smoke marijuana, use methamphetamines or cocaine, or take unprescribed or excessive amounts of prescribed narcotics. If you must take painkillers, muscle relaxers, or anti-anxiety medication for a medical condition, and you absolutely cannot wait until court is over to take these medications, make sure that your attorney knows you must take them, and bring a copy of your prescription with you.

In some jurisdictions, judges will drug test criminal defendants or parties to family law disputes. If you come to court drunk or high, you may face contempt of court charges and jail time. The constitutionality of these tests will not matter while you are spending 20 days in the county jail. Don’t risk it.

If you are facing a court appearance for a criminal or family law matter, and you’d like more information or advice about how to prepare your case for court, and if you are not represented by an attorney, please call and speak to Lauren Deal. We offer our first consultation at a reduced rate, and we are happy to talk to you. 478-254-9154.