Sunday, November 20, 2011

Unbundling in Georgia? Really?

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause.

I have been writing, however, not in this forum.  Check out the new blog, attached to our web site at

Tonight's post tells about how The Manely Firm, P.C. is announcing that Unbundling is available for Family Law Services in Georgia and we know this because we are the first firm in Georgia to offer them!

What is unbundling?  Follow the link to see...

Michael Manely

Monday, March 28, 2011

International Society of Family Law

We've recently returned from nearly a week in Nassau, Bahamas, where we attended a conference of the International Society of Family Law, of which we are members.

The Conference concerned "The Legal and Social Consequences of the Disintegration and Reconstitution of Families."  We spent several days listening to the presentation of papers from distinguished jurists, professors, practitioners and social service providers on this subject.

Since the Conference was held in the Caribbean, far and away the largest group of attendees and presenters came from Caribbean nations.  Other attendees and presenters came from as far away as Sweden and Serbia.  Britain was particularly well represented.

We learned much, mingled much and ate much.  We met many, many new people in our larger community.  We were graced by the distinctly different accents from the many Caribbean islands.  We were treated to high state dinners and exquisite sun sets while the Defense Forces Band played on into the night.

If you would like to peruse the Programme you can find it here:

I'll write much more about this Conference in the weeks to come, but tonight I want to sum it all up in little more than a thought.  What we learned, first and foremost is that families and family issues are the same everywhere.  And I do mean everywhere.  The Judges in Trinidad are dealing with the exact same issues as the Judges in Fulton County.  The approaches to family issues of the Judges in Serbia and London are the same as the Judges in Cobb County.  The remedies employed by the Judges in Grenada are the same as the remedies employed by the Judges in Gwinnett County.

Bottom line: people are people and families are families no matter where you go.  It was a wonderful confirmation of a guiding principle in our practice.

Michael Manely

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Termination of Parental Rights: love them or lose them.

Children.  Yours.  Do you love them?  Do you want them?  Do you take care of them?

Almost every one of you answered, "Yes, of course!" As if that were a silly series of questions.

But people are made differently.  Some people have stronger parenting genes or drives than others. Some folks obsess about their kids.  Some folks don't give them a second thought.  In my practice I see the gamut.  This blog post is about those who want to have their cake and eat it too.

Regular readers of this blog know that I posit neither gender as having exclusive title to parent of the year.  But when it comes to private termination of parental rights, I run into this issue besetting fathers far more than mothers.  

The issue arises some time after the mother has remarried, long after moving on from the father of the children.  The new couple have been raising the children together, far more as though they were the children's mother and father, rather than mother and step-father.  The couple consult with me to discuss the possibility of the step-father adopting the children.  However, before the step-father can adopt the children, the biological father's parental rights have to be terminated.

From a legal and practical standpoint, there are three issues to address to terminate a biological father's parental rights.  Two of them must be true.  The third is a nice icing on the cake.

One, has the biological father provided no support for the children for a protracted period of time?  A year is good.  Three years is better.

Two, has the biological father failed to contact the children for a protracted period of time?  Again, a year is good.  Three is better.  And the complete absence of contact is better than the occasional Christmas or Birthday card and present.

Three, is there something particularly bad about the biological father?  Is he in jail?  Has he done time for violent crimes or significant drug violations?  Did the mother and biological father separate because of domestic violence?  Did the biological father abuse the children?

If all three apply, the odds are exceptionally strong that the judge who decides the children's fate will choose to terminate the biological father's parental rights.

But so often in these cases when the couple petitions the court to terminate the biological father's parental rights, the biological dad gets a sudden case of "my babies" and wants to swoop in to express his undying affection, affinity and affiliation with his long estranged children.

Here's where the discretion of the trial judge comes in.  The good trial judge will take a Sergeant Friday approach seeking, "just the facts, m'am."  The drama takes a back seat to the reality on the ground.  But some judges get caught up in the draconian aspect of the death sentence of termination of parental rights and give that biological dad just one more chance.

So, if you are a biological dad and your ex has moved on to a real swell who is sweeping your children off of their feet, get busy.  Show your children you love them.  Show them that you are constantly thinking about them.  Pay support.  Don't miss visitation.  And if you can't keep up that schedule, if you can't foot the bill the State of Georgia decided was necessary to raise healthy children into responsible adulthood, seriously consider where you're coming from and what is in the children's long term best interest.

In a perfect world, the children's divorced daddy is very much an integral part of their lives, just as much as the divorced mommy.   The kids continue to be loved and protected by both parents.  But if one parent is voluntarily absent, let the children fill that void with someone blessed with a stronger parenting gene.

They are your children.  But you have to love them or you will certainly lose them.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A closed mind; a closed heart.

I often write about how you must know as much as possible about the Judge who will decide your fate.  It is important for your attorney to have face time with that Judge.  It is important for your attorney to have a history with that Judge.  But this knowledge doesn't just come from being pro-active and engaged in events close to the judiciary, this knowledge also comes from the school of hard knocks, the school of unfortunate results.  Lessons learned the hard way.  Losses that were unforeseen.

