The Jones family adopted Anthony, who has cerebral palsy and profound developmental delays, from foster care when he was 8 months old.
As his mother Pat remembers, “We knew nothing about cerebral palsy, but we knew Anthony was meant to be a part of our family. With the help of a lot of pediatric doctors, a physical therapist and a wonderful school, we have figured out a system and a rhythm for taking the best care of Anthony. And he’s doing great! He is the joy of our lives.”
When Anthony entered the age of adulthood at 18, his parents were surprised to learn that the law prohibited them from making the important legal, medical and educational decisions they had been making for Anthony since they adopted him. Elisa Kodish, a pro bono partner with Nelson Mullins, advised them to obtain legal guardianship.
Kodish helped prepare the family for the guardianship hearing at the Fulton County Probate Court, where Mrs. Jones eloquently described the around-the-clock care she and her husband have provided to Anthony for as long as they have been his parents. As the Jones’ addressed the court from the witness stand, Anthony grinned broadly, beaming at his parents as they testified about their deep and abiding love for him.
Pat continued, “I’ve always been the person that took care of Anthony. The permanent legal guardianship status allows me to continue being his voice and making decisions on Anthony’s behalf. Having my lawyer help us navigate through the process gave us a peace of mind.”
Attorney Elisa Kodish is a partner in the Atlanta office of Nelson Mullins and current President of the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. She led Nelson Mullins in forming a partnership with Atlanta Legal Aid to form an adult guardianship project representing families of children with severe special needs after they have entered into the age of adulthood. Ms. Kodish represented Mr. and Mrs. Jones as they obtained permanent legal guardianship of their son, Anthony.
Many parents and caregivers of young adults with profound special needs are unaware that they lose the legal authority to make decisions for the health and welfare of their children when they transition to adulthood at 18.
Preparing the Jones family for filing for petition, I saw the beauty and struggle in the daily lives of caretakers of children with profound special needs. The responsibilities are vast, the landscape of financial and legal hurdles is complex, and the need for ongoing financial, physical and emotional care is lifelong and unrelenting.
The legal process for filing a petition can be overwhelming without representation. Caretakers seeking guardianship must take the stand and speak publicly about their children’s limitations. This is an emotional and trying time in a family’s life, one when it is especially helpful to lean on the guidance and support of counsel.
In this case, the testimony from Mr. and Mrs. Jones was moving and powerful. Their love for Anthony was palpable. The judge granted the petition from the bench. And instead of being confusing and unsettling, the day turned out to be one of celebration for the entire family as they received formal recognition under the law of their unity and love for one another.
I will never forget the joy of this day and the beauty of this family.