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

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