Established in 1998 by the General Assembly as a pilot project, the Family Division is an innovative program in which legal, psychological and social services professionals assist litigants and their families in resolving domestic legal disputes in a coordinated, non-confrontational and expeditious manner.
The Judges of Family Division volunteer for the assignment and receive specialized training. Fulton County has actively supported the Court by funding the Family Division. The Supreme Court of Georgia made the Family Division permanent just days before its legislative mandate was to have expired on June 30, 2010.
“We appreciate the Supreme Court’s action, the County’s ongoing funding, and the support of the legal community for the efficient and effective resolution of family disputes,” said Chief Superior Court Judge Cynthia Wright, who previously served as a Family Division judge. “Our Bench has enthusiastically supported the Family Division and the Judges who serve the families of Fulton County.”
The Supreme Court order said the justices decided to permanently establish the program to “Provide a speedy, certain, comprehensive, non-adversarial approach to the judicial resolution of multiple family problems and disputes while more systematically and effectively addressing the interests of children and the family unit.”
“Few issues come before our courts that are more important than the stability of our families,” Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein said of the decision to make Fulton’s Georgia’s first permanent Family Division. “The swift resolution of matters such as divorce and child custody, adoption and domestic violence, safeguard our children’s well-being and society at large.
“The Fulton County Family Court has become a model for the state of Georgia,” Chief Justice Hunstein said.
Fulton’s Family Division was created to take into account the special nature of domestic legal issues. Among the innovations introduced to Georgia by the program:
• Family Law Information Center, providing free assistance to litigants, including legal consultations and forms for filing and responding to domestic legal actions,
• One Stop, an office that assists those seeking protection from domestic violence and stalking,
• Onsite Mediation, offered at no cost to litigants to resolve their legal issues,
• I-CAN! - the Interactive Community Assistance Network, is free, internet-based help to properly complete legal forms using client-provided answers to a series of questions presented by a video guide,
• On Site
- paternity testing and
- drug and alcohol testing,
- Free, monthly legal seminars and clinics
- Families in Transition - a mandatory seminar in English and Spanish for parents or guardians engaged in litigation which involves the question of custody of a minor child or children and
- Assisting Children in Transition for the children of divorcing families.
• One Family, One Judge concept, with all actions involving a family being heard by the same judge.
Family Division Chief Administrative Judge Gail S. Tusan was one of the first to volunteer for the Family Division. She, along with fellow Family Division Judges Bensonetta Tipton Lane and Tom Campbell, knows firsthand how important the service is to families who appear before the court.
“Our judges and staff are committed to helping Fulton’s families work through difficult transitions and access much needed services, said Judge Tusan. “In today’s dire economic times, the ability to afford counsel is even more challenging.
“The Family Division guarantees that every citizen with a family related issue will be heard,” Judge Tusan said.
The program is also very efficient. In 2009, the Family Division resolved 5,677 cases, provided 1,227 free attorney consultations, fielded 34,814 help requests, issued 2,021 temporary protective orders and held 41 Families in Transition and 27 Assisting Children in Transition seminars. At the end of the first quarter of 2010 the program was on track to top those numbers, according to court records.
The Family Division effort has been extended by volunteer activities such as the Domestic Violence Project, which operate a free assistance center located within the Court complex.
“Since its inception, AVLF has worked collaboratively with the Family Division to address the varied needs of families in transition,” said Jennifer Stolarski, director of the Domestic Violence Project.
“From the Guardian ad Litem program to the Mediation program to the Family Law Information Center to the One Stop and Safe Families Offices, we have seen the difference that the coordinated efforts of the Family Division can make for our clients and for individual families. The Family Division adds tremendous value to our community, and we look forward to our continued partnership.”
Jon W. Hedgepeth, chairman of the Atlanta Bar Association’s Family Law Section, said he hopes other county Superior Courts will emulate the Fulton Family Division.
“The Family Division is by far the most efficient and effective program in resolving family law issues,” Mr. Hedgepeth said. “It is my hope that other counties will realize the effectiveness of a division dedicated to family law and implement similar programs.”
For more information on the Family Division of the Superior Court of Fulton County, go to: http://www.fultoncourt.org/ and click on Family Division in the left column. To read the Supreme Court of Georgia order making the Family Division a permanent part of the Fulton Superior Court, go to: http://bit.ly/FultonFamilyDivision