Georgia Lord Teaches Family Lawyers, Chairs Judges Panel Discussion

Photo of head table with speakers Dawn Smith, Debbie Gold, Georgia Lord, and Eileen Shuman.

Program faculty included (L to R) Dawn Smith, Debbie Gold, Georgia Lord, and Eileen Shuman.

Georgia Lord recently served as one of the faculty in a training seminar for family lawyers, family court Judges and family therapists. The seminar provided information on Advanced Child Custody Litigation. It was convened by the DeKalb Bar Family Section, Ms. Lord chaired a panel discussion by DeKalb Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams, Fulton Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick, and Henry Superior Court Judge Arch McMarity. In another segment of the program, Lord also presented detailed recommendations regarding the best structures to use for Guardian ad litem investigations, including ways that parties and counsel can help minimize the Guardian ad litem’s fees while still gaining important insights from the   investigation.

DFCS Investigations: Do’s and Don’ts When DFCS Calls

At a recent DeKalb Bar Family Section meeting, Family Section Board member Georgia Lord heard attorneys Lila Bradley and Lynn Goldman of Claiborne Fox Bradley LLC provide a wealth of practical information regarding Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) investigations and related Juvenile Court proceedings. Ms. Bradley and Ms. Goldman noted that a DFCS investigation can pop up unexpectedly during a custody dispute (for instance, in response to a complaint by other party or a member of their family), and cautioned that the manner in which a parent responds to the investigator can have a critical impact on the outcome of their custody case (and the wellbeing of the child involved).

They cautioned that Juvenile Court litigation should be handled by a specialist who is well-versed in the rules and procedures of that court.

Their suggestions included things to try to do and things to avoid doing when responding to DFCS staff. For example, here are several things persons who are the subject of a DFCS investigation should not do: [Read more…]

Georgia Lord Gives Divorce Advice to Atlanta Women’s Network

At a recent meeting of the Atlanta Women’s Network, Georgia Lord was invited to present her advice to those who are going through a divorce or child custody dispute.

Child Guardians | Guardian ad LitemShe explained that women should not assume that if they divorce they will receive alimony. Nowadays, an award of alimony has become the exception, rather than the rule. Even when alimony is awarded it is usually for a very short period of time. Most judges now expect able-bodied individuals to largely support themselves after divorce, even if they have not worked outside the home in recent years. Counsel must be prepared to lay out convincing evidence regarding the relative financial and life circumstances of the parties in order to make a case for alimony. [Read more…]

Decatur Attorneys Learn About Child Support Collection

Two very knowledgeable employees of the Georgia Commission on Child Support gave nuts-and-bolts advice about collecting child support at a recent meeting of the DeKalb Bar Association Family Law Section.  The speakers explained how to collect child support through automatic payroll deductions. Such deductions can be very helpful in situations in which a parent who has been ordered to pay child support is working and earning money but is failing to send the ordered child support. When the payroll deduction process is used, the paying parent’s employer subtracts child support from the paying parent’s paycheck and sends it to to the Family Support Registry. The Family Support Registry then forwards these funds to the person who is entitled to collect child support. [Read more…]

Collaborative Law Institute of Georgia Selects Georgia Lord for Office

The Collaborative Law Institute of Georgia recently selected Georgia Lord to serve as an officer of the organization. The group (which is also known as CLIG) is an organization established to set the standards for collaborative practice within the State of Georgia. CLIG provides ongoing professional training regarding collaborative practice techniques, as well as instruction concerning how professionals can better serve families undergoing divorce or other transitions and disputes. CLIG’s officers are instrumental in educating professionals and the general public about the benefits of using the “Collaborative Process” to resolve conflict.
Georgia Lord will serve the group as its Recording Secretary. She explains that she is eager to accept this post because she strongly believes that collaborative practice can have a very positive impact in many situations. “During my years as a Family Court staff member,” she says, “I witnessed cases in which one of the parties ‘won’ their case, but did so at the expense of draining their accumulated assets to pay for the litigation – and inflicting lots of emotional wounds upon themselves and their children. Collaborative practice offers an alternative. Its methods focus on reaching a solution that works for everyone involved. The process is non-adversarial and respectful. The parties use their energy and resources to craft a plan for their future rather than spending them on refueling the litigation battle.”
Further information regarding the Collaborative Law Institute of Georgia and collaborative practice generally can be found on the CLIG website.