Some time back I tried a case as good as a case can be tried.  My trial team left no effort in the war room; everything was spent on the court room floor.  We had uncovered the opposing party's hidden bank accounts, stolen property, misappropriated business and malicious scheming of the highest order.  We had documents condemning her by her own hand.  We had testimony from those who knew her best and outed her lies in the clearest terms.  We had photographs irrefutably proving her perjury on every level.

The opposition "phoned in" their case.  They conducted no investigation.  They provided little discovery.  They made a paltry effort.  Their case consisted of the most base innuendo, mere suggestions, nothing that would constitute proof in any serious court of law.  Their accusations were easily dis-proven by hard evidence, the veracity of which even they eventually had to concede.

But the trial judge hammered us.  The judge decided the case based upon bias and bias alone.  As I was told from the bench, "These people lie.  It's what they do."  "These people," are originally from another nation.  Theirs is a nation that has a perceptibly high percentage of people who engage in fraud.  But, for example, if you knew that more people per capita from Ukraine sped than from any other nation, a judge should not find a Ukrainian guilty of speeding without some evidence of the crime committed.  "Sir, your countrymen speed, therefore you sped."  That is not allowed.  That is not good judging.  That is not American Justice.

But I learned.  This judge has a bias streak a mile wide and a fathom deep. This judge had a closed mind and a closed heart. Evidence doesn't enter into it.  Don't bring a client from a perceived discredited population before this judge and expect the evidence to control the outcome.  Now I counsel my clients who fit that bill to use another method to resolve their matter if justice is what they seek.

Lesson learned the hard way.  And as you can probably tell, I'm still not over it. I always demand Justice, America style whether the judge will give it to me or not.  And given the reality I learned in that court room, I won't let another client climb that sacrificial alter to judicial bias.

Know your judge, open mind, closed mind or indifferent mind.  It can't help but improve the outcome.

Michael Manely

Monday, March 7, 2011

“The Best Interests of the Children” and the Guardian Ad Litem

Today's blog post is scribed by Jeremy Abernathy.


This oft used phrase refers to the standard the Court must apply in making decisions for cases involving children.  The General Assembly intentionally left the standard vague because there are a sundry of factors that weigh into what is best for a particular child.  Each case has separate facts and circumstances that add a degree of complexity to this standard, and uniqueness as to how the standard is applied.  The Judge does not have the advantage of having a “cookie cutter” formula in making decisions affecting the health and welfare of the child.  

The Judge has to sift through the divorcing parties’ warring viewpoints of case resolution relative to child custodial issues.  Further, the Judge must decipher which allegations are genuine or without merit.  The attorneys are often wrapped up in zealously arguing their clients’ perspective of what is in the children’s best interests.  Everyone’s job is tough, and unfortunately, what can get lost are the children.

The Court, however, has assistance available.  The Court, under Uniform Superior Court Rule 24.9 can appoint a  guardian ad litem.  The guardian ad litem serves as an “extension of the Court’s eyes and ears.”  The guardian can visit the home of the children; interview the teachers of the children; interview a party’s new spouse or mate.  There are limitless ways in which the guardian can assist the trier of fact, so therefore, guardians profoundly affect the case.

Consequently, it is important to be courteous and respectful to the guardian.  The tried and true old adage about kindness applies here: “you catch more bees with honey than vinegar.”  An additional adage equally applies:  “kindness is the first step to cruelty.”  The balance must be struck between respect for the guardian and also, challenging the guardian to be accountable and thorough in their very important function.

In conclusion, there are many factors that weigh into what is in the best interests of a child.  The factors vary from case to case.  A guardian ad litem assists the Court in reaching its decision.  Therefore, guardian should be treated with high regard, but also challenged in a cordial manner to provide the Court a complete picture.

Jeremy Abernathy

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A New Chair!

I write here about weighty issues that dominate peoples' lives.  I write here about the pain suffered when one parent brutalizes another with their children as the weapon of choice. I write here about seeking, demanding and obtaining justice for Georgia families.

But tonight, I write about my new chair.

As you know, The Firm has four offices, so I have several chairs.  These chairs are critical to my life.  Even though I'm in court quite often, like most office bound workers I spend an inordinate amount of time sitting down in my chair.  I'd say I come close to spending as much time in my chair as I do in my bed.  (I don't really get much sleep if you are doing the math.)  So chairs are really important.

Today I bought, built and sat in for the first time a new chair for my Atlanta office.  It is a beautiful leather chair, rather roomy, rather well appointed, solid, firm and soft, all at the same time.  Though evening was rolling in and darkness was falling outside, I could scarcely pry myself away from that luxurious throne, a veritable monument to the glories of desk work.

It was expertly engineered, a cinch to assemble, taking barely more than 15 minutes, and even came with its own Allen wrench.  The instructions were clear in English, French and Spanish (I'm trusting they were clear in French and Spanish).  The casters glided flawlessly across the ancient hard wood floor of that glorious space (not that I did an inordinate amount of gliding, mind you.)

