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