Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Summer Camp

In the midst of divorce, in the height of crisis and turmoil day after day, locked in the throes of litigation and courtroom battles, one right after the other, you might wonder how my small army of elite litigators keep their heads straight.

They don't.

No, really, they do.  I was just making that up.

We try to lead normal lives even though we take home with us the experiences that our clients share and the knowledge we glean from day after day courtroom battles. 

For example, this week, when I get the chance, I'm looking at summer camps.  I have three children, all  boys.  The two oldest are a long way from the days of summer camps, but my youngest is definitely down for some cool summer experiences.  And I am knee deep in assessing our summer options for his bright and inquiring mind. 

We have our usual standbys that I wouldn't think of leaving out, a week of sports camp, a week of nature camp, even a week of art camp which he has taken to, but what about the remaining weeks of the summer?  Sure, vacation will occupy a week, maybe two if we're real lucky, but since my wife and I both work, we want to provide him with enhanced learning opportunities, though I wouldn't begrudge him a few weeks just lazing around being bored during the hazy days of summer.

And how about you?  Summer comes whether we are ready or not. Summer comes and we've got to get organized for our kids. Our kids look to us to carry on as usual, no matter the trials, tribulations or ordeals we may be privately facing. 

And, in a sense, that's a very good thing.  Our kids help us stay centered, focused on the long term, focused on the good things. I think we need them every bit as much as they need us.

Bless our kids in every way and may their summers be wonderful.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Legal Time

Clients almost always ask me how long their case will take.  Of course, each case is somewhat unique and will have its own timetable, but many cases fall into somewhat predictable schedules.  The overall determinant is how long does the opposition want to fight?

I'll explain that.

I believe I have written before and will probably write again that a Cobb County Judge says a good family lawyer can tell you how a judge will rule 95% of the time.  I agree with this Judge wholeheartedly.

Given that reality, I always cut to the chase, predict the outcome and work expeditiously toward that end.  Consequently, we could often settle a case for the right result extremely quickly and would but for a myriad of factors that do not have to do with our time frame, but those of the parties, opposing counsel or the judge.  Most often it is the opposing party's timeframe that delays the resolution of the case.

Sometimes the case is too fresh to settle.  By that I mean that the end result is known to the attorneys but the parties need time to adjust to the new scenario, to life under the new reality.  That time needs to be honored because forcing an end will cause more heartbreak and disruption, will add salt to wounds.

But as I wrote, oftentimes it is the opposing party who is delaying the agenda.  Usually it is because they just aren't done fighting yet, or they think that if they delay it just one more month, they'll get a different outcome. 

Every now and then a case is so convoluted and mired in years of documents and well entrenched enmity, that it takes some time and a lot of effort to sort it all out.  I once represented a fellow who just finished explaining to me how his case took 12 years to develop into the rather bad situation he now faced.  Then he asked why we hadn't finished his case in the month and a half since he hired us.  If 12 years of history have built up, it may take us a little while to sort out the issues and fix the morass.

Without additional complication, time frames run as follows:

The shortest time in which you can obtain a divorce is 31 days after your spouse is served with the Complaint and Summons or your spouse's Acknowledgment of Service is filed.  Georgia is very non paternalistic in this matter.  My hat's off to our fair state for that enlightened view.

Contested divorces will often last between four and six months. 

Custody cases will often last between six months to a year.

Modification of child support cases will often conclude within three months.

Contempt cases can often conclude within two months.

Again, this is with all going according to plan.  While you can appear on most judge's calendars within about 30 days, there are a few judges who cannot schedule a hearing within 90 days.  If the opposing party wants to frustrate discovery, which is a losing battle in itself, a case can take longer.  If the opposing counsel has a leave of absense the case can take longer.  Still, this timeline is roughly accurate and provides a benchmark for most cases.

Still, with all this said, legal time feels like it takes forever.  There is little that is quick in law.  But, given time, the result can be quite good.

Michael Manely

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Hypocritical Oath

Family life is a microcosm of the larger world.  What suffices for politics at home plays out in the public arena as well.  John Edwards, for example.

And so it goes with hypocrisy.  Is it cynical to say you should doubt anyone who holds themselves out as virtuous?  But, rather than eschew the virtuous, I'd like to see us get beyond claimed virtue and into virtuous conduct.  This is an example of walk the walk.  Talk the talk is a terrible waste of time and probably a huge red flag of hypocrisy in action. It's likely that he who claims virtue hasn't any.

