Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Negotiation 101

There has been a lot of press about the art of negotiation this week.  A very good argument can be made that any deal which divides a pie with 16 pieces to one party and 1 to the other is not a good deal.  Yet that is the result of a significant deal which the national press has extensively covered. 

I think an argument can also be made that no one is that bad of a negotiator.  This leads to the direct inference that the negotiator who accepted one for his side while conceding 16 to the other may not have actually been playing for his side. 

So how is this relevant to family law?  Only in that sometimes clients jump ship, they move from one attorney to another.  When I am consulting with a potential client who has left his prior counsel, I sometimes hear that the former counsel was so bad  at negotiation that he must have been bribed or at least favored the opposing party or opposing counsel to such an extent that he took a fall against the client's interest.

In my several decades long experience that doesn't happen.  It is true that extremely poor results can be attribued to counsel.  Attorneys, like people everywhere, fall somewhere along a continuum.  Some are great.  Some are awful.  But poor results can also be attributed to other factors.  If it is the potential client's facts, that is usually easy to spot.  Harder to spot are issues related to the Judge such as immutable pet peeves. 

However, if the deal is 16 to 1, you can probably figure that the fix was in.  But how often has that happened?  Except for the recent infamous deal,  I've never seen such a bad deal.  Usually negotiations work more like my recent experience where we tortured numbers over months of work, analysis, research, offer and counteroffer to finally arrive at a settlement that cut both ways to both parties and was about as fair and equitable as you could ask.  After a very long term marriage which accumulated significant assets, the parties were finally able to let go the years of building vitriol to allow each other, and most importantly themselves, permission to move on.  The parties maturation allowed counsel to cross the Rubicon to end the litigation and strike the deal. 

So if you think your counsel is taking a dive, if the deal is something like 16 to 1, you are probably right.  If the deal is much closer to equal, then something far less sinister is taking place.  It is probably the nuance of law, particularities of your history and vagaries of circumstance operating directly on your experience. 

Michael Manely

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Addiction, your spouse's real partner.

Marriages fail for a myriad of different reasons.  Some fail because of addiction.  Addiction can be to gambling, to shopping, to pornography.  I have worked on divorces in 50 plus year marriages which are coming apart because of a recently surfaced sex addiction.  But the most common addiction is drugs or alcohol.  Tonight I'll talk about alcohol.

People are often isolated.  They come to me with their own stories, their own experience.  They know what they live through but they don't have the advantage of hearing thousands of stories.  They can't see their story in the context of our larger culture.  Almost always the client and I will consider the question of whether the spouse is just drinking or is addicted.  "Does the drinking interfere with your relationship?"  I'll ask.  If the answer is yes, then there is a problem whether it is from addiction or from mores against alcohol.  "Can your spouse put it aside at any time, not touch it for days or weeks?"  If the answer is no, there is a problem.  That may be simplistic but I think it boils down to that issue.  If you can't leave the alcohol alone for a significant period of time, there's a problem, an addiction in some form.  "If your spouse drinks sporadically when they drink, do they often get inebriated, affected?"  A purely social drinker only drinks on social occassions and rarely drinks to excess.  If your spouse often gets trashed when they drink, a binge drinker, there's a problem.

People who come to see me with this issue have often been living with a raging alcoholic for years but haven't really wanted to face it.  Like Battered Women's Syndrome, there is an inherent denial in it.  This is why groups like Al-Anon exist, to help you get out of that co-dependency.  And alcoholics, like all people everywhere, are on a continuum.  I have worked with folks who have been institutionalized for alcohol abuse and I have worked with folks who can't finish out the day without a couple of stiff drinks, though they don't slur their speech and they don't miss work because of it.  Both, I think, are alcoholics.  I don't know if the APA would support this, but in my practice it's a pretty safe charge. 

Some people are violent when they drink.  Some just fall asleep in their recliner by 7:00 p.m.  All are removed, more distant than they would be without the drink.  All are less engaged, less committed to their partners, because they are committed to their addiction.

Their addiction is not rational.  This is the nature of addiction.  It takes over rational thought.  Rational thought is not a rational proposition in the face of addiction.  Addiction is something else entirely.  It can't be argued away.  The addiction is the spouse's partner, not the person they are married to.  And being the third wheel is very lonely.  There is no intellectual adjustment that can be made.  If your spouse won't get help, you will either live with it forever, in all of its forms, or you escape.

Addiction is not a fault in a moral sense.  It is an illness.  But at the same time, it is not a sinking ship with which you must perish.  You can save yourself; that's fair.  If you have kids, you must save them.  Maybe leaving your addicted spouse will be the wakeup call they need, but that is irrelevant.  You don't leave your spouse to get their attention, you leave your spouse to save yourself, to save your children.

I'm not being melodramatic here.  It is a question of saving yourself and of saving your children.  The life your children will live, growing up in the home of an alcoholic, is a brutish life in the best of circumstances.  It's a short life in the worst.  The abuse, even if it is purely psychological, is something no one should ever have to endure, certainly not the children.  You don't want your children to grow up to be like your addicted spouse.  But you make that outcome all the more certain by staying.

Addiction is a ground for divorce in Georgia, though most people still just claim "Irretrievably Broken" in their Complaint.  You are permitted to end the marriage when your spouse is married to the bottle.

Michael Manely

Monday, December 6, 2010

Child Support: it's a matter of ethics and a matter of law.

We were recently hired by a mother who needs child support from the father.  The parents were never married so this is not a divorce case.  The parties lived together until she was three months along, then he decided he really didn't want the commitment so he left, he moved on.

This is not an atypical story.  We handle many, many cases like this.  What makes it fairly atypical is that the father earns seven figures a year.  Yes, seven figures.

Laws are written by rich legislators, most often to benefit rich people, or so my perception holds.  Laws almost always seem drafted to protect those that have so that they can have more.  Our child support laws fall into this category, too.

Until January 1, 2007, we had a very straightforward percentage basis for child support.  Roughly put, if you were calculating child support for one child, you took 20% of the non-custodial parent's gross income as child support.  Under the 2007 law, percentages no longer apply.  The way the child support law is now applied is premised upon how much it costs to raise a child.  What child?  Apparently one that eats a lot of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

The law has become almost impossibly complex, but the gist of it is that a parent earning greater than $30,000.00 a month can now pay less than a parent earning $6,000.00 a month paid under the old guidelines.  It's nice to have friends in legislative places, huh?

But the law does provide room for the judges to maneuver.  The law does seek equity and fairness, in the best interest of the child. 

In the old law, passed in 1984, the statute said that a judge could deviate from the percentage guidelines if the parent had unusually high income, which it defined as $75,000.00.  That law, too, had wiggle room.  Before too awfully long, about 10 years from its enactment, judges began to blow the doors off of that cap, finding that it bore no rational relation to how a child of a particular parent should be raised. Hence the new statute with the new effort to keep children in penury. 

But this is what the bard meant when he called for the killing of all the lawyers in King Lear:  we have recourse, we have argument, we have rightness and righteousness on our side.  For the child of Donald Trump should live no differently than a child of Donald Trump's should live, as Donald Trump's child.  (Pardon me, Donald Trump for using you as an example.)  What would The Donald do?

This is the standard the judges can and should employ when setting child support on non-custodial parents of significant means.  Payment of Child Support should pinch.  It's your child.  It should not matter whether you are poor, of modest means or quite well off, your obligation to your children, financial and otherwise, should not be easily tossed off, like a nice night on the town.

Some non-custodial parents will read this and decide that mine is not the firm for them.  So be it.  If they so grossly put their pocket book before their progeny, I couldn't represent them anyway.  After all, if there is no right answer in the caring for children, are there ever any?

Michael Manely

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Very Happy Thanksgiving

Though Thanksgiving is now last week's news, I want to share events of that week with you as it relates to one 12 year old boy.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, late in the afternoon, 4:31 to be precise, I was just starting to watch the premier of Harry Potter with my three boys when my cell phone buzzed.  I usually will ignore such stimuli when engaged in family activities, but the movie hadn't yet grabbed me and I was out of the office early.  So I pulled the phone from my pocket and checked.

An Opposing Counsel in a very contested divorce matter had emailed me an attachment.  I opened the email then the attachment which was his letter.  His letter informed me that his client, the opposing party in a divorce action, was high tailing it back to her homeland in Nigeria the next day, Saturday, with my client's  and the opposing party's 12 year old son.

