Although the winter issue of the Virginia Family Law Quarterly will not go out until after the holidays, I am drafting this message literally on the eve of Thanksgiving. As the year draws to a close, we are all rushing around trying to collect year-end fees and close out our books so we can end 2014 and begin 2015. I think it is appropriate as we begin 2015 to contemplate one of the goals of the Family Law Section that is often overlooked. We spend an incredible amount of time in this Section working to better the quality of lawyers through information and education and to make lawyers family lawyers. However, another purpose of this Section and the State Bar as a whole is to serve the general public.
One of the overriding issues that continue to plague our justice system is the lack of access to the system for those who cannot afford legal services. This is especially true in the family law arena. At a time when a divorce can cost thousands upon thousands of dollars, low income families often cannot afford appropriate legal representation as they deal with one of the worst crises any family can experience – divorce or disagreement over the custody of a child.
As a result, many families must rely on a court-appointed guardian ad litem who is not representing either parent or the parties but is solely representing the best interest of the child. These underpaid and overworked lawyers are on the front line of ensuring appropriate access to the legal system for indigent families.
As many of you are aware, we are still conducting an ongoing survey on the use and quality of guardians ad litem throughout the Commonwealth. We will be, very shortly, issuing online surveys on this issue. I encourage all of you to participate in this survey so we may obtain data to explore and continue to educate members of the Bar and Bench on the use and possible ways to improve the quality of guardians ad litem who serve this indispensable need.
I hope that all of you have had a wonderful and happy holiday season and look forward to continuing to work with the Family Law Section Board of Governors as we begin 2015.
Richard E. Garriott, Jr. (Rich)