As I sat in my chair, my feet were inexorably drawn up to my desk (it's actually more of a table), where they rested, one atop the other as I kicked back in resplendent splendor, basking deeply in the comfort of this leather creation as the evening crept on.  So there I sat and there I dreamed of the exquisite briefs I would draft in the years ahead, supported by the fine work of art which cradled me.

Viva la chair!

Michael Manely

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

International Family Law

As regular readers already know, my firm handles many International Family Law cases.  These cases most often center on the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction ("Hague Convention").  I have yet to find any firm in Georgia that handles more Hague Convention cases than we do.  We didn't start out to become an international family law behemoth, it just turned out that way.  If you read the article on the "In the News" page on the website regarding Andrew Bowey and Google the issue, you'll see the case that catapulted us into the International Family Law arena and into the international press spotlight.

Since then, we've handled cases on every continent except Antarctica.  We've developed relationships with cooperating counsel all around the world.  We've rescued children from the far reaches of the globe such as Cyprus and China and kept them from being carried off to countries such as Nigeria and Brazil.  Fortunately, now it seems that if someone is searching for an International Family Law attorney in Georgia, they will come knocking on our door.

Because of our extensive work in International Family Law and Hague Convention cases, John Marshall Law School kindly invited me to speak on the subject today at a Continuing Legal Education Seminar they presented to the State Bar.  The event was well attended.  I saw many of my present and former opposing counsels in the audience.  Joining me on the dais were Karen Brown Williams who has worked as a Guardian ad Litem on a number of International Family Law cases, Randy Kessler and Marvin Solomiany of Kessler, Schwartz, a very high end family law firm that practices downtown, and two professors from John Marshal, including Jeffrey Van Detta.

We discussed our experiences both legal and diplomatic in the international arena.  We discussed "Habitual Residence" and the substantive absence of any "Best Interest of the Child" test extensively.  I discussed the Grave Risk of Harm defense with the two prong test often overlooked by opposing counsel.  I also discussed the pleasure of trying cases in foreign countries with exceptional co-counsel.  Randy talked about acquiring a bond before a foreign spouse was allowed to travel with the children; Karen talked about Japan's hostile position to the Hague Convention. Marvin talked about the intensity demanded in a Hague Convention proceeding. We all debated whether it was best to have a speedy hearing in Hague Convention cases in which the removing party has had months if not years to plan, scheme and create evidence in order to win the case when the left-behind party is, at best, frantically reacting to the surprise abduction and not at all ready to win at what amounts to a legal ambush.  (Can you tell which side I argued?)

All in all it was an information packed event.  It was good to share observations with collegues in the hopes of raising the bar for the Bar in the presentation of International Family Law cases.

I've been asked to present on the same subject in May to a State-wide gathering of Family Law Attorneys when we convene on Amelia Island for our annual conference.  It is a great honor to be recognized as a leading advocate for such a complex, critical and growing field of law.  It is a great honor to be entrusted to ensure the return of so may abducted little children.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Do Grandparents Matter?

Tonight's guest blogger is none other than our own, Kairi Smith Gure.

I recently met with a lady, a grandmother, seeking information about getting visitation with her grandson. At one time, Grandparent visitation was a pretty hot topic in the legal community because of all of the constitutional fundamental rights that are implicated at the mention of someone other than the biological parents having rights concerning their child.  The state of Georgia has decided that Grandparents will be granted visitation when it is “in the best interest of the child” to do so.

So, I guess that becomes the question; when is it in the best interest of the child for a Grandparent to have visitation with the child against the wishes of the parent?  I am not talking about situations where the parents are neglectful or harmful to the child in some way.  In those cases the Grandparents would be able to gain custody of the child, not just visitation.  When the parents are NOT bad parents is there ever a reason to usurp the parents authority and award a Grandparent visitation?

Being a parent myself I didn’t like the idea of someone telling me what is best for my child, so when I first learned of courts granting Grandparents visitation I thought it was wrong.  But then I began to think about it in terms of the best interest of the child standard. When I think about the added benefit to most children’s lives from maintaining a relationship with their Grandparents it makes sense.  The standard is the best interest of the child, not the best interest of the parent's ego.

In the case of the lady that I met, she had raised her grandson when his teenage mother, the lady's daughter, became overwhelmed with young motherhood and asked her to take over.  Now, ten years later, her daughter is stable, married and, like Grandmother and her daughter had planned, is parenting her child again. All was fine until the Grandmother's daughter's husband decided that Grandmother had too much influence in the life of the child and decided to cut the Grandmother off.  I listened to this lady tell me her story and felt bad; not just for her, but also for the eleven year old boy that was cut off from his Grandmother, the person who nurtured and raised him the first ten years of his life. I have to wonder if this lady’s daughter was thinking about what was best for her son when she decided that his Grandmother would be cut off from all contact with him, all because the step-father said so.

I don’t think that the daughter was.