I immediately called The Firm.  We sent a letter to Opposing Counsel; we called Opposing Counsel; I sent an email to Opposing Counsel, all to object in the strongest terms possible to the removal of this boy from the State of Georgia, not to mention the United States of America.

When you file a divorce, the Court grants an automatic Standing Order.  The Standing Order sets some ground rules that all the Superior Court judges think are a good idea in every divorce.  The first section of the Order says that children of the parties are not to be removed from the jurisdiction of the Court.  This means you can't take kids out of the State of Georgia, absent approval from the opposite party or the Court itself.

And here the opposing party was taking off to Nigeria, which is quite outside the jurisdiction of the Court.

Further, Nigeria is not a signatory to the Hague Convention.  This means that if the opposing party decided not to return, she could never be forced to return the child, even though he was born here, raised here and had never set foot in Nigeria.

The silence from Opposing Counsel was deafening.  We had ample reason to worry that the opposing party was, in fact, running.  My most excellent team sprung into action.

Associate Jeremy Abernathy drafted a quick Motion for an Emergency Hearing; Paralegal Robyn Midanaky checked every corner of the Courthouse for a judge at that late hour.  Sadly, none could be found.  All our judges had left for the day and would not return to the Courthouse until after the child had been successfuly spirited out of the country and into hostile territory, from the Hague's perspective.  Opposing Counsel had timed his strike perfectly.

Next, paralegal Nora Stocks came on board.  She, too had been spending a late afternoon/early evening with her family but left all of that aside and spent the next 18 hours working closely with the United States' State Department, Customs, Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Atlanta Police Department coordinating everyone's activity and obtaining and providing them with the necessary documents to stop the opposing party from fleeing the country with the boy the next day. 

After dozens of calls and hours upon hours on the telephone, at 11:00 on Saturday night, United States and local officials intercepted the opposing party at the gate and explained to her in no uncertain terms that she was not stepping onto that airplane with that boy.  The boy was saved.

The opposing party decided to fly on to Nigeria that night.  She left the boy behind in the care of her 22 year old daughter from a prior relationship, who had also been booked on that Nigeria bound flight.

By Monday we had filed our Motion.  By Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., the Judge assigned to the divorce case heard the weekend's history and Ordered Opposing Counsel to turn over the boy to my client.

That Thursday, in the middle of the afternoon, my client bowed his head with his son to pray, thankful that his boy was with him, feasting at the table in this most American holiday. 

I want to express my sincere and deep thanks to my most excellent staff, and particularly Nora.  Their hard work and dedication to our purpose saved this boy and provided our client with a very happy Thanksgiving.

Michael Manely

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Physics in human form explained.

"To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."  As best I recall, that is a principle in physics.  I don't think it holds true in human relations.

It seems that an action often spurs an even larger reaction. Tit for tat frequently becomes tit squared.  Retaliation is seldom in equal measure, no matter how much the Old Testament may call for an eye for an eye or the actor may proclaim adherance to a slightly more recent theology. 

Consider the game of the one-upping spouses:  I'll flirt and you'll kiss.  I'll grope and you'll have sex.  I'll disappear for the weekend and you'll get acquainted with the American Legion.  And where does that lead?These are not idle threats, they're actions already taken.  There's no game of chicken here.  And oddest of all, these are people very much engrossed in continuing the relationship, however sick it has become and maybe, because of how sick it has become.

Occasionally I'll consult with these people.  Their unresolved and unrepentant mutually assured destruction in full form, they rarely have any interest in actually ending the bloody battles, rather they seek amunition to one up their partner in a new element of the game.  "I saw a lawyer today and I can take you for everything you've got."  "Oh yeah, well I saw a lawyer today and I gave him pictures of you with that platoon."  And so it goes; and so it goes.

Sometimes the one upmanship game has lead to the floor of the courtroom, each party more vitriolic than the other.  And the conclusion of that phase of the game is the couple's divorce in  an ugly, unremeditated form.  Then, still wholly embroiled in the battle that is their lives, the wars continue, post divorce.

Often the battles are then conducted in text messages, back and forth, each more hateful than the last.  Or they can take the form of literal sabotage such as defacing or destroying property.  Frequently the couple periodically resumes relations as if granting their physical intimacy to their former spouse is the worst cruelty they could render.  Perhaps it is.

This is long past time for an analyst's couch, but I suspect an analyst would be about as much at a loss as the legal profession.  "Just what do you want me to do?  Fix you?  I don't think so."

While I express conduct here in the extreme, many people are on this continuum, just in somewhat milder form.  The battles continue.  The battles escalate, even if the measure is the length of silent hostility in the cold environment called home.  The test of whether the relationship falls into this pattern is whether one is fantasizing or even acting in some variation of "I'm going to get him (or her)."  The thirst for retribution is generally a bad sign in a marriage.

It seems to me that two alternatives are far more wholistic and therefore healthier for human life, contributing to human happiness: wishing the best always for your spouse with you in the picture and wishing the best always for your spouse with you no longer in the picture. 

Time is a beautiful process.  Sometimes a spouse is in the "I'm going to get him" mode, but works through that and evolves to the sentiment of "I wish you well in all your endeavors, without me."  That is a much better place to be.

Of course, there are attorneys for the couple engrossed in retribution.  They call themselves "aggressive" lawyers.  They'll be happy to take your money, all of it, and hand you a few more nuclear bombs in the process.

If that's where you are at, good luck with that.

For me, I'll still look for the laws of physics as they apply to human form, particularly human relationships. For example: a couple in motion tend to remain in motion and a couple at rest tend to remain at rest.  But perhaps that is all just rationalization looking for an orderly universe.  Perhaps it is far more correct to view human relations from the Chaos theory.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Where have I been?

It has been almost two weeks since I last visited these pages, now often a part of my nighttime ritual.  You may well ask, where have you been?

I have been doing that rarest of rare things in family law, a jury trial.  Our trial was conducted In Fulton County Superior Court (http://www.allfamilylaw.com/CM/Custom/Fulton-County-Judges.asp) over three days: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week.  The jury came back with its verdict at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday night. 

It was a divorce case.  Twenty-six year marriage.  Three grown kids.  My client is a medical doctor.  Very nice guy.  The opposing party is an attorney.  She hasn't practiced since the second year of their marriage.  The significant issue was alimony.

Opposing Counsel wanted to play it up for the jury.  His case was full of drama complete with heroes and villains (my client was cast as the villain).  Opposing Counsel's problem is that he had no facts to back up his theme.  And his client, as I told the jury is a very nice lady, didn't have the best of stories nor the best of presentation.  So, Opposing Counsel had no facts and his client had no presentation.

The Opposing side wanted the jury to award them 3.2 million.  The jury awarded them less than one-sixth of that.  We were prepared to offer them more than what the jury eventually awarded had Opposing Counsel's demand not been so extreme.

What is the moral to the story?  If Opposing Counsel had ever taken the task of settlement seriously rather than be consumed by slaying the dragons of his imagination, he could have helped his client far more.  Opposing Counsel wanted so desperately to play the hero.  At the end of our tale, that was not the role he wound up playing.

Michael Manely

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Familiarity has a value.

Tonight is a post authored by our own, Jeremy Abernathy.

Recently, I made the trek northwest to Cherokee County Superior Court.  Our firm had several cases on the Court’s calendar.  At 9:17 a.m., the Judge called the uncontested cases first.  Uncontested cases involve parties that have entered into an agreement on all issues.  Typically, these matters are short and sweet- but not in Cherokee County!

My client and I sat on the wooden pews in the Courtroom, and witnessed the uncontested case immediately preceding our case.  The lawyer firmly, but respectfully walked to the lectern, and his client gingerly and nervously approached the witness stand, seemingly dressed in his finest suit.  After being given the nod from the Judge to begin, the lawyer swore his client in and began asking him very short leading questions while simultaneously presenting evidence for the Judge.

Out of nowhere, the Judge interrupted and exclaimed to the client, “Would you appreciate being shifted back and forth between two households as often as you are asking your child to do so in this settlement agreement?”  The courtroom silenced.

In fact, the only thing you could hear was my client’s sheepish and nervous rhetorical question, “ Hopefully, the Judge won’t ask us all of that, will he?”