Rather than express concern for our children, we should care for our children.  Our actions should be readily discerned as being in their best interests.  I, for one, like the idea of children having health insurance that cannot be denied.  I like the safety to the children and to the families that that coverage affords. 

Rather than lie prostrate in piety seeking salvation for young souls, I'd rather have clergy not brutalizing their young charges.   I'd rather see the denominational leaders act swiftly and decisively ostracizing and even excommunicating clergy who clearly don't believe in an afterlife, given the content of their conduct.  Rather than spending meager family fortunes on religious icons as emblematic of the bread of life, I'd like to see parents provide real bread and milk for their hungry children. 

Rather than claiming you are all in favor of our children's futures, I'd rather have you take aggressive steps to provide air that doesn't choke children's lungs and water that is more than just a medium for moving manufacturing chemicals downstream.  Rather than decry that the spouse you once proclaimed you'd spend the rest of your life with is now the devil in disguise, hell bent on sending your children to ruin, I'd like to see you turn off your tv, so the marketers who perceive your children as consumers rather than children, no longer have access to them.

I also don't like spending the family's money on strip clubs while you are claiming that your children are the most important thing in the world to you.

Call me crazy.

Hypocrisy reigns in the halls of congress and in the pulpits across America.  But hypocrisy reigns in softer tones in living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms each and every day.  I know that the quality of life improves with each degree of hypocrisy exposed and rooted out, regardless of its source.

I pray we all root out hypocrisy in our hearts, in our homes and in our homeland.

Michael Manely

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Parenting Classes

Most of our counties now require divorcing parents to take parenting classes.  Thes classes are usually taught in a seminar format that lasts up to eight hours.  During the seminars, the instructors teach the parents about the issues that children usually face in a divorce and how to best manage them.  The class also provides some skills on co-parenting. 

Sometimes a client will express some degree of outrage or at least exasperation at having to take the class.  "Who is this big brother telling me how to raise my kids.  I've been doing it just fine for years now." 

I want to stay with that thought for a moment.

Unless you settle your case, the judge will make a decision about your kids.  While judges prefer not to, they will make custody decisions when called upon to do so.  And when they make custody decisions, judges have to apply some rubric for determining the best interest of the child, the better parent for custody.  You wouldn't want the judge to be arbitrary.  Judges tend to have fairly common standards though some have strong pet peeves.

If you don't settle your case, you are asking big brother to make the decision.  Don't you want to know how the judge sees the world?  Don't you want to know what the judge thinks is normal?  You are far more realistic to expect the judge to rule a consistent way than expect the judge to conform to your particular and perhaps unique view of the world.

Before you go throwing down the gauntlet on custody, you want all the parenting classes you can get.  You want access to the instruction manual. You even want plenty of individualized instruction to ensure that your methods of parenting conform to the norm with which the judge is most comfortable.  You want to be able to speak the judge's language. 

Of course, you do have an option.  You can learn how to prevail or you can tilt at windmills to convince the judge of the error of her ways, and good luck with that.  That choice is competely yours.

Me, I like to prevail.

Michael Manely 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Revenge is a dish which is best served cold.

Last night I wrote about plotting spouses having a special place in hell reserved.  Tonight I write about how plotting can be your best strategy.

As with all of life, whether it is ethical or moral to plot is a judgment call.  In tonight's scenario, you get the notion that your spouse is seeing someone else.  Maybe they're hyper sensitive about you being in proximity to their cell phone.  Maybe they have unaccounted for hours.  But you have a hunch.  What do you do?

First you need to decide if you care to confirm your suspicions.  Does it matter if they are definitely committing adultery?  Do you really want out anyway?  Even if you are leaving, are you the kind of person who needs to know just for your sense of balance?  If so, then you should confirm.

Don't expect your spouse to come clean when you ask them.  They don't.  They usually don't confess when you confront them.  They will often have an excuse, no matter how paltry, even if you have an 8x12 glossy of them deep in the throes.  They won't confirm.  You need another strategy.

You need to catch them.

Private Investigators are the time honored method of catching cheating spouses.  I swear by them.  If you can tailor their work to specific times when your spouse is most likely to be stepping out, private investigators can be reasonably affordable. But that isn't your only recourse. 

Back to my point: you've decided you want or need to confirm.  Perhaps your need stems from your legal situation.   Perhaps your spouse will likely seek alimony from the divorce and you feel that your spouse shouldn't feed off of you while dining at someone else's table.

Adultery is a bar to receiving alimony.

If your spouse is cheating, they cannot prosper.  You don't have to pay alimony to an unfaithful spouse.