Kairi Smith Gure

Monday, February 7, 2011

It is universal

I relate the stories that come through my office, the cases I've litigated, the successes and tragedies my clients have lived through.  Those stories are universal, they are experienced by everyone on some level, at some time. But the family law stories are not confined to my practice...

Yesterday I was at the gym, a place I visit far too infrequently, when I overheard a conversation between two gentlemen of moderate age.  Before you think I was eavesdropping, guys in a gym don't tend to share secrets as they pump iron, rather what they discuss they broadcast in semi-boisterous tones without regard, or sometimes with regard, for whether the nearby weight-lifters can listen in on the conversations.  It doesn't matter whether it is politics, sex (a frequent subject) or, pertinent to my story tonight, family.

What really captured my attention was that they were talking about their sons.  Having three myself, the subject is near and dear to my heart. Their sons were now grown.  The men had both been divorced when their sons were young.  The men related how they had gone through great difficulty with their sons, but with the passing of time, things were made right.

The first man was talking, "my wife and I split up when my boy was seven.  My wife was in a bad way at the time.  I got custody. Things were rocky, hard to manage, we got by I think mostly because I ran such a tight ship, tried to make it like clockwork. I think that kept me from going crazy in those days."

After awhile, my ex pretty much got her life back together.  She finally stayed in one place for longer than six months and found a job.  My boy and I were arguing more, he didn't like my rules, like, 'do your homework,' 'clean your room,' 'be back home by 9:00' kind of stuff.  So, when he was old enough, he decided to move to his mom's.  Broke my heart.  I mean, I shouldn't have minded so much since I'd had him for seven years but it broke my heart.  And he decided right after a big argument about whether he could stay out all night with a bunch of friends, including his little girl friend.  I said no.  His mom said she didn't see a problem with it and there you go, next thing you know, my boy's living with his mom. 

"We went through a few months where I couldn't look at him, it pissed me off so much.  Then it got better, he started coming over every now and then.  I kept up with him to see how he was doing in school.  Of course his grades were tanking, but then he was in ninth grade.  Anyway, two years pass, its the summer before he's a junior and he calls me up, asks me if we could have dinner together.  At dinner he says, 'I need to be a success, and I'm just not going to be a success at mom's house.  It's too disorganized.'  You could have floored me.  I felt like I was grinning all over my face.  He moved back in about two weeks before school started.  His mom thought that was probably best, too."

Then the other man shared, "my son's momma would fuss and cuss every time it was my weekend.  She'd come up with some excuse to keep him from me like, 'he's gotta study today' or 'he's gotta mow the lawn' or some such #&*%!."  (Talk runs like that at the gym.) "Got to where I couldn't break through, I couldn't keep her back long enough to see him when I was supposed to.

"Then he became a teenager and it got even worse.  He got all angry, sullen, accusing me of ditching his momma when it was she that filed for divorce.  Got to where he wouldn't even talk to me anymore, said he was too busy.  I never really lost track of him, I just barely saw him.  It became usual to where a few months would pass when I wouldn't see him.  That became the way it was.  So he drifted away from me.

"But now he's 22, a young man.  He's got a good girlfriend.  He's finished school.  And he wants to hang out with me.  Can you beat that?  He wants to hang out with me.  He was over the other day, I had my dad there too, and my son says to my dad, Grandpa, you raised a pretty good son.  I got so choked up I gave him another beer."

Time passes, wounds heal, wisdom grows.  At least it can.

Families are a fundamental reality, they are universal and their stories, our stories, are universal.  Good or bad they are a treasure for they are the stuff from which our riches are made.  There's a blog that's getting underway, The Twisted Family at  It is about blended, no twisted, families, our families.  Real people.  Real stories.  Our stories.  Check it out.

Full disclosure: my wife writes it.  Look out, she might write about our family from time to time. Enjoy.

Michael Manely

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Service of Process

That's a boring title.  Generally speaking, the subject matter is not much more thrilling.  But it is critical. It is essential.  It is the threshold issue to making a law suit a law suit.

The attorney can craft the most brilliant complaint every written, every cause of action spelled out to a "t," every fact intricately woven into the story capped by an ad damnum that brings tears to the Judge's eyes, but if you can't get the defendant served, you haven't got squat.

Service of process is about due process.  It is a fundamental, constitutional issue.  It is how the court becomes satisfied that the person you are suing has enough notice that he is being sued that you can get a judgment against him should he have the bad judgment to not respond to your complaint. If you get Service of the Process (the Complaint and Summons) then you get the defendant.  If you don't get Service of the Process then you are indeed tilting at windmills.  You have whole cloth and nothing more.

Different states have different rules about what constitutes Service of Process.  Some states allow Service of Process by First Class, United States Mail.  "Yeah, Judge.  I mailed it to her.  She knows to be here."  "Okay, sir.  I grant you the house, the cars, the kids and her bank account."  I don't think so.

