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