Due Process is a Thing?

Why would I question whether or not due process, fairness protected by law, truly matters to our courts?

My question stems from a critical problem in domestic law, especially in child custody cases, because laws governing fairness and constitutional rights so often are not applied in family conflict. Parents are stunned, many to the point of feeling disabled and hopeless, and left wondering why reasonable notice and the ability to present evidence and defend themselves are rights that seem not to matter during what is called “civil” litigation.

When parents are deprived of basic rights in legal disputes, any sense of civility goes out the window. It is a horrific shock to a loving parent to find out too late that due process, the rights which can easily make or break a parent’s ability to be involved in their children’s lives, seems to not have a place in the trial courts where children are divided much like a 401k.

Fairness to a parent entering family court is like gloss over an attention-grabbing ad campaign to make it seem safe to enter a legal process as a parent. The gloss, however, fades after one makes it far enough in past the storefront for reality to set in. It is not just a disappointment when laws providing for a fair process are not applied, it is traumatic.

In watching the video of the oral argument shown below, you’ll see that the Georgia Court of Appeals panel is quite passionate about this subject.

What I’ve observed in person in many child custody cases makes no sense in light of that passion.

That due process is missing, even unknown to many parents and children, including teens who believed they had a right to choose their primary parent, is one of the reasons I believe in being able to film in courtrooms, which I do often by filing a request to record as permitted by USCR 22 (Rule 22). Even with the revised Rule 22 seeming to encourage more widespread use of recordings, when done properly, there is still much effort in some courts to provide cover for the kind of statements and attitudes revealed in this video of the argument in the Georgia Court of Appeals. In every situation where a lawyer has objected to my request to record, the proceeding yielded an opportunity for that lawyer’s client to benefit from a lack of transparency. In every proceeding where a request to record has been denied in accord with the objection, an injustice, a lack of fairness towards a safe, loving parent, hung in the air like a heavy, mold-laden curtain. This may sound overly dramatic or even unrealistic, but when you watch the Judges’ responses in this video, you’ll understand I’m right on point.

I’ve actually heard lawyers in domestic circles say that due process does not matter or does not exist in family law, even though there are rules and there is plenty of case law that talks about the ramifications if a party is deprived of due process, if a specific civil right is denied. How can lawyers have this attitude that conflicts so dramatically with the beliefs of appellate court judges? How can due process not be “thing” if Judge Dillard and other Judges in the Court of Appeals react as they do in oral argument below?

After years of seeing enormous, life-altering – and in a bad way for children and safe, loving parents – voids (a black hole likely to allow no safe return) when it comes to having opportunity to be heard and having rulings, let alone timely rulings, I was encouraged to see this issue argued so passionately in our Court of Appeals. I saw it because a news media team featured it on The Reveal, a unique show produced by Atlanta’s 11 Alive, and I hope it makes its way to the eyeballs, through the brains and into the hearts of our domestic lawyers and family court judges. Yes, I believe anything is possible.

Grab a seat and be ready to take notes. For sure send your comments through social media or contact me here.

Follow the Court of Appeals online and watch for cases that involve issues of due process, fairness and civil rights that yield family stability and protect mental health. How many more arguments of this kind would you like to see in our appellate courts where you can learn directly from our Judges this way?

I’m especially appreciative of the fact that our appellate courts in Georgia allow filming of oral argument, and I’d like to provide more coverage of such cases in the Court of Appeals to see reactions to similar due process issues.

As a lawyer or judge, ask the tough questions about the case before you; dare to spend extra time checking your work as it applies to due process. If you have a case you believe is heading towards oral argument which involves parental rights, I’d like to know.

What if more arguments like this resulted in relief that restores parent-child bonds and ensures due process in child custody and other domestic matters? Would that be a good thing for our society?

I think we can expect a great impact on our culture and in our communities by paying attention here, so please send me a note with a case number once docketed in the appellate court. If you know of a lawyer who has argued before the Court of Appeals to ensure due process is afforded to parents and children, please make an introduction or share the standout points made and how the Court reacted.

Relief. That is what due process would provide should it be restored to parents and children relying on our laws to protect their right to be together and to be safe from harm.

Thank you for taking time to read and to watch Georgia’s Court of Appeals make trend-changing statements in this case!