I like Georgia's rules best because they provide the most likely guarantee that the Defendant has notice of the action.  Georgia requires personal service in most instances.  This means that the Defendant himself is actually handed the Process.  And not just handed the Process by any Tom, Dick or Harry, but by someone appointed by the Court to Serve Process.  This almost always is either a Sheriff's Deputy or a Private Process Server who has been specifically appointed by the Court to accomplish that result.

So, Service of Process is key.  Now on to the next issue.

Some Defendants like to hide out from Service of Process.  They play hard to get.  They figure if they lay low, the Plaintiff will just give up.  But why would the Plaintiff ever give up?  If it is a waiting game, Defendant is just forestalling the inevitable.  Like a fugitive, Defendant becomes a wanted man, hunted constantly, forever having to look over his shoulder for that outstretched arm with folded papers.  "Here you go, sir."  Will it happen at home, at 3:00 in the morning?  Will it happen at work during a critical staff meeting with the boss looking on?  Will it happen on a date just as the waiter pours the wine?  Will it happen at church just as the preacher calls for all sinners to come forth?  It's all over and all of Defendant's efforts were for naught.  Further, Defendant's shenanigans will cost him because the additional cost borne by Plaintiff to perfect service will be item number one when fees and expenses are sought.  "Good hiding, sir.  It took three extra months and $500 extra dollars to find you.  Now pay an additional $500 to Plaintiff over there."  I don't care who you are; I don't care what you do. I will find you, somewhere, somehow, some time.  The Process Server Man does not rest.

So, there is no point in hiding.  Now on to the next issue.

Sometimes the defendant is not in the state.  Maybe they are in the next state over.  Maybe they are in the next continent over.  However, each jurisdiction, whether it is Alabama or Albania has its own rules about Service of Process.  The States of the United States have agreements between them about Service of Process across State lines.  Member Nations have treaties between them on these issues.  Even if the defendant is holed up in a non member nation, if service is perfected by the rules of the plaintiff's jurisdiction, the Service will be recognized and the defendant will either have to show up for court or lose all.  "Would you like a vacation in Nigeria, Mr. Process Server?"

The point here is that there is a way to perfect Service anywhere on this globe.  We were recently asked how to perfect service in Afghanistan on a military contractor.  True, the agencies to perfect service there are spotty and unreliable and it is hard to pay a Georgia process server to place life and limb in war-torn peril.  Not much of a vacation there.  But then there is leverage.  Neither the military nor the State Department want any more glitches than they already have.  And having a defendant avoiding Service of Process and not taking care of his children is a serious public relations glitch the government would love to avoid.  So you perfect service by having the defendant put in a position where he either Acknowledges Service or is sent home by the government, never to return.  In reality, the State Department is filed with good people.  The State Department doesn't want dead beats who don't care for their kids avoiding their responsibilities by hiding behind the State Department's coat-tails. You can find these dead beats.  You can get these dead beats.

So, there is no where to run, no where to hide.

Later on I'll write about tracking down the dead beats.  There are great people who do just that.  For many of them, it is their passion.  But for now just know, if you've got an idea about where the dead beats are, you can Serve them.  You can have your day in Court.

Game On!

Michael Manely

Monday, January 31, 2011

So Many Questions - Family Law

I've been enmeshed in my practice for so long I sometimes forget how intricate and complicated it can be.  Some days, like today, I meet with a myriad of people who just need to get their questions answered.  They know they are facing a complex situation that therefore feels rather daunting and rather than strike out on their own with the very real chance of striking out entirely, they seek advice from one who has been in the trenches for decades - me.

Sometimes their questions are straightforward, requiring no more than a simple, direct answer that can set their minds at ease and help them chart a clear and safe course for their new direction.  Other times their questions are complex, requiring much give and take to ferret out the nuances that can alter the course of the right answer with the slightest subtlety.

Regardless of questions simple or complex, the questions, and the questioners, are welcome at my firm.  I understand that some attorneys play hide the ball.  "If you want an answer, you have to feed the monkey."  I do understand that approach.  My education and lengthy experience have value.  But I perform no service to my community if I treat my knowledge and expertise like it's off limits to all but a select few with the green in their wallets to unhinge my jaw.

If I kept my knowledge a secret, how would a client ever know that I have any knowledge at all?  I don't see a successful interview concluding, "I know exactly what I would do and if you hire me, I'll tell you."  Suppose the poor client hires that counsel and counsel then spews something idiotic.  I don't see how that works.  Perhaps I'll get a few more decades down the road and decide that potential clients should pay me for their initial visit.  Right now that just seems cheap.

So, if you have a question, come see me.  While I cannot work for free since I'm not independently wealthy, I'll gladly, and I do mean gladly, answer your questions.

Michael Manely

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I spend many words writing about soon-to-be ex-spouses working together for a common good: the  peaceful dissolution of their marriage.  On these pages I've often advocated moving beyond the emotional entanglements that routinely accompany a marital break up but so very much obstruct a mature approach to custody arrangements, potential support and property division.  But I don't think I've spent much time dwelling on the most reprehensible spouses, the horrid, worst case scenario, the monster who shares your bed but rises each morning from the pits of hell.  In other words, the wicked spouse.

