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Termination and Dependency Matters

In Georgia, the Juvenile Courts have jurisdiction to hear matters of both Dependency and Termination.  In a Dependency case, the Department of Family and Children's Services (DFCS) or, sometimes, a private individual, alleges that a child is deprived by his or her parents.  There are a myriad of different reasons that Dependency is alleged, but some of the more common ones are incarceration of a parent, alleged neglect or abuse of a child, drug or alcohol abuse by a parent, or a general chronic inability of a parent to care properly for a child.
  When dependency actions are filed, whether by the State or by private individuals, the parents have a right to have the matter heard by a judge.  If a judge makes a finding that a child is dependent, then the next step is to determine where the child will reside while the parent works to cure the dependency (i.e. remedy the issues that gave rise to the action).  The Juvenile Court (and DFCS if it is involved) has an obligation to at l…
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Custody of Children

Divorce is hard.  No matter the circumstances.  When children are involved, it is even more difficult.  If you are contemplating a divorce or a divorce has been filed against you and you have children with your spouse, you may be wondering how custody is determined.  There is no simple answer; each matter is as unique as the people involved, however, there are a few general factors applicable to everyone. 
       In Georgia, our laws state very clearly that, so long as a child was born into a lawful marriage, there is no prima facie right to custody with the mother or the father.  Put simply, the law states that mothers and fathers are on equal footing when it comes to custody determinations. 
       When custody is in dispute, the overall mandate of our legislature in determining which parent receives primary custody of children is "the best interest of the child standard."  That means that courts are instructed to essentially ignore the wants and needs of parents …

Children Born Outside of a Marriage

In the State of Georgia, a child born out of wedlock is the legal child of the mother ONLY.  Oftentimes, parents are instructed by hospital administrators to execute an Administrative Legitimation.  Some parents believe that both parents gain rights to the child by signing this document.  Unfortunately, this is a common misperception. 
     Children born to unmarried parents in Georgia do not have a legal relationship with their fathers until an action for Legitimation is filed.  The proper English word for the process is Legitimization, but Georgia statues refer to it as "Legitimation."  Only a biological father (or a man who believes he is the biological father of a child) has standing to file legitimation.  A legitimation filing seeks to render the parent-child relationship legal (legitimate) as between father and child.  Both the father and the child gain rights if and when the petition is granted. 
     If a Mother seeks to have her child, born out of wedlock, …

Guardian Ad Litem

Sometimes, in custody cases, a Guardian Ad Litem will be appointed to represent the best interest of the child (or children) that are the subject of the dispute.  In Latin, the phrase "ad litem" means "for purposes of litigation only."  A guardian ad litem is an individual, usually an attorney, appointed by the courts to represent children for purposes of custody litigation.
     In Georgia, a Guardian Ad Litem's roles and responsibilities are set out in the Uniform Superior Court Rules.  In general, a guardian's role in the proceedings is to assist the Judge, attorneys and litigants in determining what is in a child's best interest with regard to custody, visitation, and other matters. 
    If a Guardian Ad Litem is appointed to a case, he or she will generally meet with the parents and their respective lawyers.  In addition, depending upon the age of the child, the guardian may meet alone with the child(ren).  Often, guardians visit the child…