Tonight's post on judges, juries and custody of children is written
by our Marietta custody, Darrin Keaton.
It seems only right at the start of the New Year to announce a personal
resolution that relates to what we do here at The Manely Firm, PC. We
are a Family Law firm and we take that very seriously.
In many of our cases, custody of children and parenting time schedules
are the primary (and sometimes sole) issues. The house is gone, the stuff
has been divided and the debts/assets are distributed. With no resolution
on custody, a trial is inevitable. The custody outcome depends on one
person...the Judge. If there is one complaint from clients and attorneys
alike that rises above all others, it is the inconsistency, and often
times arbitrariness, of custody decisions among the hundreds of Georgia's
Superior Court and Juvenile Court Judges.
The law doesn't guide judges much beyond the nebulous and vague "best
interests of the child" standard. Sadly, there can be no definition
of "best interest" and judges are left on their own in those
decisions. Much like Justice Potter Stewart's legendary quote in his
1964 Jacobellis v. Ohio concurring opinion regarding obscenity, Georgia
Judges will have to 'know it when they see it" when it comes
to the best interests of children.
But should we lay that on just one person, even if it is the Judge? I say
no. If a custody trial becomes necessary, the people of Georgia should
have access to a jury trial to allow a jury of their peers to come to
a more reasoned and consensus opinion on children's best interests.
Few realize that people involved in a divorce can have a jury of twelve
people decide who gets the microwave and the lawn furniture all the way
up to millions of dollars in assets, but a jury is not allowed to determine
what is best for the children. Judges, other than being attorneys, have
no special qualifications as therapists, psychologists or family experts.
If twelve people (who also have no special family expert qualifications,
like the judge) can be trusted with everything else, why not the children.
I am of the firm (and controversial) opinion that twelve heads are better
than one when deciding what is best for kids if the parties cannot decide
I believe a jury will be reasonable and just, with proper instruction from
the Court, and can certainly do no worse than individual judges. Perhaps
in some honest moments, many judges would welcome the assistance of twelve
jurors in deciding the custodial fate of children.
A jury has the power to render fair and impartial verdicts that can take
a person's property, their liberty and even their life with the death
penalty. Why is it such a stretch to think these very same juries could
render fair and impartial verdicts on
child custody matters?
For 2014, I resolve to promote and pursue that very idea because sometimes
twelve heads ARE better than one.
W. Darrin Keaton