I don't mean the angry spouse, the "hell hath no fury" spouse who seeks retribution for a past mis-deed.  I'm talking about the evil spouse who wants to see you perish for the sheer delight of your demise.  If you don't know this spouse, consider yourself among the extremely fortunate.  You can somewhat imagine them, but only somewhat, for imagination is no substitute to living in the same house, supping over the same table and sharing the same bed with someone who daily, even hourly determinedly seeks your downfall. And the more horrific your downfall, the better.

This spouse has a strategy that is more depraved than you can reasonably contemplate, for reason doesn't enter into it.  To understand this spouse's battle plan, you have to enter into the most cynical, black hearted space you can find within humankind's collective unconscious.  This is the spouse who will summon the police with concocted stories of abuse.  This is the spouse who will lay a trap for the unwary.  This is the spouse who will lie in wait sometimes for years to build the abattoir in which you shall be sacrificed.  This is the spouse who, like an onion, has layers upon layers, each more vile, fetid and diabolical than the last.

But, for those of you who have no knowledge of such a spouse, you need some meat on these bones.

Consider the spouse who decided one day to divorce her husband, only she didn't tell him.  She didn't tell him for over a year.  She used that year to collect her evidence of his purported transgressions.  Behaviors she  condoned, accepted, fostered, and even participate in, she secretly captured for posterity in those thousand words' worth 8x10's.  And when she sprung the trap, she had her price.  She would offer to sell him his soul for far more than 30 pieces of silver.

Consider the spouse who systematically deprived her spouse of his business, his home, even his children, Job style, just to watch him suffer like an ant under the magnifying glass in the brilliant sun of her conniving scheme.  As each element of his security, his identity was stripped from him, she pleasured in his cries every much as if limbs were torn asunder.  She would have watched him slowly die if she could figure out how to do it. In may ways, she did.

Consider the spouse who fathomed and then executed a plan to have her spouse carted off to jail, to be convicted and not seen again for decades, well long enough for her to secure the empire they had created.  And his crime and the evidence to support it fabricated, every bit of it.

The judges are wary of any counsel's claim that the spouse is wicked, that the plot is hollow, that the method is the worst sort of chicanery because that charge is so abused.  I've written about the aggressive lawyer. To her ever droning assertion, each opposing party is a scalawag, either a dead-beat dad or a malicious mom. We once had a well known counsel who had two, pat phrases to apply to opposing parties: whore and whore monger.  The slanderous approach is now an empty rhetorical device which the judge's largely ignore.  So when a spouse is indeed wicked it is a difficult fact to prove to a jaded judge.

But prove it you must.  Prove it to someone.  In the first case cited, It wasn't until I took to the Settlement Conference table top and delivered a rousing rendition of "Molasses to Rum to Slaves," that the matter resolved.  My client was freed without the purchase price demanded by the wicked spouse.  She decided that I was too crazy to allow in Court.

The second case ended with a trial which detailed copious evidence of her mis-deeds.  You would have thought the matter had been tried in the World Court for the effort it took, the investigation required, the meticulous organization and crafting of the presentation of the trial.  Years later and tens of thousands of dollars poorer, justice prevailed.  The wicked spouse was sent out on a rail.

The last case cited ended in a surprising reversal of fortunes because, ultimately, criminals are not that smart.  Indeed a crime had been committed, but my client hadn't done it.  The wicked spouse left enough "fingerprints" on the evidence intended to damn her husband, that the prosecuting authorities began to see the flaws in the greater plan, turned the tables and indicted the master-mind wife.

Given the elaborate means to which these wicked spouses go, I often wonder why they don't cut to the chase and end the relationship Lynn Turner style.  But of course, she got caught too.

So divorce is not a bed of roses.  Sometimes it is a bed of nails.  And if you are married to the wicked spouse, sometimes you have to fight for your freedom.  Sometimes you even have to fight for your survival.  Just know that justice will out, in the end, if you can make it that far.

Cheery post, huh.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Listen to your lawyer!

Of course I would write that.  I'm a lawyer.  But doesn't it make sense?

Most folks hire an attorney figuring that the attorney knows something they don't.  Lawyering, after all, is a specialized field of knowledge with intricate rules and protocol, strategy and timing, so this body of knowledge and practice is not in the public realm any more than the ability to actually split an atom is.

But every now and then somebody is certain they know better than their lawyer.  I once had a medical doctor who was quite sure he knew how to do my job better than me.  So I attended our next meeting in scrubs and told him I was going to remove his appendix.  It got my point across.  The doctor got out of my way and wound up doing quite well.

Kids fresh out of law school know more law than most litigants.  Add to that decades of seasoning and it ought to be hard to convince yourself that you could do better than the guy you've paid several thousand dollars to.  But a few folks still don't get it.