Same-Sex Spouses Included in Georgia Birth Certificates

Father watching movie with daughter on laptopSame-sex spouses having children in Georgia via artificial insemination and other assisted reproduction technologies are both being identified as parents on their child’s birth certificate, but it may be wise for them to do more to protect their parental rights. The U.S. Supreme Court’s “Marriage Equality” decision in June opened up lots of questions regarding when a same-sex spouse will be recognized as a parent. The Family Law Review published Georgia Lord’s recent article addressing these questions — but that article was intended for an audience of Judges and lawyers rather than clients, and can be hard for nonlawyers to decipher. Barbara Katz (a well-regarded adoption and assisted reproduction attorney) has written an updated summary on some of these issues that is designed to be read by nonlawyers. It is intended to assist same-sex parents in deciding whether they need to take further action to protect their custodial rights. With Ms. Katz’s kind permission, her summary is available HERE.

As Ms. Katz explains, for married couples who are having a child biologically via artificial insemination, Georgia Vital Records will automatically list both spouses as the baby’s legal parents. However, NOT ALL STATES have this same “marital presumption of legitimacy.” Because of this, many LGBT organizations and mainstream legal organizations are advising gay parents having children biologically to still get a court order of parentage or complete a stepparent adoption, even if both parents’ names are on the birth certificate. The reason that some parents may want to take this precaution is that it is possible that their right to be recognized as a parent may be challenged in the future. Such challenges may come from a known sperm donor seeking parental rights, from the other parent during a divorce action, or from the biological grandparents, aunts or uncles in the wake of the biological mother’s death. Each parent should carefully consider his or her family’s particular situation in determining whether to spend the time and money involved in seeking a court order to clarify his or her parental rights.

Georgia Lord cautions that same-sex parents who were not married to each other (via a government-licensed ceremony) before their child was born stand on very different footing, legally, that those who were married. She and other family law attorneys are watching closely to see the rulings courts issue regarding such situations. There is also a strong possibility that the Georgia Legislature may address these issues during its upcoming session. Ms. Lord encourages everyone to let their state legislators know their views regarding what the rules that govern questions of child custody should be. 

Child Custody Rules for Same-Sex Separations Described by Georgia Lord in Professional Journal

FamilyLawReviewCoverThe recent “Marriage Equality” decision by the US Supreme Court (Obergefell v. Hodges) has left Georgia lawyers and Judges struggling to figure out how the state’s prior rules regarding child custody disputes should be applied to same sex couples who are separating. Georgia Lord recently authored a scholarly article addressing this topic for The Family Law Review, a professional journal for Family Law attorneys in Georgia.  A copy of that article can be seen HERE. As Lord explains in this article, for the short term, there will continue to be uncertainty regarding the extent to which many individuals who are or were in same-sex couples have standing to seek custody of the children born or adopted into those relationships. One factor which will likely be very significant is whether the parents entered into a state-licensed marriage before the child’s birth or adoption (whether in their state of residence or elsewhere). For now, the safest course of action for a nonbiological parent will, in most cases, continue to be adopting a child via a step-parent adoption. [Read more…]

Georgia Lord Teaches Child Custody Lawyers

PanelPresentationOnGuardianAdLitemService

Georgia Lord (fourth from left) on Panel Providing Instruction On Guardian Ad Litem Service. Other panelists were attorneys A. Bernadette Olmos, George P. Shingler, Dawn Elizabeth de Klerk, Lila N. Bradley, and Robert A. Burnett.