This is the occasion to plot, to plan, to marshal your evidence before you announce your intentions.  This strategy is fair game.  Why?  Because your spouse has plotted against you to engage in her relationship with her paramour and expects an unjust reward based upon her deceipt. 

You can right that wrong. It's ethical, moral and legal.

The title to tonight's installment may be a bit strong.  It's a James Bond reference.  But it speaks volumes for having patience to accomplish your objectives.  It speaks to the fortitude you have to have while you are collecting the evidence you need to ensure that justice prevails.  Your revenge, the cessation of your gravy train, is best and most certainly delivered, long after your blood has ceased to boil, but has chilled in your veins. 

Okay, that's a bit strong, too.  But this is a serious business.  And it is no less serious than the situation you face, if this is your situation.  Serious times call for serious measures.  I won't excuse it.  I don't have to justify it.  I just have to prove it. But then, that's what I do.

Michael Manely

Monday, March 22, 2010

The spouse who lies in waiting.

When you finish contemplating your divorce, you do one of two things: you hire a family law lawyer to begin the process immediately, or you get yourself organized in preparation for hiring a family law lawyer to begin the process.

Many people need to plan somewhat.  They might need to put a little money aside.  They might need to organize their next place of abode.  They might need to prepare the children in whatever form feels right to them.

Many people need to plan somewhat, but there is a special place in hell for the spouse who lies in waiting.

Most of what I have written thus far can be chalked up to "peoples will be peoples," kind of a forgiving look at the exploits of married people.  People make mistakes, they don't handle their actions as well as their better angels might advocate.  But the people I'm talking about are the spouses who decide to divorce and then spend months, and in some cases years, plotting the downfall of their impending ex before they pull the trigger.

The plotting spouse is a real enemy under your roof.  The plotting spouse creates opportunities by creating a false sense of trust in the relationship.  You don't see it coming because your spouse doesn't want you to. You get blind sided because that's the battle plan.  Often, you even get set  up, literally, and you don't realize the trap until it has long been sprung.   Not infrequently I have to explain the trap to my client because of how sucked in my client has gotten to the false trust in the relationship with the plotting spouse.  When the realization sets in the effects can be emotionally devastating.

This plotting is the worst form of treachery. 

It is also devastating because the client is in shock for a long time afterward, unable to mobilize an effective defense and already so far behind in a fair presentation of their evidence that justice may seem insurmountable.

But, like I said, there is a special place in hell reserved for these plotters.  And not only will karma catch up with them and make them rue the day, I will too.

Michael Manely

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Different clients, different needs.

Tonight's Blog entry comes from Elizabeth Marum, Associate Attorney with The Manely Firm, P.C.


The Family Law attorney is part advisor, part counselor and part bodyguard.  There is no question that divorces are difficult. Even the seemingly amicable uncontested divorces are bound to cause stresses, emotional anguish and financial hardship on all the parties involved.  No matter which way you look at it, whether you are getting freedom from a situation you wanted out of or whether you feel you are being abandoned; in the end, you have lost someone that played a significant role in your life.  It is even more difficult when children are involved and will suffer the fallout.

With each case, there comes a different client with different needs, different styles and different expectations.  It is our job to learn how to work with each person that walks through the “Family Law Firm” door because no two are alike.

There are those clients who decide they want a specific result and place the whole “baby” in their attorney’s hands.   These clients are responsive and interactive in the process, but may have difficulty when it comes time to make a decision.  Overwhelmed in the process and stresses, they turn to their attorney asking the attorney to do “whatever you think is best.”  In this case, we attorneys must remind our clients that this is their life, their world and their decision.  We can advise the client of the different paths they can take and try to predict the outcome, but ultimately it is the client’s decision and the client’s decisions only.  We cannot make a choice for them.

Then there are those who want to control all the tiny, little details of their case.  While we encourage clients to take an active role in such a pivotal change in their life, there is a reason they have hired an attorney.  This is when the attorney must remind the client that we are here not only to advise of legal rights, but to buffer the client from the day-to-day, stressful minutia of domestic litigation.  We cannot completely erase the effects of such a tumultuous period of life, but we can do our best to keep many of these stresses off your radar.

Our role as your attorneys is to help you through these difficult times.  We navigate the complex procedural processes that often seem convoluted and unnecessary.  We are here to protect your legal interests.  We are here to be your bodyguard and remove as much anxiety from your life as possible.

Elizabeth Marum


Thursday, March 18, 2010

"We've grown apart."

I've been thinking through the machinations of the pre-divorce process, all of the dance that leads up to parting ways and making it legal.

