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Panel of DeKalb Superior Staff Attorneys Addresses DeKalb Bar Family Section


Georgia Lordby Georgia Lord
Georgia Lord Law

Five of the staff attorneys who serve DeKalb’s Superior Court shared their insights with the Family Section at its meeting on December 3. The participating staff attorneys were Shannon Hicks (from Judge Seeliger’s chambers), Terri Simmons (from Judge Jackson’s chambers), Denise Warner (from Judge Scott’s chambers), Casey Thales (from Judge Boulee’s chambers) and Amy Daldry (from Judge Coursey”s Chambers). Ms. Daldry moderated the panel discussion. Superior Court Judges Seeliger and Boulee also attended the meeting.


Motions for Attorney Fees: Several staff attorneys said that they often hear complaints that their Judges are reluctant to grant motions for attorney fees. They explained, however, that often the problem is not the Judge’s willingness to grant fees, but rather shortcomings in the motion or in the evidence presented in support. Motions for fees should include specification of the statutory basis for an award of fees. The motion must specify a statute that fits the underlying claims and the evidence presented. As several staff attorneys noted, they can often look at the situation and see a type of fees that may be appropriately awarded, but, “we cannot make your arguments for you.”  Appellate courts enforce fairly rigorous standards when reviewing fee awards, and trial court judges do not want to be reversed. Counsel submitting motions for fees should spell out the statutory basis for a fee award in their motion, and may also find it helpful to submit a proposed order that includes findings regarding the underlying authority. It is not enough simply to request fees and submit your time and expense statements. If the relative resources of the parties are relevant, point to this data in the domestic relations financial affidavits and present other available evidence (e.g., the parties’ tax returns). If you are seeking an award of fees pursuant to section 9-15-14, make sure you spell out which time entries relate to the meritless claims pursued by the opposing party. Ms. Hicks distributed a “quick and dirty” guide to the relevant authority regarding attorney fees awards in family law cases. With regard to interim fees, some noted that it is a good idea to make a request for such fees in a separate motion, particularly on the eve of a temporary hearing. It is also vital to present evidence regarding any disparity of available resources between the parties.

Emergencies: When asked to describe what constitutes an emergency, the speakers contrasted situations in which children are in danger, not in school, or on the verge of leaving the country, from situations in which one divorcing parent is not giving the other much time with the children. Some “emergency” motions seem to be primarily intended to obtain a temporary hearing, they noted.

Transfers to Juvenile Court: When asked when their judges may consider transferring a case to juvenile court, some said they would consider such a transfer when the case presents issues of deprivation.

Guardians ad litem: Several staff attorneys noted that their judges want to make sure that GALs who are promised payment receive it. One specified some helpful language to include in appointment orders. GALs filing post-judgment motions to collect ordered fees should not be required to pay a filing fee for a new action.

General Suggestions: When asked for other suggestions, staff attorneys asked counsel to submit proposed orders with findings of fact and legal authority; urged that the figures included in DRFAs and child support worksheets be updated before hearings; asked counsel to refrain from copying them on general argumentative emails between counsel; asked that we copy opposing counsel on any emails to chambers; and noted we should delay filing any motion for judgment on the pleadings until at least thirty days after the divorce petition is filed.

The meeting also included a presentation by psychologist Kim Oppenheimer. Dr. Oppenheimer described the wide range of services available from her practice group, Atlanta Psych Consultants, LLC. The services the practice offers include custody evaluations, co-parent counseling, addiction therapy, trauma recovery, and therapy for children and adolescents, among other services.

Board Member Alice Limehouse chaired the program. She announced that the section had collected sufficient funds to donate some needed supplies to Nia’s Place. The donated materials included board games, paint brushes, activity pads, and a lateral file cabinet.

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