Georgia: In Civil Matters, Kids Can’t Judge Own Best Interests

Print More

Georgia State CapitalEarlier this month, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 decision that children within the state are “not the correct parties to determine what is in their own best interests in civil matters.”

“The protector of a child’s best interest in a deprivation proceeding is his guardian ad litem,” wrote Justice Harold Melton in the court’s majority opinion. “It would be inappropriate, indeed unwise, to allow a child, especially one under the circumstances of deprivation, to override all other decisions regarding his best interests.”

The ruling stems from a case involving a minor in Walton County, Ga., who sought to appeal a Juvenile Court ruling that found the juvenile to be “deprived.” After an appellate court turned down the appeal, a writ of certiorari was granted by the state’s highest court.

Fundamentally, the state Supreme Court ruling means that in Georgia, children involved in “deprivation actions” -- acting through an attorney -- do not have legal standing to appeal a court judgment if the child’s legal guardian chooses not to appeal the same ruling.

“Under the dissent’s analysis, a child, from the moment he or she learns to speak, could mandate an appeal of a trial court's deprivation finding,” Justice Melton wrote. “Entertaining an appeal brought directly by a baby, rather than a guardian entrusted with the baby's best interests, would be highly misguided.”

Writing in dissent, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein stated that the opinion of the Court establishes a model that “unfairly denies” older juveniles and their attorneys any say in determining the minors’ future. Furthermore, she argued that the ruling may grant “absolute authority” to “the least trained” advocates to determine an individual child’s best interests.

“Instead, this Court should adopt a rule that acknowledges that the child, as the party most affected by the finding of deprivation, has standing to appeal through his attorney,” she wrote.

“Because the juvenile in this deprivation action was represented by legal counsel and his attorney was the best protector and advocate of his legal interests, I would hold that [the child] has standing to appeal the juvenile court's finding that he was deprived.”

Photo by Ken Lund | Flickr