There are many roads that people take to get to a divorce.  Few of them are open and above board, but they are still pathways to accomplish the objective of separation.  I have been told that most people get divorced because of financial difficulties.  After over 20 years of working with people about their reasons for getting a divorce, I don't think that's true.

Couples may have different ways of handling their finances.  Financial difficulties are certainly stressful and can put a strain on a marriage, but, in the early days of a relationship, I think our experience tells us that some spark is in the relationship that makes the financial difficulties manageable, something that makes them shared.  That something is what leaves a relationship.  The lack of that something is what causes divorce.

Consider some of the other reasons people get divorced.  Perhaps it is adultery.  Are the couple getting divorced because of adultery, the act of sleeping with another person?  I think that is putting the cart before the horse, if you'll pardon the imagery.  For the "adulterer" its as if the relationship was peachy and then, whoops, I committed adultery.  That just doesn't ring true.  Accidental adultery rarely happens.  People fall out of love and become interested in playing the field again, then adultery happens.  By the time adultery happens, the adulterer is already long gone from the marriage.

And for the aggrieved spouse, would you say that you would have your spouse back but for her adultery?  Imagine your spouse the moment before the adultery, the hour before the adultery, perhaps the week before the adultery.  In all these times, steps were taken, wittingly or unwittingly, to have sex outside the marriage.  Is that what you want back?  If you knew your spouse's heart a minute, an hour and a week before the act, wouldn't you say that you don't want to be married to someone who is as unattached to your marriage as your spouse was?

How about addictions?  I'm certainly not such a moralist as to assert that if the addicted spouse were really committed to the relationship they would stop their addictive behavior.  But, from the addicted spouse's perspective, there is something more important to them than their relationship: their addiction.  Whether the addiction is a choice or not, it is how the addicted spouse is living their life, committed to something more significant than their spouse.

From the other spouse's perspective, do you want to remain married to someone who is more committed to their addiction than to you?  Perhaps you thought you signed on " sickness and in health...," but does that mean "in enabling" too? 

In short, people sometimes, offtimes, grow apart.  As the phrase goes, the spark is gone and love dies.

I wonder and often assert that if spouses could take themselves back in time, before the act that brought the house of cards down, if they could say at that moment to their spouse, "I release you," then I suspect some of the anguish and anger could be removed from the process.  The pain would remain, but it would be more melancholy than harsh and raw.

After a period of time, unique to each person, the perceived cause of the divorce dies away and the couple often relate as though they had grown apart anyway. 

"We've grown apart" feels a lot less accusatory.  If severing the relationship is inevitable, isn't a lot less accusatory a preferable way to go?

Michael Manely

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Other tasks

It has been a while since I ventured here to leave a reflection or two. 

Since my last entry, I've spent the better part of a week in Continuing Legal Education classes studying general trial techniques.  Considering that successful family law attorneys are in court second only to prosecutors, averaging four to five hearings a week, I knew this was an excellent CLE to attend, and the General Practice and Trial Section of the State Bar did not disapoint.

After that, I have been researching and writing a paper I delivered today on International Custody for the Family Law bar.  I was quite privileged to be asked to deliver this paper.  It is always an honor to speak before such distinguished attorneys. 

I lectured on what we call the Hague Convention, also known as the International Convention on Child Abduction.  I have handled perhaps more cases than most other attorneys so I have become fairly fluent in Hague actions, procedures and strategies.  It was a great pleasure to bring my skills to the service of the Family Law bar.

I'll get back in the throws tomorrow.  I already look forward to it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Like Client, Like Counsel

I always advise potential clients to speak to as many attorneys as they need to, until they find one with whom they are comfortable.  "Shop around," I advise them.

Here's the fundamental reason to talk to several lawyers: there will come at least one time in your case when much is on the line and a decision has to be made.  You will feel like this is an earth shaking decision, with  the right decision leading to your goals being realized and the wrong decision leading to ruin.  In that moment, you need your attorney's best judgment, his most sound advice.  And when he gives that advice, you want to trust that his advice is correct. 

If you have retained the attorney with whom you have the greatest rapport, you will most likely hear and follow his advice.  You will most likely feel comfortable and secure with the decision you make.  This simpatico keeps your legal team together and helps you stay focused.  This "being on the same page" moves you toward accomplishing your goals.

Often, I see this maxim play out in court.  Like client, like counsel.  If the party is brash, harsh and rude, she will likely find an attorney that shares those traits.  If a party can't tell the truth to save their lives, often his counsel is similarly challenged.  Not to get too offensive but it reminds me of those studies about the similar appearance of dogs and their owners. 