The lawyer and his client were frozen by the Judge’s barrage of questions.  They emotions seemed to go from amazement, to disgruntled, to desperate.  In fact, the client’s wife, who appeared for the uncontested divorce hearing was sworn in as a witness!  (This rarely occurs at an uncontested divorce hearing because only one (1) party, or in some case, neither party (like in Paulding County), is required to appear!)

Despite the wife’s testimony, client’s testimony and lawyer’s argument regarding the appropriateness of the custody arrangement, Judge asserted, “I refuse to approve of this agreement without expert testimony regarding how this arrangement provides stability for this child”  A disappointed client, opposing party and lawyer left the Cherokee County courtroom dismayed and utterly bewildered.

Perhaps if the lawyer on that case was familiar  with Cherokee County uncontested cases, he would have known that they can become quite eventful.   He would have known how to steer clear of that pitfall.

Our law firm, The Manely Firm P.C., provides the value of familiarity.  We handle only family law cases all around metro-Atlanta.  Our familiarity and specialized knowledge is the product of our commitment and focus to only family law cases.

Oh, by the way, the uncontested case that we had on the calendar that morning was done in 7 minutes.

Like I said, familiarity has a value.

Jeremy Abernathy

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's a math question.

There are many family law issues that involve soul searching, asking tough moral and ethical questions striving to find the right answer.

This is not one of them.

I will often consult with someone who has a money question.  Much of family law is a money question.  Quite often the subject is child support modification.  Regardless of which parent is asking me, the analysis is the same: how much money do you stand to gain (either through an increase in child support you receive or decrease in the child support you pay)?  You want to be as realistic as possible in your assessment because you want the math to be correct.

If the amount in controversy is less than, equal to or only somewhat greater than the attorney fees involved, for God's sakes don't do it.  Don't spend good money after bad.  Don't roll the dice on a slightly favorable verdict.

Modification only makes sense when you are necessarily going to make or save some significant money after the process if done.  And if an attorney tells you that the attorney fees don't matter because you'll get them awarded by the court, ask them if they will give you a contract that provides that they will only get paid by the other side.  See if that attorney will take the risk.  If he or she won't, then what does that tell you?

Let me give you an example.  Suppose a fellow wants to reduce his child support.  He's making a little less money now so we feel comfortable that his child support would be approximately $100 less per month.  This means that over the course of a year he will save $1,200.00.  This means that over the course of two years he will save $2,400.00.  I use a two year figure because parties can seek to re-adjust their child support after two years. 

Now you need to factor in the attorney fees.  Suppose the attorney fees are slightly greater than the two year savings.  It makes no sense to spend that money to save less money.  Again, it is possible that the judge could award you attorney fees, if you are the prevailing party, but you won't know until the money is spent and you've played your hand.  That is a risk which better be worth taking.  For example, if you were going to save $5,000.00 over two years you have more motivation to spend $2,500.00.  Now we enter the realm of "what is it worth to you."  Everyone has a different threshold here.  Some folks feel that the probability of saving $5,000.00 makes is worthwhile to spend $2,500.00 with a hope of recovering even that.  Some folks hold out for far more savings before they make that kind of investment.

Of course, no one expects you to know off the top of your head what child support would probably look like under a new scenario, that's why God gave us family law lawyers.  So you should call one for a free consultation to find out the facts, gain knowledge.

After all, knowledge is power.  And it's never a bad idea to have a little more power now and then.

Michael Manely

Monday, November 1, 2010

"On Behalf Of"

One of the last things I do at night before I turn in, is sit before my laptop and compose the post I want to write, what I would like for you to read.  It is my message to the readers, followers, potential clients, existing clients, and old friends who just want to see what I'm thinking these days. 

I hope my writing is fairly readable. I hope it is somewhat entertaining. I hope it is sufficiently informative.  One thing I know, however, is that my writing is deeply personal.  I write what I am thinking, what I am feeling, what I see happening in the world of family law.  I write about the reality of a family law practice, the real world experience of real world people fully engaged in their personal family law stories.

In a family law practice the different firms are certainly distinct from one another.  Each firm has its own personality, its own approach.  Each firm sets its own tone.  Our firm web site is built around illustrating our uniqueness.  My blog is intended to convey that, as well.

That's why I write my blog, or the other attorneys at my firm sometimes write on my blog.  It is always personal; it is always from us, it is always the real world stories that comprise our practice.

For that reason, I am not surprised by the recent increase in family law blogs.  There is probably no better way, short of a one on one interview, to convey who we are and what makes us tick.  But that's why I am suprised by the recent surge in family law blogs that are not written by anyone associated with the firm.  You can instantly recognize them.  The are written "on behalf of " the firm.  They are incredibly sterile, even antiseptic.  The topics cover celebrity divorces or fairly acrane or distant issues like, "what's New Jersey doing in divorce today?"   Today they might be concerned about some NBA star's custody battle.  Tomorrow they might address how many women in Los Angeles are seeking prenuptial agreements. 

But how does that impact you?  And what does that tell you about the firm?  What does that tell you about how the firm will help you?

You might say that "on behalf of" doesn't tell you anything about the firm, that this anonymous ghost writer gives you no sense of the attorneys who handle that firm's family law matters on a daily basis.  But unfortunately, I think it does.  I think it speaks volumes.

So, I'll keep writing my blog, expressing myself, hopefully giving you a very good picture of who I am and how I go about this practice.  And the other guys who keep their thoughts to themselves yet want to represent people at their most intimate and vulnerable moments?  I guess they'll just stay anonymous, as they prefer.

As for me?  I think it is better that you know quite well who I am.  I think you deserve that.

Michael Manely

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Isle of Anguilla

There is a little island out in the Caribbean called Anguilla.  It lies just north of Saint Martin.  It's about 16 miles long and a little over three miles wide at its widest point.  Its total population is a little over 13,000. Its main industry is tourism followed closely by corporations which set up there to avoid taxes in their home countries. The natives speak predominantly English since the Island once belonged to Great Britain.

It was also home to a father who was divorced from a mother several years ago.  Since the divorce he has wanted to take his daughter back to his homeland to visit his relatives.  The mother is quite nervous about that.

When the parties divorced, they agreed that the father would not take the daughter to the Island until the Island adopted and implemented the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of Child Abduction.  (In International Family Law we just call it the Hague Convention.)  The Hague Convention is a treaty between many nations about how its wrong to abduct children to another country and how the parent from the child's home state can go about getting the children back. 

Readers here know we do an awful lot of International Family Law, Hague Convention work.  We're quite good at it.

In addition to adopting the Hague Convention, before the father could return to the Island with his daughter, Anguilla was also supposed to enact legislation that would require extradition of a parent who violates the Hague Convention.

With something just over 13,000 people, the father, by report, is a bit of a muckity-muck in Anguilla so, after the divorce, he set about getting that country to adopt the Hague Convention.  Story has it, they did.  The problem is that Anguilla doesn't seem to want to broadly publish this contention.  Though the father argues that Anguilla adopted the Hague Convention in 2007, that adoption has yet to turn up on any international list of adopted and approved countries.

Further, the Hague Convention is fairly specific about the mechanism to carry out the country's obligations.  It requires the creation of something called a Central Authority which administers all of the Hague requirements.  Further, this operation is supposed to be swift.  No procrastinating here.

But Anguilla hasn't done anything to implement the Hague.  They don't have a Central Authority.  Its as though they've created a store front with no insides.  It is all window dressing.

And then there is the capper.  Anguilla has done nothing to enact legislation to ensure extradition of a parent who violates the Hague Convention.  So, we have a treaty in name only with no enforcement mechanism and no law guarranteeing extradition.  No child, no perpetrator, all shell game.

Back during the divorce, the father was often quick to say he would steal the child away to Anguilla, never to be heard from again.  On an Island of 13,000 I find that a little hard to believe.  But short of landing Marines or some equivalent, there is no way to rescue this little girl from that Island, except for the guarrantees required by the Court in the parties' divorce and provided by the Hague Convention.

Now the father has asked the Court to find that Anguilla has adopted and enacted the Hague Convention.  He's pretending the extradition part of the Order isn't there.  Father hopes to be off across the sea in short order.

Mother?  She's still quite nervous.  And little girl?  Since the divorce in 2005, Father has yet to spend more than three consecutive days with little girl without returning her to Mother.  Little girl is not so keen on the idea of a Caribbean vacation either.

But frankly, if Anguilla is good with the Hague Convention and gets this extradition problem fixed, we all should be good with the proposal.  Time marches on. Little girls grow up.  Sometimes countries do too.