This creates an ethical conundrum for me.  I've argued for several hours with some clients about their decisions that conflict with my advice.  I tell them I see the train wreck coming.  I tell them I see their legal demise.  I show them the better alternative, a successful strategy.  But that strategy does not fit the client's emotional drive to seek and obtain retribution.  "The Judge will set her straight," they might say.  "The Judge won't set her straight.  She will win and she will laugh at you for being such a fool.  Will you feel better then?" I might say.

All lawyers face this problem from time to time.  Some clients see us as a tool for their use to aid them in their on-going quest to vanquish the opposition.  We aren't.  We are problem solvers.  We employ our craft in very creative ways sometimes but it is to accomplish a productive task, not a destructive one. (That's true for most of us, anyway.)

So the ethical conundrum is, after several hours of attempting to persuade the recalcitrant client to follow my well-paid advice, do I give up and watch the coming catastrophe?

Sometimes potential clients ask me if I have a winning track record.  "Yes," I tell them immediately, but then I follow with, "but that's a trick question."  If you can almost always accurately predict the outcome of a trial, why would you walk into Court with a losing case?  You try your winning cases.  You settle the losing ones. And in Family Law, you settle every case that you can.  Why?  Because it is far less expensive (usually that's a value to the client) and it is far less toxic and damaging to the family's relationship.

So, do I allow the train wreck?  And could I sell tickets?

I don't allow the train wreck if I can at all possibly help it.  I'll argue with a client right up until the moment that the Judge sounds for the case.

(Practice point: this is why, in Family Law, good offers should never be pulled.  A good deal remains a good deal, regardless of when the other side finally figures that out.)

So, listen to your lawyer.  You pay him enough.  And he really does have your best, long term interest at heart. Besides, train wrecks aren't just the drama of flashy explosions.  There is damage and long term pain  that you have to live with afterward. Ultimately life is more complex than Gomez Adams' model railroad.

Michael Manely

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jack Lalanne

Readers of this blog will know I do not cover celebrities.  That is not my thing.  I would much rather talk about real people with real issues.

Tonight I'm writing about a real person who was also a celebrity: Jack Lalanne. But I'm not going to write divorce gossip from celebrity rags.  I'm just going to pay a quick tribute to someone who had a great influence on me.

Lalanne started his television fitness show the year I was born, 1959.  Growing up somewhat in front of the tube, I have many recollections of watching his show and trying out the fitness activities he'd advocate.  The man was in great shape. Who could argue with him?  When he started his show, he was 45, only six years younger than I am now.  His show ran for another 34 years.  His life ran for another 51.

As I became a teenager I took to working out.  At the time I credited it to Arnold and his book, "Education of a Body Builder." Arnold's movie, "Pumping Iron," didn't hurt either.  But the health conscious stuff, the eating extremely healthy and positive body focus was all Lalanne.

Looking back over the videos posted on Youtube, I'm amazed to see the insight of his work.  I had to absorb all that stuff when I was little.  Somehow it is still hardwired in me.  But as I look over at the Hershey's Bar waiting for me, I have to wonder just how deep this wisdom is buried.

We all want to live better.  We all desperately want to make better decisions.  It's right there, just for the taking.  Jack Lalanne made it undeniable.

Thanks, Jack.

Michael Manely

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Modification: Teaching your ex a lesson

I recently spoke with a gentleman who was interviewing attorneys.  He told me he had spoken with several other attorneys (always a good idea), and particularly liked one who, after hearing the facts of this fellow's case said, "We're going to get her.  We'll teach her a lesson."


Family Law litigation is not about teaching anybody a lesson.  Not only does that do nothing more than abuse the court process, it completely misses the point and it is the quickest way to lose.  That's three excellent reasons to not choose this path.

Teaching your ex a lesson does nothing more than abuse the court process because the court process is designed to provide people with a forum to resolve their differences.  The key word there is resolve.  In Modification cases it is particularly appropriate, "re-solve."  Teaching your ex a lesson is not about resolving anything.  If you have a legitimate dispute and you can't get it sorted out with your ex without court, then litigate it, but litigate to get it resolved, not to satisfy vendettas or hum the legal equivalent of na-na-na-na-na.  There are too many people genuinely needing access to justice to tie the court up with feuds.

Teaching your ex a lesson completely misses the point because family law is about moving families forward.  It is results oriented.  It isn't a forum for the redress of past wrongs.  Even Contempt actions are really about the future.  While part of the remedy is getting back what you should have had in the first place (support, visitation) it is principally about changing conduct so that the act does not happen in the future.  That's why there are sanctions such as attorney fees or incarceration.  Modifications are exclusively focused on the future: what will the new child support be or what will the new custody award involve or how will visitation change?  To the extent that one party is caught up in past grievances, wanting to re-litigate old issues or "teach their ex a lesson" they've completely missed the reason for Modification.

And teaching your ex a lesson is the quickest way to lose.  Judge's have precious little time to give each case.  They have mere minutes before they assess the nature of the case and its probable outcomes.  If a Judge senses that a party is not forward looking but is litigating ancient hostility or retribution against their ex, that party will lose, immediately, having barely passed go.

