March 28, 2014

The Benefits of Settling Your Divorce Case (Or At Least Attempting To)

When going through a divorce, it is almost always prudent to attempt to settle the case through negotiation and/or mediation rather than go straight to court. There are several reasons for this. First, having a divorce trial is expensive. Through negotiation, you can learn a lot about what is important to the other side. For example, you may think that you both really want to keep the marital home, but may find out through negotiation that your spouse is not interested in it. In this case, even if you are unable to settle all issues and have to go to court, you can take this issue off the table, which will save everyone time and money.

Second, while it is unlikely the parties will each receive everything they want through negotiation and/or mediation, both parties will likely be happier at the end than if a Judge decided everything. Through negotiation/mediation, you have full control over the result. You do not have to agree to anything. Conversely, if you have a final trial, a Judge will decide all outstanding issues and you will be forced to comply with the final decree, whether you like it or not.

Third, you and your spouse can agree to things than a Judge is unable to order. For example, through negotiation/mediation, the parties may agree that the noncustodial parent can claim the dependency exemption on his/her tax returns. This exemption may make a big difference, particularly if that parent has a high income. The custodial parent may not care about receiving this exemption. A Judge, however, is unable to award the dependency exemption to anyone but the custodial parent. Therefore, each parent may use this issue as a bargaining chip throughout negotiation because it will go away if the case goes to a final trial.

In general, an unsuccessful attempt to settle a divorce case is better than no attempt at all. At a minimum you will learn more about what is important to the other party and may even be able to take some issues off the table for a final trial. Even failed settlement talks can save some time, money and headache for everyone involved.

December 7, 2009

How to Effectively Use Mediation to Settle with Your Contested Canton, Georgia Divorce – Part V

In part five of our ten part series on how to effectively use mediation in your contested divorce case, we will continue to examine steps to take to make sure you and your Atlanta divorce lawyer are ready for mediation. This blog will also work if you and your spouse plan on using mediation to settle your case without an Atlanta Divorce lawyer. In this blog, we go into how to handle yourself at mediation and what usually goes on at mediation.

Mediations typically start with an opening statement by either side. Most of the time, you should have your Atlanta divorce lawyer make the statement to keep it factually accurate and non-inflammatory. It does not do any good to increase the tension at the beginning of mediation. Avoid an opening statement full of vile accusations, conduct issues, and inaccuracies. This has no effect other than to sabotage mediation; when the whole purpose of mediation is to avoid that type of conflict.

After the parties have given opening statements, the mediators tend to meet privately with the parties in what is called a caucus. In the caucus session, the more inflammatory facts can be made known to the mediator; and can be communicated to your spouse in a much more pleasant and less hostile manner by the mediator - rather than the opposing side.

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December 3, 2009

How to Effectively Use Mediation to Settle with Your Contested Canton Divorce – Part IV

In part four of our ten part series on how to effectively use mediation in your contested divorce case, we will continue to examine steps to take to make sure you and your Atlanta divorce lawyer are ready for mediation. This blog will also work if you and your spouse plan on using mediation to settle your case without an Atlanta Divorce lawyer. In this blog, we go into a the importance of prioritizing issues that are important to you.

Being prepared involves setting priorities. It is important that you understand at the outset, which are the most important goals to obtain through settlement. If primary physical custody of your children means more to you than anything else, you both need to be clear that this means that you might need to make certain financial concessions in order to obtain custody. Setting clear priorities before negotiation helps both you focus on what is most important to you, and allows your Atlanta divorce attorney to prepare your strategy.

If there have been any settlement negotiations before the mediation, you should outline them in a concise manner. Often the best way is by using a chart so that on one piece of paper each person’s position on each separate issue can be tracked. This will often help in two areas. First, your Atlanta divorce lawyer may see a trend or strategy in your spouse’s negotiation. Second, it will enable the mediator, who has no prior knowledge of the case, to look at what has occurred, the positions taken by you and your spouse, where there are agreements, where there are differences, and more importantly how different those differences are. This tells the mediator exactly where attention needs to be placed and where the time, energy and fort of the mediation need to be spent. It is a quick snapshot of what has transpired. Even more important, it is a road map of where mediation needs to go and, hopefully, how to get there.

November 16, 2009

How to Effectively Use Mediation to Settle with Your Atlanta Divorce – Part III

In part three of our ten part series on how to effectively use mediation in your contested divorce case, we will continue to examine steps to take to make sure you and your Atlanta divorce lawyer are ready for mediation. This blog will also work if you and your spouse plan on using mediation to settle your case without an Atlanta Divorce lawyer. In this blog, we go into a little more detail on the preparation necessary for an effective mediation in a contested divorce case.