But also frankly, if Anguilla, or this father, is playing an elaborate shell game to spirit this child away to a country that will not return her, it will be a cold day in hell before she steps on that plane.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

If it's the last thing you do...

I was recently speaking with a psychologist.  In my line of work, I do that often.  He and I were debating othe merits of divorce.

He was adamantly opposed to divorce.  "Divorce should be the last option," he told me.

After more discussion/debate, he admitted that he, himself, was divorced and remarried.  "I got it right the second time," he said.  But he didn't take his divorce lightly.  He worked through everything he could think of before he fiinally threw in the towel.  "I wanted to tell my little girl I had tried everything."

He had tried everything?  But he was divorced?  If he had tried everything surely he would have tried suffering for the rest of his existence. 

Saying that divorce should be the last option is very much like finding something in the last place you looked.  Of course it's the last place you looked.  Why would you go on looking elsewhere once you found it?  And of course, divorce is the last option since it's the last option you choose.  It was the last option the psychologist chose.  You don't tend to choose other options to work out your marriage after your divorce. 

But the point is, everyone has their own strategy for looking for things.  And everyone has their own internal, perhaps undiscovered list of options to try before they choose divorce.  For the psychologist to argue that divorce is bad, that it shouldn't happen and that he only divorced as his "last option," is only sanctimonious "holier than thou".  Only the fellow who suffers for the rest of his existence can make this proclamation with righteousness.  Everyone else needs to eat some humble pie and stop the hypocrisy.

Some folks leave at the first sign of trouble.  Maybe they aren't that committed or maybe they aren't that into suffering.  Some folks stick it out a while longer.  Maybe they have more faith, maybe they have more hope or maybe they have more tolerance.  Some folks hang in there even longer.  Maybe they never say die or maybe they have a streak of martyrdom.  Maybe they are a little into masochism, too.  But everyone chooses their own level of endurance.  It must be so.

And marriage involves a fair degree of endurance.  The test, it seems to me is, is the harmony better than the hassle?  If it is, you make that music together.  If it isn't, it's time to sing solo for awhile, maybe even start another duet.  (Some folks are really out there and get a whole chorus going.)

And my personal experience is that the awareness that you can make daily choices makes your daily choice to remain committed that much more fresh and new or renewed.  And if that isn't your choice, perhaps it's time to try to "get it right the second time," just like the psychologist.  Or the third.  Or the fourth...

The point is, you don't quit.  You don't lay down and die.  You live, fully, another day.

May you live fully each day.  May your music be beautiful.

Michael Manely

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What we don't do well.

A client who is quite familiar with these ever growing pages recently expressed her sense of the accuracy of my posts and generally complimented the firm.  She said, "you understand what I'm going through better than anyone else I talked to.  You understand this area of law inside and out and, as I've seen, you can litigate anybody into the ground.  Is there anything you don't do well?"

"I'm sure there must be," I told her.  Though I couldn't think of anything at the time.

But her question stayed with me.  Is there anything we don't do well?  I finally came up with an answer.

We don't lie well.  We don't make stuff up.  Frankly, we don't do balderdash well at all.

If you've read my posts for any length of time you're aware that there are two types of family law attorneys.  Short of saying the good guys and the not so good guys, I'll recast it this way: the majority of us are honest and straightforward.  We look for common ground to achieve a fair settlement.  Most of us practice in this same vein.

Some, however, feel that an honest, straightforward, affirmative practice is not what lawyering is all about.  They argue that lawyers are not doing their job unless they are zealous advocates.  (The Bar regulations actually use that term, zealous advocates.)  But these folks mean something very specific by their interpretation of the Bar's rules.  They mean that you win at all costs, including integrity, honesty, ethics, decency and morality.  In short, to win, you make stuff up. 

We have several cases moving forward right now where I can see a fair, just and equitable settlement.  But the other side is represented by "winner take all" attorneys, doing the bidding of an unscrupulous spouse.  In each case, they have no case, no facts, no law.  So they conjure the facts and they bastardize the law in the hope of creating a case in which they will eventually vanquish us.

And we don't do that well. 

I love my profession.  I think it a noble business.  I value the law too much to cheapen it by falsifying documents, purchasing witnesses and torturing time honored legal positions.  I value my clients too much to allow them to perjure themselves or posit a position which is outside the bounds of decency. 

I always say, "It is what it is."  I don't make the facts.  History has cemented the facts.  Those are the facts we work with.  Reality dictates the just result.  A result not based upon reality is, by definition, unjust.  And unjust results yield a destruction of the legal process, undermining the dignity of law and a whole host of unexpected and unwanted consequences.

Karma anyone?

So we don't lie, cheat or steal well.  And we never will.

You want somebody to make up stuff?  Check out those other guys.  You want honesty and integrity in your family law case so that you can look your children in the face, or better still, look yourself in the face in the morning and hold your head up high always?  Give us a call.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Elephant at home.

It's late into the argument.  You've been going at it for hours now and nothing seems to get resolved.  It's the same argument you've had, time and time again.  Sometimes you wonder if you argue just to have some connection, something to say, something to say instead of what you'd rather do at any given moment and that picture isn't too pretty.  But, it's what you and your spouse have left together.

So what do you argue about?  What is the substance of that dispute?  Is it money?  Is it a lack of passion?  Is it too much passion spent in a different direction?

We have 13 grounds for divorce in Georgia.  The grounds range from adultery to habitual intoxication to cruel treatment to you married your sister, to name just four.  And, of course, the no fault ground, Irretrievably Broken, known absolutely everywhere else as Irreconcilable Differences.

Once upon a time you had to prove a ground to be entitled to a divorce.  If you couldn't prove Joe committed adultery you had to stay married to him. So long as Joe knew how to hide it, you stayed wed.  When both parties wanted the divorce, Joe had to confess adultery, even if it didn't happen to be true.  Some archaic states still have this exclusively fault requirement on the books, causing their citizens to engage in legal hoodwinking to obtain freedom from their spouse with the State's blessing.  I'm very pleased that Georgia is no longer so paternalistic. 

But back to the story.  What do you argue about? 

After 21 years of litigating divorces and counseling parties in their most intimate moments as they sever their marital relationships, I've come to the opinion that what people argue about as they make their way to divorce is little more than window dressing.  As one of our Judges once announced as the wife pleaded from the stand, "But Judge, he committed adultery," to which the Judge quipped, "I figured there was some reason you were getting a divorce." 

The adultery doesn't cause the divorce.  The drinking doesn't cause the divorce.  The cruelty doesn't cause the divorce.  The fact that she's your sister doesn't cause the divorce.  You are getting a divorce because you want one, because you've come to the belief that you need one, because if you don't obtain one you firmly suspect you will soon go stark, raving mad. You are getting a divorce because you are over it.

The rest is just window dressing, rationalizations, all perfectly logical and right, but ultimately needless.  Ultimately it is simple.  You want out.  You get out. 

Wouldn't it be nice if it were that simple in practice, in the build up?  No drama.  As simple as the Paul Simon song.  Just slip out the back, Jack. 

But in real life we seem to have to argue.  We seem to have to become bitter and angry.  We seem to use these emotions as a catalyst, a form of dynamite to blast us out of our relationships and into the bright light of the freedom we then desire. 

From a legal standpoint we don't need it.  From an emotional standpoint (in the legal context) it gets in the way, it holds us back, it pushes us to make bad, destructive decisions.

We argue about much, but we argue about nothing.  What we ignore is the elephant in the room, that elephant at home.  That is, until it comes charging out and tramples everyone in its path. I think it is better to talk about the elephant before it goes on its rampage.

So, if you are ready to move on, own it.  Don't argue about his infidelity.  Don't argue about how drunk she is again.  Don't argue about how your mother was right, your wife made for a bad daughter, too, just bring out the elephant, introduce it, and move on.

Michael Manely

Monday, October 18, 2010

I'll fight you 'till the day you die.

In an exclusively family law practice, it is easy to focus on the divorce cases.  They are parties' first bite at the apple.  All the issues are in play.  All the drama and all the strategies are brought to bear on resolution of these sometimes legally and always emotionally complex matters.

The other kinds of cases, usually modifications and contempts, cause less concern because they are usually more logic based.  Something needs to change in the agreement because life has substantially changed: Modification; or the other party is not doing something important that they were supposed to do based upon the Court's Order: Contempt.  Both are straightforward and, since they arise after the divorce, usually are far less vitriolic and emotional. 

