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.