Georgia Lord recently joined other custody litigation experts to teach child custody lawyers from Atlanta, Decatur, and DeKalb. Lord served as faculty at a Continuing Legal Education Seminar on “Advanced Issues Facing Custody Litigators and Guardians ad Litem.” Lord presented a scholarly assessment of the potential impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Marriage Equality decision. She reviewed the rules Georgia’s courts are likely to apply when deciding custody disputes between spouses or domestic partners of the same sex.

Georgia Lord also provided advice to prospective Guardians ad litem during the training. Guardians ad litem investigate custody disputes and make recommendations to the Judge regarding who will get custody. The Guardian works to provide the Judge with an objective assessment of which custody arrangement would best serve the child or children; she represents the “best interest” of the child or children whose custody is at issue. Lord is frequently appointed to serve as Guardian ad litem by local family court Judges. [Read more…]

Georgia Lord Elected to DeKalb Bar Family Law Section Board

On June 4th, 2015, Georgia Lord of Georgia Lord Law was elected to the Board of the DeKalb Bar Family Law Section.  The Section regularly presents educational programs on Family Law to attorneys who practice in DeKalb County.  It meets monthly at the Historic DeKalb County Courthouse, in downtown Decatur, and periodically hosts more extensive continuing legal education seminars or other special events. During the June 4th election meeting, Lord thanked her fellow family law attorneys for selecting her to this leadership post and said she was looking forward to planning many training programs for the group.

The program for the September meeting of the DeKalb Bar Family Law Section featured Georgia Supreme Court Justice Carol W. Hunstein. Justice Hunstein both reminisced about her eight years on the DeKalb bench and shared some practical tips for practitioners litigating in the Georgia Supreme Court. [Read more…]

DeKalb Judges Explain Mistakes to Avoid in Divorce and Custody Litigation

During a recent meeting of the Family Law Section of the DeKalb Bar Association, Georgia Lord heard presentations by three Judges of the Superior Court of DeKalb County: Judges Gregory Adams, Mark Scott, and Clarence Seeliger. Georgia explains that she found the speeches valuable.  She notes that, “At this type of program, DeKalb Judges explain mistakes to avoid in divorce and custody litigation.” Judge Seeliger noted that many divorce or custody litigants want to focus on airing their hurts or grievances rather than on the questions that will have the greatest impact on his decision. For example, in contested child custody cases he wants to hear about each party’s parenting abilities, as well as their willingness to cooperate with their ex in co-parenting.  Instead, some parties in contested custody cases spend a lot of time testifying about the other party’s adultery and relatively little time addressing parenting skills and experience. Judge Seeliger said that it turns him off to hear one parent disparage the other in court because the harsh words will injure their ability to work together to raise their children in the future.

One of the pieces of advice Judge Adams offered was that litigants should listen very carefully to each of the questions they are being asked on cross-examination and try their best to answer them.  He says that many litigants respond to cross-examination questions by basically repeating a prepared statement, rather than by actually answering the questions.  He finds this very frustrating. He noted that one change he has seen during his ten years on the DeKalb Superior bench is that now more fathers are requesting significant shares of the parenting time.

Judge Scott noted that he often reminds litigants that although the other party may have done something that they find offensive, they need to consider the possibility that the Judge hearing the case may not be as offended as they are.  Some things that offend them may not offend the Judge at all, because the Judge’s values and life experiences may well be different from theirs. He encourages parties to consider resolving their case by compromise, saying, “The results you are hoping for may not be the ones you get from me.”

All of the Judges stated that they found the services of a “Guardian ad litem” very valuable in custody disputes.  Such Guardians are appointed by the court.  They conduct an investigation and make recommendations regarding the type of custody arrangement that would be in the best interest of the child or children involved.  The Judges stated that when a Guardian has been appointed, the Guardian’s report gives the Judge access to more information than they would otherwise have.