However, there is a kind of post divorce case that can take the cake.  These contempt and modifications do not stem from logic but from need, some deep seated need to stay engaged, to stay embroiled.  They come from the party who never lets go.  In a sick sense, they come from the party who won't say goodbye.   It's as if they carry "till death do us part," to a whole new level.

We can identify these cases because the Complaint provides nothing substantive to sink your teeth into.  There is nothing hard and fast and objective, it is all innuendo, "hints and allegations."  We find a lot of pettiness in these Complaints.  It's a "she touched me first," kind of pleading.

And they usually come from just a few attorneys who are more than happy to stoke the eternal flame of post marital animus because they know that angry clients pay more.

There's a Don Henley song about this.  (Isn't there about everything?)  It's called, "Get over it."  Lord knows the judges wish the parties would. 

I was recently asked by a party defending yet another suit from an all too well funded ex-spouse, "Will it ever end?"  I had to answer that I didn't think it would.  So long as the Judge doesn't pop the Opposing Party, doesn't force them to some financial pain for continuing to inflict their anger on their ex-spouse, there is little hope that the offending party will ever stop. What would make them?  Boredom?  These people live to litigate.  This is what life is all about for them, staying in controversy.

So, judges, if you see a party bringing an action against an ex-spouse, and there's no real teeth to it, stop the madness, stop the destructive behavior.  Please charge the plaintiff with some fees for harassing their ex.  Make them think at least twice before they venture down this road again.

And parties, if you are in this never ending relationship with an ex-spouse who could never love but can always litigate, I'm terribly sorry.

Michael Manely

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Free Consultations Are Worth The Money

Shelia Manely, Business Manager

Tonight's blog post is written by Shelia Manely, Business Manager for the Manely Firm, PC.

I’m not a lawyer . . . yet.  But, I am a law student, mother of a blended family of five, business manager of our growing law firm and wife.  (That’s the order my husband suggested.)   I can’t give legal advice, but I can give lots and lots of advice.  Just ask anyone who knows me.  I just can’t help myself.  I figure I’m being very helpful if I share everything I know with anyone who asks.  I know you didn’t ask, but, you are reading, which sort of implies consent.  So, here I go.

I had the chance to sit in on a presentation given to fellow law students by the founding attorney from a family law firm with their sole office in downtown Atlanta.  To prove what a great attorney he is, he touted how many speaking engagements he’s had, how many TV appearances he’s made and how dependent upon him the local news channels are for his professional advice.  He said he always makes himself available to the media, not just for paid appearances, but also for free consultation and  advice.  After all, he says, those guys are journalists, not attorneys.  They want to know they are getting their story straight and using the right terminology.  Sometimes, he says, I’m disappointed when I don’t get credited or I get edited out of the piece, but that’s OK.  I still help.  I want them to call me again.  I want to keep those opportunities coming!

He also bragged about how much he charges an hour (over $500) and why he never, ever gives free client consultations.  He advised over twenty-five future attorneys to never, ever give free client consultations.  Here’s his reasoning: 

 If I charge for consultations, people will think I have enough business that I don’t have to give free consultations to get business.  Free consultations say, “I’m desperate.” 

 If I charge for consultations, I won’t be giving away my time to some people while billing my time to others.  Free consultations say, “I’m putting my paying clients aside to do free consultations.”   

If I charge for consultations, people will feel really good about what I tell them because they’ve paid for it.  Free consultations say, “my advice isn’t worth anything.”  

And then there is the kicker:

If someone pays for my time and also gets a free consultation from another attorney, they’re not going to pick the do-gooder who gave them their time, because they’ve already invested over $500 bucks in me!  Free consultations say, "pick me and you've wasted the money you paid the other guy."

Well, it’s hard to argue with him because he is very successful.  He has lots of famous clients to show for his efforts.  And rich, famous clients need a good attorney just like the rest of us.  But, wait a second…don’t the rest of us need a good attorney just like those rich, famous people?  

At The Manely Firm, PC, we've had our share of media attention and we do give free client consultations.

               We are not desperate.  We open over 200 cases a year and that number keeps climbing.

               We do not put our paying clients aside to do free consultations.   If we have more work than we can do while giving free consultations, we hire more attorneys.

               If people thought our free advice wasn’t worth anything, they wouldn’t hire us by the hundreds.  And finally,

               If a person prefers to pay for advice they may never use, from an attorney they have yet to meet with a firm they may never hire, I say let ‘em.  I prefer our clients be sane.  They’re easier to represent.

At The Manely Firm, PC, we make ourselves available to potential clients, not just the media.  And, not just for paid appearances, but also for free consultation and advice.  After all, our potential clients are just people, not attorneys.  They want to know they are getting their story straight and using the right terminology.  Sometimes, we are disappointed when we don’t get hired, but that’s OK.  We still help.  We want them to call us again.  We want to keep those opportunities coming!

So, the advice?  If you need a successful, experienced family law attorney, visit us for a free consultation.  If you need a celebrity, it'll cost ya'.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Why Not Expand the Pie?

Tonight's blog post is courtesy of Kairi Smith Gure, who is our Associate  in our Lawrenceville office.

Kairi Smith



I am in the process of earning a masters degree in the Science of Conflict Management.  I am in my first semester of a four semester program and I have already begun to view most of life’s experiences as a series of negotiations, some simple, some complex.

In my negotiation's class we are learning about different types of negotiations.  Before a couple of weeks ago I really didn’t think that there was more than one way to negotiate.  I thought, like most, about negotiations as the classic exchange where both parties have competing interests and each gives up as little as possible and, in a best case scenario, each side walks away with 50% of what they wanted.  Both parties are usually leave the negotiation disappointed that they didn’t get more.  But, in some cases, if one party was more savvy (or conniving) than the other party, they are able to “win” and walk away from the negotiation with more than 50% (or maybe all) of what they wanted.  This is what I have know come to know as Zero Sum negotiating.

Zero Sum negotiating works on the idea that one party has to get less of what they want (or need) for the other party to get more of what they want (or need).  When you are zero sum negotiating you are working with a “fixed pie” meaning that you are focused on the idea that there is not enough to go around and, in order to “win,” the other party has to “lose”.

I propose that Zero Sum negotiating, while definitely the way to approach many negotiations, is not the best fit for resolving most of the conflicts that take place in realm of Family Law litigation.  Integrative negotiating would provide parties with more satisfying, durable, and successful agreements, bringing them one step closer to resolving the family conflict that brought them to court in the first place.

Integrative negotiation is based upon the idea that if both of the parties approach the negotiation with the thought that they can both “win,” the focus of the negotiation will create an agreement that achieves the goals of both parties.  Ideally this would happen because the parties could think outside of the box and come up with creative solutions to meet everyone's needs and/or goals.  This process would in turn “expand the pie” so that there was enough for everyone.

I know that emotions run high for the parties when dealing with Family Law conflicts because the stakes are generally very high.  As I work with my clients I do my best to facilitate an approach to their negotiations that “expand the pie,” so that long after the day the agreement was created and emotions are no longer raging, they are still satisfied with the outcome.  To me this it what it means to “win”.

Kairi Smith Gure

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oh No You Didn't.

Here is what we don't do.

Tonight, a taste of the trully sublime, trully silly and trully awful.

Attorney commercials.  Fortunately in other states.

And finally:

Now, these guys are reputable.:

I hope you enjoyed the show.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Check, please.

The old phrase, the straw that broke the camel's back, is exactly on point with tonight's post.

This may be like finding something in the last place you look.  Of course you wouldn't look any farther after you found what you were looking for, so the last thing done that finally brought down the house of cards may be only that, the last thing done.  There is not another "thing" to follow because by then the cards are already scattered.

But there seems merit to the expression, just the same.

I'm forever curious about that last straw.  What was the final impetus?  After years of acrimony, bitterness, loneliness, unhappiness, and perhaps abuse in subtle and not so subtle forms, what finally called the question?  What finally caused a party to say, "Check, please?"

Perhaps it is one affair too many.  Perhaps it is blowing the mortgage money again.  Perhaps it is another drunken allnighter winding up half dressed and sleeping it off in the yard, someone else's yard.  Perhaps it is another anniversary passed without so much as the time of day, or worse yet, flowers purchased for his mother.  Perhaps it is running up the credit cards over the limit, again.  Perhaps it is being de-friended on Facebook.  Perhaps it is learning she's pregnant, and it couldn't possibly be yours. 