I find that most of my clients are honest, sincere people who truly want the best for their families, but they have the wisdom to not want the worst for themselves.  Perhaps that good judgment is why they pick me.  But I would say that, wouldn't I?

Bottom line?  Shop around until you feel secure.

 Georgia Bar Guide on Selecting Counsel

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It's nice to have an army.

I was watching the office hum today, all hands on deck, when I thought, "it's nice to have an army."

Like most family law lawyers, I spent years in the wilderness of sole practitionership.  That's a hard life and my hat is off to the multitudes who still attempt it. The bottom line is you are on your own.  Whatever comes down the pike comes down on you and you alone.  And all the fire power you can give is equally, just your own.

So as I was watching everyone busy, helping all of our clients, working toward each client's resolution day in a most constructive way, I was so thankful to be surrounded by so many talented and dedicated people.

Our neighbors down the hall in the Marietta office asked it well, "how do you get so many good people to work with you?" 

Just lucky, I guess.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Suffer the little children

Our culture famously testifies to its concern for the children, but I wonder how different our culture would be if we actually acted with consideration for our children's futures.

It seems that we would fund education.  It seems we would eliminate pollution.   It seems we would not spend our children's future. It seems we would preserve the planet to leave the Earth better than it was when we inherited it.

It seems that we would provide for the children, not only so that they could be sheltered and be fed, but so that they could grow in happier, more productive homes. 

Children are exposed to a lot.  Children pretty much are exposed to everything.  From the toxic waste we belch into the air to the toxic waste we broadcast on all channels, children are the repositories of all bad things.  It is our true gift to them. 

And children are exposed to the toxic waste at home as well.

At home, children are exposed to family conflict.  It is inevitable that families have conflict.  But does the conflict resolve?  Does the conflict resolve positively?  Do the parties kiss and make up?  Do they expressly agree to disagree but live together in loving community? 

Does the conflict resolve negatively?  Do the parties resolve that their differences are too great to remain in  close community? Or does one party resolve that they will no longer suffer the outrages of the other?

Under both scenarios, children learn conflict resolution.  They learn productive choices.  They learn that they can impact their lives, choose better and therefore live better. 

Or does the conflict not resolve?  Does the conflict remain to be battled day after day?  Whether the conflict is heated or the house is engaged in a never ending cold war, the children live this endless drama of anger and of loneliness, of despair and hopelessness.  This life they learn is the life they will live.
It seems that if we cared about the children, we'd make their lives better.  And leaving them in an endless state of war isn't better for anyone. 

Showing our children that we can make positive choices which improves our lives enables them to make positive choices for themselves, and one day, their children.

Isn't that what we want?

Michael Manely

Monday, March 1, 2010

When the blood boils

Few relationships move from passion to disolution without tempers flaring at several points along the way.  Saying hurtful things, doing hurtful things is par for the course of that journey and perhaps how we ease the separation from each other. Hurtful acts certainly provide proof for the argument of ending it all.

But what about those spouses that really do seek to "end it all," and usually with their spouse in tow?  Trying to decipher the mind of the lunatic taking his wife's life and then his own is probably like trying to decipher the mind of a jihadi. There's no sense to it. It's wicked.

Domestic violence is a common occurrence.  Typical court domestic violence calendars are packed each week with partner on partner violence. 

Far more often than not, partners want to forgive a blow in anger from someone they love. People lose their tempers.  People can do terrible things to each other.  Each person has to decide how many terrible things they are willing to endure.  Will you tolerate getting shoved?  Will you tolerate getting slapped?  Will you tolerate getting punched once?  Twice?  Three times? 

Whenever I can, I try to help people take the subjective to an objective level.  In this case, it means setting a benchmark, a line in the sand that you commit to yourself cannot be breached without permanent consequences.  When not in the heat of the moment, when the blood is most cool, determine your level of tolerance.  Set a clear boundary.  "I'll only let him hit me twice."  "I'll only let her scratch me three times."  After that, there can be no recovery, no going back, no next opportunity to repeat the crime.  And once you've set that benchmark, promise yourself that you will adhere to it.  Promise yourself that if that threshold ever gets breached, you will follow through, leave and never come back. 

From all that I have observed, the murderous lunatic has seldom suddenly gone over the cliff.  He's been skirting the edge of it for a long time.  His conduct, particularly to those closest to him, was fairly predictable for quite a while.  The partners who are those victims are usually the partners who didn't get away.

It sounds too simple: set benchmarks, follow through.  But I've found this approach to be an ironclad way to finally end the abuse and to live to see another day.

Michael Manely