In short, getting aggressive to "get" your ex or teach her a lesson is a no win scenario and a horrid waste of money.

After hearing what I just wrote, the fellow I was speaking with assessed, "Perhaps that attorney was just telling me what I wanted to hear.  Thank you for telling me what I needed to hear."

I'm glad I can help him.  Can we help you?

Michael Manely

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Family Law: is it all for show?

Reform has value.  There is probably always a better way to do things.  Family Law is no exception.  I'll say that going in.

But some reform is ill conceived and ill informed.  Every now and then there's a notion to streamline Family Law, which is to say, make it more of an administrative matter rather than a legal matter.  I think that's a bad idea.

I need to digress here.  By administrative matter I mean a resolution based upon a pre-set formula contrived to create a pre-designed result, a cookie cutter approach.  For example, Worker's Compensation uses the administrative method to achieve its ends.  By regulation your hand is worth a specific sum, your foot is worth a different specific sum.  In the end, it largely boils down to math.  There is no nuance.  There is no subtlety.  The very facts that should make a key difference do not, because Worker's Compensation has decided that it is a waste of time.  Just lower the standard and lower the result.

On the other hand (no pun intended), you have the legal method which is much more open ended.  Rather than formulas which dictate an outcome, the legal method provides a trier of fact, usually a judge, who has great discretion to do what is right.  There are norms within "what is right" as established over time and within the collective of the judiciary.  This is largely what is meant by "Common Law."  But what is right is affected by nuance and subtlety.  What is wrong in one context can become right in another.  These facts matter greatly in real life, but they can't matter if they fit outside of the formula of an administrative method.

So the reform of Family Law sometimes comes down to requiring that everyone's case fit a pre-determined model, the cookie cutter approach.  It comes down to deciding that a whole host of facts (elements of people's lives) just don't matter.

Many Family Law cases can almost be handled in a cookie cutter fashion.  There is no doubt but that this approach is the least expensive.  Uncontested Divorce cases are manageable and affordable precisely because of this approach. But not all cases can be forced into a pre-determined model to achieve a cookie cutter result.  Divorcing parties would be ill served by such an approach, and, given the low level to which administrative cases are relegated, Family Law would be ill served by being just another aspect of life that has been relegated to the administrative remedy.

I can imagine the administrative divorce. "Next," the civil servant would call from her window.  "So you want a divorce?" she would ask, reading from the form you had completed a few hours ago when you first entered the large room filled with scores of other applicants.  "Yes," you'd say, hoping that she hadn't found some defect with your paperwork.  "Fine," she might say, checking boxes on the form.  "Your wife gets the kids.  You get to see them on Saturdays from noon until three and Wednesdays from six until eight."  "But I work on Saturdays," you might say.  "I guess you won't see them, then," she'd reply.

And so on, and so on. It's not a pretty picture.

The legal approach is, at its core, flexible.  It can be fraught with drama, with intrigue, with high level diplomacy and skulduggery.  It can be inefficient.  But it is also effective, thorough and to an incredible extent, tailor made to the circumstance.  Given the enormity of the legal institution, it is amazing that the system can be as flexible as it is.

And few people feel that their lives, their circumstances, their wants and their needs are ordinary, are average or appropriate for cookie cutter solutions.  Given the weight of issues that arise everyday in Family Law, few are.

So, the art, the practice of Family Law is not all for show, though there is a fair bit of show to it.  But, as the drama of human life goes, it calls for the show to give it the attention it deserves and to get it right.

To me, then, the bottom line: leave Family Law flexible.  Don't try to make a round peg fit into a square hole or vice versa.  Individually crafted solutions work.  Institutional, administrative orders that apply to no one, don't.

Michael Manely

Monday, January 17, 2011

It has been a month

I'm not too terribly surprised that it has been over a month since I last blogged.  So much has happened with getting the boys through another semester of school, then Christmas, then New Years, then one of the boys' birthdays then Snowcalypse (although with the unexpected break caused by Snowcalypse I would have thought I'd blog more, not less) and finally, a presentation I delivered on the United Nations Agreements reached in Cancun in December.

Still, all of that is a poor excuse for neglecting my nightly blog duties.  A pox upon me for loafing.

The Firm continues to do exceptionally well.  Looking back at 2010 we actually helped more people than in 2009 which was an astonishing accomplishment in this economy.  Of course, you are familiar with our successful battles in Cyprus in getting little girls returned under the Hague convention and preventing the departure of a boy to non-Hague country, Nigeria with only 24 hours' notice, and the location and rescue of a boy who had been abducted by his estranged and violent father.

You no doubt recall reports of the trials, now too numerous to mention, but capping off with that $500,000 alimony award when the opposing counsel had asked the jury for $3.2 million.

All in all, while 2010 could have been better for our nation and our clients, it was not a bad year for The Firm.

So, now I'm back at the late night keyboard, typing out a line, reaching out into cyberspace, and dropping a few observations about this curious profession and the practice I've chosen and so dearly love - Family Law.

Stay tuned...

Michael Manely