Deborah Beacham

Catch Them Doing Right in Three Steps

Do you want better service & greater value?

In our busy lives and with so many challenges confronting us we’re often too distracted to notice when someone is doing right by us or by our children. Do you find yourself only watching out for the next hurdle or bump in the road? It’s very easy to fall into this trap, especially if you’ve been hurt or taken advantage of along the way.

Managing our own responses to others can be exhausting, but it can also be what sets us free!

If your biggest job is parenting your children, you may be so caught up in redirecting behavior that is not what you desire that you forget to catch them doing right. It’s easy to be so focused to miss that window to give them that timely smile, pat on the back or other type of reward or encouragement. We all need that acknowledgment, but it may not come as often as we need or want. If it’s something you want or need, try giving it away more often than you seek it for yourself.

Can you say to yourself or to your children that you want to enjoy their company, that you want to appreciate them? Or, are you too caught up in monitoring performance and guiding them, being somewhere on time, managing appearances whether it’s your own or theirs?

Make more room for enjoying their company, the fact that you have each other, and take a chance that the other things will follow. Let your response be positive expectation of something that is natural and easy to give.

Keep trying. I’ll admit that this is a process, not something that’s mastered or overcome, but each success builds on another.

The same thing applies to professionals who serve others in our legal system, the ones we need or learn about only because we’re snagged by a legal problem.

It is natural for people who are anxiously and uncomfortably dealing with a legal matter to focus on everything that is wrong, everything that brings uncertainty and expense. It is less than natural to recognize when a lawyer, a paralegal, court clerk, staff attorney, judge, bailiff, court reporter, social worker or other court professional is not only doing right by you, but going out of their way to add value or simply make something unpleasant more bearable for you.

The people who serve in ways that show that you matter, these are the people I’m asking you to acknowledge and encourage. You may need to take a moment to learn more about their roles to understand what good service or value looks like or sounds like, so just ask if you want that insight. But you should be able to recognize patience, kindness and time well spent on your own, right? So, all you need to do is make a point to look for it and acknowledge it. Doing this and doing it more often will not only encourage more positive service, but it will make what you are facing less burdensome.

Over many years of spending time with families and professionals during high-conflict times, observing or filming in courtrooms, researching in clerk’s offices, presenting to a jurist or making a case before some other authority figure, I’ve gathered a lot of data to illustrate these three key points for you.

Write these down and carry them with you:

  1. You matter, and you can influence how people treat you and serve your family.
  2. There are people in every role and in each jurisdiction who do their jobs well, and who care.
  3. How you respond, whether or not you acknowledge good service, ethical conduct and professionalism makes a difference.

FOR EVERY PROBLEM THERE IS A SOLUTION:

The problem I’d like to see solved by acknowledging value and good service in our court system has to do with unhealthy trends and bad practices I’ve documented over several years, actually going on a decade now. The problem is so widespread, the negative trends and damaging practices so many and pervasive, that writing and speaking about this has taken up much more time and space than is desirable. Yes, a lot of work is ongoing to manifest solutions to these problems, but a key component of the solution is recognizing when things go right, when performance by professionals is excellent, and saying so.

Ask for and expect what you need from professionals and from those you must interact with during times of conflict. Even though you aren’t at your best and may be misstepping constantly, you can ask for help to do better, to be more articulate and prepared, maybe less emotional.

When someone provides the support you request and helps you complete even the most simple task, that’s a win; and, it not only helps you ease your own stress by showing appreciation, it helps build more success in the person you are acknowledging.

I’m glad to talk through this with you if you are caught in conflict and trying to find ways to better manage what you’re going through; but I assure you that this very simple method – the tool of gratitude, appreciation and acknowledgment – will help carry you through many rough days and can significantly impact your outcome.

If you’re a parent snagged in a legal matter, for sure you want to model this behavior for your children so they can learn about confidence and courage even in the midst of strife. Let your children see you making the choice to deal with problems appropriately, whether the problem is their own misconduct or a failure by a professional. When kids see their parents balance confrontation with appreciation or positive acknowledgment, it serves them well in that moment and throughout life. Yes, it’s a tough balancing act, but showing what’s possible – and recognizing the possible in others – is highly rewarding and worth the effort.

Deb Beacham