It seems there is always something that convinces us, finally, that enough is enough.  And that point is and always shall be the great internal debate.  When do you know you have given it your all, made every effort and still, your marriage, and therefore your life, is going nowhere?

Everyone has their own compass, their own gauge of enough.  Everyone probably shifts that compass as needs be, marks a new line in the sand, just to put off what they pray is not the inevitable.  I have spoken with some people repeatedly over the course of years.  They return as predictably as day lillies to revisit their options, maybe to let off some steam, to touch base on their escape valve.  Some, after several or even many years, do finally pull the plug, do finally say, "check please."  Their line in the sand was broached, finally, one too many times.

So why do people stick it out until they can't stick it out anymore?  It seems a circular question.  But I know that each seeks their own level; it must be so.  And for everyone, that individual level has to be right; it must be so, otherwise it would be different.  And no one can effectively tell another where that line in the sand truly lies.

But the line is there.  It's somewhere.  And each of us know for ourselves when that line has been irretrievably crossed.

Michael Manely 

Monday, October 4, 2010


Tonight's Blog Post is authored by Attorney Jeremy Abernathy.


As a child, nothing compared to getting off the cheese (a/k/a/ the school bus), telling my mother I had no homework assignments, jumping on my bike, and signaling for Abby, my trusty chow dog, to accompany me as I meet up with my neighborhood pals.  My friends and I, with dogs in tow, ventured through the woods searching for old coins and trail-blazing new bike paths.

One afternoon, my dog, Abby, cornered my friend Russell’s dog, Bandit.  Bandit, a mixed breed of some sort and relatively small, was by far the least aggressive of all the neighborhood dogs.  Bandit, however, did not back down from this challenge.  He squared off and stood poised to totally obliterate Abby.  Consequently, I stepped in to preempt witnessing a massacre.

In my profession, people “corner” people too, thus requiring the legal system to step in.  During a recent free consultation, a mother discussed how her husband cornered her.  She described his physical and verbal abuse.  She explained how he blames her for the death of their son who died in an automobile accident two years ago.  She also lamented how she fears he will leave the country and take their remaining minor son away from her.

The legal system can “step in” to provide temporary alimony for this mother to maintain the household bills and expenses.  The legal system can step in to require the husband to pay child support to the mother.  The legal system can step in to award the mother temporary attorney fees to properly present her case.

If you have been cornered, set up a free thirty (30) minute consultation so that we can discuss how the legal system can step in and stop you from being cornered.

Jeremy Abernathy

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The bane of our existence.

I spoke with a young woman today who had an interesting, though not terribly uncommon tale to tell.

She is 26 years old.  Her parents divorced when she was six.  Her mother received primary custody of her.  Her mother's favorite sport around the house was to bash dad: what a scum he was, what a deadbeat he was, what a horrible human being he was.  To say that dad had no value in mom's house would grossly overstate the situation.  You get the picture.

One day, it sounded like about seven years after the divorce, out of desperate need to retain some  boy's attention, this young woman accused her father of a heinous act.  Her accusation was private, to the departing beau.  He, then, told his parents who told the young woman's mom who called the police.

Months later, tens of thousands of dollars on defense counsel later, district attorney investigations and polygraphs later, the charges were dismissed. 

According to the police, the young woman made it up.  And why not?  It's not as if dad had value, anyway. This once little girl had learned that lesson well.

Though exonerated, the father langished.  He let his business go.  It was heading in the ditch anyway since it was a rather public operation and the public wanted nothing to do with him in light of the once pending accusations.  He fell into despair and depression.  He lost his house, his cars.  He nearly lost his mind.

He saw nothing of his daughter.

Years passed.  He worked at recovering.  He started a new business, flegling at first, but used it as his vehicle to re-engage with his life.  He threw himself into the business and it prospered.  Still he remained haunted by the absence of his child who had turned his world upside down.

Years passed and the young woman grew.  She graduated from high school.  She left her mother's home.  She attended and graduated college.  She got her first real job.  She  moved into her first real apartment.  She bought her own car.  She even became invested in her spirituality on her own terms.

And, as the years passed, as her spirituality deepened, she began to mature.  As she moved farther from her mother's world, she began to construct her own.

And she eventually came to realize just how she had wronged a man she once lovingly called Daddy.

So, after a painful series of starts and stops, she called him.

He took her call.

They met.  They cried.

Now, not terribly long after their grand reunion, they dine about once a week.  Usually Daddy buys.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Oh, the things we do to each other in families.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Practicing Desperation Law

Last night I wrote about the attorneys who practice family law as though it was were a tenet of faith.  Tonight I write about the attorneys who could care less.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the zealot who imposes her convictions on you lies the "I just don't give a damn attorney."  They have more important things to do, like anything else that comes through the door.

By and large, family law is considered a peculiar specialty, as if those who practice it exclusively have an affliction.  As I wrote last night, who would sign on for this misery?  So family law cases are considered a blight, though perhaps a necessary evil for the general practitioner who handles anything that comes through the door.  They handle personal injury, bankruptcy, criminal law, commercial litigation and, yes, somewhere in there, family law.  I contend that they practice "Desperation Law." They seem to state, "I just want a retainer.  Any retainer."

Family law has its own rhythm, its own groove, certainly its own body of law, and its own bar (for those few of us who practice it exclusively).  Whether we practice in the same frame of mind or approach the subject from quite different perspectives, the exclusively family law lawyer generally knows the other exclusively family law lawyer.  We usually know each others strengths, weaknesses, quirks and pecadillos.  We speak the same language.  We understand the issues without a learning curve.

For those indecisive or disinterested souls who do anything for a buck, they are forever cast on the howling winds of rapid and irreconcilable change.  One morning they are representing a criminal defendant, wrapped up in the Fourth Amendment.  The next morning, they are knee deep in a contractual clause about non-competing burger stands, and the next morning they attempt to be immersed in a bitter custody dispute.  Jack of all trades, master of none.

I know this scenario all too well.  At one time I practiced this scenario.  And family law drove me nuts.  But I learned, it drove me nuts because I wasn't just practicing family law.  I'd attend a criminal calendar call as disinterested as I could be.  I was engaged in the sport, but the passion was non-existent.  I'd attend a commercial litigation calendar call and everyone there still seemed asleep and wishing they were on the golf course.  Not a happy crew.  Then I'd attend a family law calendar call and everyone was animated, involved, deep in discussion, negotiation, maybe resolution.  All of it meaningful.  All of it vitally real.

Eventually I determined that I should only practice family law.  I won't call it a calling, hence I would run afoul of the malady I cited last night.  No, it was my passion, my skill and my drive that directed me.  That, and family law attorneys are in court most often, second only to prosecutors.  My attorneys and I are often in Court three to five times a week.  A personal injury attorney is lucky to see the inside of a courtroom three times a year.  As I've said often, I live in the Courtroom.

So family law is home.  This is where I thrive.  This is where I can do the most good. 

I don't practice desperation law.  I won't handle anything that comes through my door, except family law.  So if you have a criminal case, you can call me because I know some great criminal lawyers to refer you to.  But if you have a family law case, call me or anyone who practices exclusively in family law.  Our passion and our practice shows.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is it a calling?

I have an unusual job.  I help people get divorced.  I work in family crisis day in and day out.  I am buried, nay smothered in daily drama.

Why would anyone sign on for this misery?

Some in my profession appear to posit that their's is a calling, that they are led to this line of work in the same way that preachers are.  And like preachers, they claim passion and deeply held, fervent beliefs.  They hold convictions and operate from dogma about how things must be.  Their client's lives become testaments to the attorney's convictions.  And the family drama plays out in moralistic terms, good versus evil and righteousness must prevail.  There is the victor and there must be the vanquished.

I definitely like what I do.  I don't want to do anything else, work wise.  I'm drawn to the Courtroom, not because it is my life's mission but because I'm good at it.  And I'm good at it because I like a good, serious legal contest.  I'm good at it because I care to be.  And I like what I do because I find meaning in helping real people obtain real solutions for real problems.  What's not to like about that? Family law fits me. 

I would hope that everyone should be able to make a living, doing what they enjoy.  It makes life richer.

