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

About Public Information Officer

Deb Beacham of Atlanta is the founder of My Advocate Center, Inc., a Georgia non-profit corporation created in 2011 to serve the rapidly growing needs of families and children caught in conflict.

What is Solutions-Based Journalism?
Researching and reporting are being leveraged in the development of creative solutions to help families preserve their time, energy, financial resources and homes for the benefit of their children.

Public awareness and engagement are key so Ms. Beacham launched programming for professionals serving families, reaching more than a million listeners across the metro Atlanta area. Pro Advocate Radio will be announcing its next series soon!

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