Supreme Court of Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears presented the 2007 State of the Judiciary speech to the Georgia General Assembly on January 26, 2007. The portion dealing with divorce and family law issues in Georgia is set forth in its entirety below:
"I have saved the discussion of family cases for the last because I hope that my thoughts on this subject will stay with you the longest and because it touches my heart the most.
It is difficult to exaggerate the impact that the decline of the two-parent family and the increase in the number of domestic relations cases in the last 20 years has had on the trial court dockets of this state. Divorce has now become a common phenomenon. We now live in a country where over one-third of all of our children are born to unmarried women and where 40% of the children of divorce do not see their father in a typical year. Our prisons are full of young men who have fathered children they will never be able to support. And there are too many children in foster care.
Family cases now account for more than 65% of all civil cases filed in our superior courts, and they now outnumber all felony and misdemeanor criminal cases combined. Some of the driving forces behind the growing domestic relations caseload, in addition to divorce and soaring rates of unmarried childbearing, include child support issues, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency and neglect.
These cases are costly, both directly and indirectly. A study conducted in the year 2000 estimated that divorce proceedings alone cost the state and its citizens between 922 million and one billion dollars. The same study demonstrated that the "average" single divorce cost both state and federal governments approximately $30,000 in direct and indirect costs. Direct costs included expenditures for child support establishment and enforcement, Medicaid costs and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Indirect costs included costs associated with drug problems, criminality, mental health services as well as other social problems.
Our trial judges are working hard trying to fill a void that has resulted from this sad cultural phenomenon. They are being asked to do this even though they typically lack the resources and expertise to do much more than pick up the broken pieces after families have already fallen apart. The late great Robin Nash, a former Juvenile Court judge, aptly described the role that judges play in all this as "misery managers." And like doctors on a battlefield frantically working to bandage the wounded and save the dying, they know that the prognosis is not good for most of the families that pass through their courtrooms. That’s because, as yet,
no concerted effort has been made to formulate a comprehensive plan-of-action that will go to the heart of this crisis in our judicial system.
We want to change all of this.
Last June my colleagues and I on the Supreme Court voted unanimously to create the Georgia Supreme Court Commission on Children, Marriage and Family Law to address Georgia’s domestic relations case problems. Some of the members of the commission include leaders of your body.
The commission will study the legal consequences associated with the growing fragmentation of Georgia families. We also plan to work with both our juvenile courts and our state Department of Human Resources to ensure that child deprivation cases be given the priority in the courts that they deserve. The purpose of the commission is not to advocate for any specific legal response to these problems – that is, after all, in your province – but only to highlight the need for some response.
Some people don’t believe there is anything that can be done to help our ailing families. But as leaders in the legislative branch you and I both know that if we look for solutions we will find them. And what we do not yet know how to accomplish, we can learn. Problems, no matter how difficult, must be addressed and not merely endured. To that end, I ask that you join with us in refusing to accept the decline of the two-parent family as inevitable. Because if we do it means we are prepared to accept the weakening of civil society and the spread of social and economic equality; it means we are prepared to accept more and more fatherlessness; it means we are prepared to accept the suffering of children. We can and we must do everything we can to strengthen our families because it is the best way we have to facilitate responsibility, ensure equality, and shape self-governing citizens who may never need to see the inside of a court of law."
Chief Justice Sears has previously spoken out eloquently on the subject of families and divorce in an editorial printed in the Washington Post on October 30, 2006.