But I don't hold dogmatic positions.  I don't pass judgment.  I don't exact my principles on my client's lives.  I do bring all my talents to bear on their issues.  I make solutions.

I'm not a preacher. I'm not a saint.  I'm not a voluteer.  I'm a mercenary.  I am well paid to be successful for my clients.  I am paid to advocate for their interests and paid to tell them the truth. 

So if you want someone to be a bishop over your life, to tilt at the windmills of their own past in your present, I'm not for you.  If you want to fix a problem, come see me.

So, is family law my calling?  No.  It's my business.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Just drifting through.

We do not finish all the cases we start.  Sometimes the firm and the client parts company.  Sometimes our strategies no longer appeal to the client.  Sometimes the client cannot follow the firm's advice.  Sometimes the client has other issues.

I once represented a client with attachment issues.  He didn't care much who he was sleeping with.  He was not loyal or connected to any particular woman.  He thought his kids ought to live with him but he gave them no good reason to and wasn't particularly concerned if they didn't, and they didn't.

I learned that those attachment issues extended to every other facet of his life, including his ability to follow through on our advice when the going got rough.  When the going got rough, he just got going.

Good bye.  He wasn't that invested in the first place.

He was kind of the accidental tourist of the divorce world.  He spent the next several months bouncing from pillar to post and, without rudder, without plan, without cohesive strategy that he could stay committed to, I understand that he got battered something awful.  Opposing Counsel was pretty good to begin with.  This now former client made Opposing Counsel's job that much easier.

As best I could tell, he wound up disappearing.  He paid his child support somewhat timely, but he wandered off to the far corners of the world, kicking up the dust in some other lonesome hovel. 

Sometimes I remember him, like now.  I think of him blowing from place to place, unattached like a dust mite. 

I'm really rooted to place.  I haven't moved more than 12 miles from the place I grew up.  So I really can't fathom having no attachments, no strings, no ties that bind the heart.  That is my antithesis.

Sometimes we don't finish the cases we started.  Far more often than not, we do.  Course corrections, when necessary, can be a good thing. 

But to say farewell to a client who can't commit, who can't follow through, whose shiftlessness rules his life, to this day remains unsettling. 

Michael Manely

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Don't Get It.

Last week we had the hearing to end all hearings.

Actually I'm being a bit melodramatic.  It was a big hearing, potentially laying either party to waste.  My opposing counsel hails from the highest paid family law firm in all Metropolitan Atlanta.

The hearing was a long time coming.  There were many discussions about the case, the issues, and potentially how to settle it.  Time after time I came back to the same recommendation on how to settle the case, if they wanted to settle the case.

But the opposing party, through his counsel, stonewalled.  They did everything they could to put off the hearing, even at the last moment as the Court called the case.  All along they offered nothing but platitudes, empty air containing nothing.  Not one dollar, not one farthing, not one half penny was placed on the barrel head to put the issue to bed.

And my recommendation was quite modest.  It was the most likely outcome to bridge the matter to a longer term solution.  It took care of temporary issues and began to create a foundation from which the parties could work.

Still, no tangible offer ever came.

So, we had our hearing.  And the opposing counsel pulled a 12th hour surprise expert accountant to support the opposing counsel's theory of the case.  Of course the expert agreed with me that his analysis had to be flawed to get to opposing counsel's results and that the opposing party really didn't produce anything that the expert could use to verify the opposing party's contentions.

And in the end, the Judge ruled almost exactly like my recommendation expressed so long ago and oft repeated.  The modest, logical proposal is how she decided, with a little gravy thrown on for my client.

And now, in the circles that the couple used to run, comes the report that the opposing party is claiming victory.  Victory for having his extremely dirty laundry exposed to the Court?  Victory for paying thousands of dollars to an expert for nothing?  Victory for paying thousands more to an opposing counsel when the funds could have much better been used for the parties, not their lawyers?  Victory when the opposing party offered $0.00 and I proposed less than what the Judge now requires?

I don't get it.

I like trial better than the next guy, perhaps better than most lawyers, so I had a really good time impeaching the expert and this ridiculous opposing party, but I've still got to say it was a colossal waste of time and money, given that the other side could have done what I suggested in the first place.

"I told you so," just doesn't make me feel any better.

I just don't get it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Divorced with Benefits

In the long list of the myriad of methods in which people bond into family, a particularly interesting one is where the couple is no longer married yet continues to couple.

The joke about sleeping with your ex being like eating leftovers you rejected the first time notwithstanding, some couples do genuinely find it more difficult to break the bond of sex than of marriage and remain in an intimate relationship for years after divorce. 

Some couples enjoy the release from the obligations of marriage and the new found casualness of being divorced with benefits.  One former client's ex husband called it "coming over for coffee." 

I'm not a psychologist so I'll not delve into the extensive why issues, but all the judges I know have been around the block more than a few times and very little surprises them.  To learn that a couple remained intimate for years after a divorce and only recently have had a falling out resuling in that Contempt the ex-wife had been meaning to file for some time now, would not elicit expressions of shock, dismay, disgust or dismissal from a judge.

Nor does it make a whole lot of difference to a couple's legal status. 

Back when Georgia acknowledged Common Law marriages, I represented a woman who wanted a divorce from her Common Law husband.  The parties agreed they had gotten a divorce from their legal marriage some years before.  The husband denied that he had ever resumed a relationship with his ex that rose to the level of Common Law marriage.  Of course, if he hadn't listed her as wife on all of his insurance, real estate, loan and banking forms, hadn't told the whole world that his ex was again his wife and hadn't posed for umpteen pictures with the re-established family as he brandished the brand new, diamond encrusted wedding ring, he might have had a point.

But you get my point.  If you have to work that hard to change your legal relationship, you can probably do a lot and preserve your divorced status.  And Georgia doesn't even acknowledge any newly created Common Law marriages anymore.

Another situation arises when the couple resumes quasi habitation so that the child, who post divorce has a primary custodian and a secondary custodian, is somewhat living with both parents again.  Months if not years pass before the camel's back again becomes so burdened that some inevitable straw renders it asunder when the primary custodian suddenly recalls the vast amounts of child support which have gone unpaid.  Are there any writings which express that the primary custodian accepted the secondary custodian's financial assistance as satisfaction of the child support obligation?  Of course not.  These people were wooing each other, not writing contracts.

So we're off to the races with a large purse in play.  And some potential for legal injustice to ensue.

And that gives new meaning to Divorced with Benefits.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Running for Judge.

Tonight I had the opportunity to participate in the perennial, time honored tradition of being part of the host committee for one of our local Judge's re-election campaigns.  It was a very well attended affair by the usual who's who of the local bar.  The Judge was in rare form, meeting and greeting as the occasion requires, quite a different persona from the one assumed on the bench as he metes out justice to the hopeful litigants.

I'm afraid I've been a bit out of the formal political loop recently, what with the practice providing much needed assistance to many parties desperate for access to justice, so I was surprised to hear that the Judge had  competition in this election.

This competitor is well known to the bar, as well.  She is a perennial runner, almost as certain to run as an election is to be held.  I suspect she has long since given up hope of winning, or at least I hope she has.  Rather, she constantly runs because it is the most inexpensive method of marketing that she has ever discovered. 

To some potential clients, she hopes to many, running for Judge gives them the imprimatur of success, of authority, of position.  Actually, running for Judge means you could scrape a few dollars together to get your name on the ballot and a few dollars more to print up signs.  But compared to the cost of bill boards, election signs are a steal, and you aren't tarnished with the impression of chasing ambulances.

I've met many a client who thought, at first, that this candidate had credentials and clout just because of her judicial attempts.  Through personal contact, not with the candidate, but as the practitioner, they were soon disabused of their notions.

The problem is not so much that the sitting, qualified, decent judges have to defend their seat.  Campaigning is a stressor for them that they would certainly rather not endure but it is a part of their political reality and I would sorely disapprove of a system that didn't require a judge to be accountable to the electorate.  Rather, it is the terrifying notion of what would happen if this candidate won.  Without purpose, without plan, without competence, without scruples, the bench in that post would first become a laughing stock followed quickly by a disaster of jurisprudence not seen since a Fulton County courtroom got a similar dose back in the 90's and the Judicial Qualifications Commission had to intervene to save the public.

But there is little way to warn the public, who sees this candidate's name time after time, running against whomever, whenever.  The public doesn't know the dangers that lurk in this candidate's election.  The public doesn't know the loss that would be suffered by this particular Judge's defeat. 

