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Legal Guardianship in Georgia: How Does Georgia Law Apply to the Paris Jackson Case?

Recently, several news and popular media outlets have been reporting on the apparent suicide attempt made by Paris Jackson, the daughter of the late pop singer Michael Jackson. In response to the teens actions, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff has ordered that an investigation be conducted to determine Paris’ welfare and whether her best interests are being served by the current guardianship arrangement.

As a bit of background, shortly after his death, Michael Jackson’s three children were placed under the guardianship of his mother, Katherine Jackson and T.J. Jackson, another one of Jackson’s relatives. Due to the recent events, the question on the minds of many is: “What happens if Judge Beckloff does find that it would be in the best interest of Paris for alternative guardians to be appointed?”

Although we here at Meriwether & Tharp cannot not speak to how the California court may decide this matter, we can discuss how Georgia law would apply here. In Georgia, there are 5 types of legal guardians for minors: (1) Natural guardians; (2) Testamentary guardians; (3) Temporary guardians; (4) Standby guardians; and (5) Permanent guardians. O.C.G.A. § 29-2-1. In order to serve as a guardian of a minor, the individual must be qualified to do so. An individual is qualified if he or she is an adult (meaning over the age of majority) and does not have a conflict of interest with the minor. However, even in the event that the purported guardian does have a conflict of interest with the minor, a court may determine the conflict to be insubstantial and make the appointment regardless. But, this will only be done if the court finds that the appointment will be in the minor’s best interest. O.C.G.A. §29-2-2.

In the Jackson matter, applying Georgia law, if Michael were married upon his death, guardianship of his minor children would have passed to his spouse. Under normal circumstances, custody would have passed to his ex-wife Debbie Rowe upon his passing as well. However, this did not occur as Rowe voluntarily terminated her parental rights years earlier. See O.C.G.A. § 29-2-3. As such, the judge presiding over the matter appointed Katherine and T.J. Jackson as guardians of his children. See O.C.G.A. § 29-2-14.

Now that an investigation into whether Paris’ needs are being met by the current guardianship arrangement, the question that remains is: Who may be appointed as Paris’ new guardian? News and media outlets speculate that the obvious choice would be Debbie Rowe, Paris’ natural mother. However, seeing that Rowe terminated her parental rights with regard to Paris, and seeing that there is some concern on the part of some Jackson family members that Rowe’s motivations behind her desire to take on this role in the teen’s life may be less than pure, many feel as if this is not a feasible alternative.  However, legally, this would certainly be a possibility under Georgia law. When determine who to appoint as guardian for a minor, Georgia Court’s strive to choose individuals who would best serve the best interest of the child involved. In so doing, courts may choose the following categories of individuals, in order of preference:

(1) The adult who is the preference of the minor if the minor is 14 years of age or older;

(2) The nearest adult relative of the minor;

(3) Other adult relatives of the minor;

(4) Other adults who are related to the minor by marriage;

(5) An adult who was designated in writing by either of the minor’s natural guardians in a notarized document or document witnessed by two or more persons; or

(6) An adult who has provided care or support for the minor or with whom the minor has lived.

O.C.G.A. § 29-2-16.

However, if a court decides it would be in the best interest of the child to do so, it may “disregard an individual who has preference and appoint an individual who has a lower preference or no preference. In determining what is in the best interest of the minor, the court may take into account any facts and circumstances presented to it, including the statement of a minor who is under 14 years of age.” Id. With the above cited Georgia law in mind, it would be very possible for Rowe to be appointed guardian of Paris, pursuant to sub sections (1) or (6).

Hopefully, once this matter is brought to a close, Paris and her two siblings will be surrounded by those to truly love and care for them. If you are seeking to obtain legal guardianship of a minor child here in Georgia, contact us at 678-879-9000. The attorneys here at Meriwether & Tharp will be more than glad to assist you.

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