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