Judge's are central to keeping the peace in our communities.  Judges provide a valve to the steam of anger and resentment that is borne from perceived injustice.  A good judge won't make all people happy.  Never.  But a good judge will leave a litigant feeling heard and knowing that they had their day in court.  A judge is a perfect leveler.  Get a good judge, get a fair result.  Get a bad judge and there can be no peace, only another layer of suffering.

So what if the candidate wins?  The judicial system will suffer, sure enough.  But the public will suffer so much more. 

The moral to this story is that, come election time, investigate your judges.  Find out what the bar has to say about the judge.  See what the community says through the press and through the internet, though every judge has at least a couple of never happy litigants to defile them.  Investigate the opposition.  If the judge's campaign is doing its job, there should be some negative information about the opposition.  Look into it.  Determine as best you can whether it is valid.

Think about your values and priorities.  Every so often the business community will get outraged at a judge enforcing the law that winds up resulting in a fair verdict for an injured party.  The business community finds someone of reasonable stature to run against the offending judge.  But those issues are usually laid bare in the political pieces put out by each campaign.  How do you feel about businesses trying to gain an advantage by putting their own judge in office?

The issues that motivates the candidates present themselves, if you look for them. 

Our judges impact our lives in significant enough ways that it merits us to know as much about them as we can, so that our judgments about them are as sound as we want their judgments about us to be.

Michael Manely

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Melting Pot

There are so many fascinating aspects of Family Law that I think I could write about for ages, albeit sporadically.  One of the fascinating aspects is the question of what is a family.

Families come in an almost infinite range of hues, attitudes, preferences and origins. Some families appear homogenous, but as I am increasingly discovering, there is no such thing.  And homogeneity is a question of the definitions you impose. 

"Our family is of European origin," is both limited and broadened by that geographic reference.  Not that long ago the identifications would have been much more specific.  "Our family is of Irish origin."  Or, "our family is of German origin."  Or, "our family is of Italian origin."  Now it's "European" by convenient definition and often of necessity.  It's "European" because the European countries of origin have melted into a broader, more inclusive base in America.

"Our family is if African origin," is also a convenient definition.  Not only does it ignore the not so subtle differences from different regions in the African continent, but also ignores the apparently not so infrequent and often unwelcome intrusion of European ancestory. "African origin" is also a convenience because it may belie the centuries that the ancestors have been in America, far longer than many descendants of European ancestory.

"Our family is of Hispanic origin," is a similarly broad definition that spans many cultures and lattitudes.  Mexico is distinct from the Dominican Republic which is distinct from Guatemala and is distinct from Argentina or Chile, which says nothing yet of Brazil, which does not consider itself Hispanic with its Portugese ancestory, but is often so defined by those of us less aware of the identities.  But, for the sake of convenience, and for the American experience of the melding of cultures, "Hispanic" is the bandied about term.

"Our family is if Arab origin."  Again, a conveniently broad definition disguising intricately distinct  populations, rendered less so by their migration to America.  And this doesn't yet include persons of Persian descent.  And I haven't even touched on people of Asian descent or Polynesian descent, or Native American descent, the true originalists (especially the Iroquois). 

And, of  course, each of these identities, some self imposed, some imposed by others, all gross in their  description and ever expanding in their fuzzy edges form, only begin to contemplate the function, purpose and great success which is America. 

As a boy here in Georgia, I have witnessed anti-miscegenous indoctrination carried out with ruthless, bloody cruelty. And now, as a man, I watch couples not only walk hand in hand, but marry, have children, watch their children welcomed and embraced into our larger culture, whether the children come from parents of apparently similar backgrounds, or obviously diverse backgrounds.  Our ancestoral identities change day by day, merge generation by generation.

I'm not suggesting that all is a bed of roses in America.  I wouldn't be writing tonight's blog if that were the case.  Today's version of the anti-miscegenist is the xenophobe.  While racism in all its insipid forms still flourishes in quaint corners of American culture, the current cause celebre for the divisively inclined is to narrowly interpret what and who is American.

Without equivocation, the American family looks like America. We are black. We are brown.  We are tan.  We are pink.  We are yellow.  We are Christian.  We are Muslim.  We are Jewish.  We are Unitarian.  We are Atheist.  We are hedonist.  We are self absorbed.  We are utilitarian.  We are selfish.  We are generous.  We are having a teenage meltdown.  We are having a mid life crisis.  We are bounding for childhood joy.  We are espousing the wisdom of sages.  We are demagogic.  We are all embracing. 

With the exception of the Native Americans, we are a nation of immigrants.  We can't help but be.  We are and always have been a nation of immigrants melting in one giant, ceaseless pot.  Ever shall it be.

And we are one, big happy family, whether we like each other today or not. 

We, collectively are and rightfully shall be America.  And like all families, we ought to have each other's backs.  For united we stand.  Need I say more?

Michael Manely

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's finally over.

So, how does it feel to finally be divorced? 

Imagine, you've suffered through years of increasing distance in your relationship, growing enmity, resulting in downright hostility, and you eventually muster the energy, the inititative to retain an attorney, to finally seek your freedom.

I just finished a tortuous divorce trial that extended over a month.  Now, I didn't try this case every day for a month, but it started a month ago and, with a bit here and a bit there, the trial concluded today.  Even more importantly, this divorce was filed by a former counsel quite some time ago and had not lingered but had been actively litigated from day one.

The opposing party in this divorce practiced Machiavellian parenting.  She was (is) out there.  She feels the children are her property and, if she could, she would keep them under lock and key, away from her husband who had the tamarity to leave her.  The opposing party's mission in life was to make my client's life as miserable as possible.  In that way, her attitude in the divorce was not terribly dissimilar to her attitude in the marriage.

She used the divorce to torture my client every step of the way, and did all that she could to keep the divorce from being final.  She couldn't let him go.  She wouldn't let him go.  She was going to keep him forever.

So we bruisingly battled through each and every possible issue that the opposing party could concoct.  No matter how easily the issue could have been settled, she wouldn't hear of it.  Everything needed to be tried.

Throughout the ordeal I had the distinct impression that this woman was hunting my client.  I can only imagine how trapped like a caged animal he felt.  My firm was the only thing standing between this possessed woman and my client's annihilation.  If she had her way, my client would have been crushed under her heal in eternity.

So, despite his worst fears that it might not ever happen, today my client got his divorce.

Now he is liberated. 

His long nightmare is finally over.  The woman who had her clutches, nails, whatever, dug into him for so many years, no longer has that hold on him. 

Tonight he is popping the champagne, just beginning to sense his independence.  His full blown knowledge of freedom will take a long time to set in.  But for tonight, the first taste is so, so sweet. 

Happy Divorce Day, buddy.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nowhere to hide.

I've been pondering whether I want to comment on the California Federal Court's decision to hold Proposition 8 unconstitutional.  I guess this blog means that I decided I would.

I followed the case somewhat closely.  I read synopses of the trial on many days.  Unless the Judge were an activist judge who wanted to rule based upon his bias, the result was a forgone conclusion, based upon the evidence at trial.

In a nut shell, the witnesses for Prop 8 had firmly held opinions about how everyone should live, but no facts.  And one sect's demands for how everyone in our nation should live will often violate the constitution. 

I had the same scenario in the Evolution trial.  The School Board trotted out all manner of die hard opponents to evolution.  Each one more fervent than the last that students should not be taught evolution because, they claimed, it was innacurate, it was against God's law, it was a liberal conspiracy...  But to a one, the witnesses had their conclusions, but no facts.

And when you are on the witness stand, being grilled in cross examination, conclusions are a thread-bare blanket which provides no cover at all. 

Our trial process is a great one for discovering truth.  It is still the best method humankind has ever developed.  Liars and blowhards are given no quarter on the stand.  Their a priori conceptions, their biases, their prejudiced judgments are laid bare in the brilliant light of cross examination.

So in the Proposition 8 trial, like the Evolution trial, conclusions devoid of facts fell flat.  Truth, not bias, won the day.  And the country is a better place because it is fact based, not prejudiced based.

And like the country, the family has a chance to be a better place because under the brilliant light of cross examination, where there is nowhere to hide, truth, not fiction, not prejudice, not bias, wins out.  And the brilliant light of truth is always a good thing.

Michael Manely