Budget Accuracy. As Atlanta divorce lawyers, we find that one of the greatest problems in mediation is "inflated" or "deflated" budgets, which have absolutely no relation to reality or historical spending levels. If budgets represent actual numbers and historical levels of expenditures, mediation has a much greater chance of success. You want to avoid paying your Atlanta divorce lawyer an hourly rate to "haggle" over the accuracy of budget numbers. If you have not been the one who has taken care of the finances during the divorce, make sure that you have requested the information from your spouse to obtain the documents necessary to prepare an accurate budget. If he won’t turn them over, your Atlanta divorce lawyer can seek this information through formal discovery.

Have extra copies of all documents. Do not go to mediation with only one copy of a document that you intend to rely upon. Have multiple copies so that everyone can look at the same documents, can make notes on them, and go over those documents in the initial caucus. If you plan on making the extra copies yourself, make sure you tell your Atlanta divorce lawyer ahead of time.

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October 1, 2009

How to Effectively Use Mediation to Settle your Atlanta Divorce – Part I

In part one of our ten part series on how to effectively use mediation, we will examine steps to take to make sure you and your Atlanta divorce lawyer are ready for mediation. This blog will also work if you and your spouse plan on using mediation to settle your case without an Atlanta Divorce lawyer. The first item that we will cover is BEING PREPARED.

Assets & Liabilities - It is essential that both you and your Atlanta divorce lawyer have a clear understanding of exactly what is in the marital state, a complete list of all of the assets and liabilities, current account balances, and current business evaluations, if applicable. Many Atlanta divorce lawyers like to use a "marital balance sheet," or “MBS.” This is a sheet (usually prepared in Microsoft Excel) that contains the assets and liabilities of the marriage. It is most helpful when you have documentation to support the numbers on the MBS. Then, if called upon, you can then prove any of the figures.

When you and your spouse do not have a clear picture of your assets and liabilities, respective incomes, needs, and what the custody issues are, mediation and negotiating will be wasted and bad feelings will be fostered because you and your spouse will not be talking about the same thing and you may end up arguing over issues which are really non-issues. Moreover, if you are paying the mediator and your Atlanta divorce lawyer by the hour, it is in your best financial interests to stay focused on mediating the core of your case, not peripheral issues.

Child & Spousal Support - You and your spouse should prepare an accurate budget, normally in the form of a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit that sets out your basic needs. You should exchange all documents, such as bank and other account statements, pay stubs, tax returns, insurance plans, pension information, etc., that provide a complete picture of you and your spouse’s financial situation. This is relatively simple if you and your spouse are W-2 wage earners and own a house and a simple retirement plan.

It can be more difficult if there is significant separate property involved, complex compensation issues (e.g. stock options), or other complicated financial situations. Obviously, if you and your spouse have filed a financial statement recently in which you have signed under oath that all assets and liabilities have been disclosed on the statement, that document should be provided to both of you. If you have a more complicated estate, an Atlanta divorce lawyer can be invaluable, especially since more complicated marital estates are often laden with tax complications.

Providing the other side with this information before meeting can save time, especially if the Atlanta divorce lawyers can agree on the MBS ahead of time. Once the Atlanta divorce lawyers have the same information and can agree on such issues as income, the property at issue, and you and your spouse’s net worth, the chances of a successful settlement negotiation are tremendously heightened.

February 25, 2009

Atlanta Divorce Lawyers Guide to Divorce and Family Law Cases in Fulton County, Georgia: Guardian Ad Litem

Our final blog entry in our Atlanta Divorce Lawyers Guide to Divorce and Family Law Cases in Fulton County, Georgia is in regards to the Fulton County’s Guardian Ad Litem program. A Guardian Ad Litem is an attorney who has had at least 20 hours of specialized training for child welfare and custody issues. In cases involving contested child custody, modifications of custody, modification of visitation, allegations of child neglect or child abuse, the Court can assign a Guardian Ad Litem to more closely evaluate the situation and report back to the court its findings. The Court or the Guardian Ad Litem can order psychological evaluations and drug testing if applicable to help in making a custody determination.

The cost of a Guardian Ad Litem can be rather high for most divorces in Georgia. Litigants should be aware that Fulton County offers a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) at a reduced hourly rate.

February 18, 2009

Atlanta Divorce Lawyers Guide to Divorce and Family Law Cases in Fulton County, Georgia: Late Case Evaluation

The topic of “Late Case Evaluations” is our next blog entry in our Atlanta Divorce Lawyers Guide to Divorce and Family Law Cases in Fulton County, Georgia. A late case evaluation, like the name implies, is an option usually offered “late” in the case, but prior to going to a final hearing. It is typically scheduled by the Judge at the 120 Day Status Conference, although in certain limited circumstances, it can be scheduled earlier in the case (and may be referred to as an “early case evaluation”).

A late case evaluation is similar in many respects to a mediation. In Fulton County, it generally last four hours (although the length of time can be extended by the parties at their own costs). A late case evaluation is usually run by an experienced attorney. This individual, while serving in the role as an attorney, also provides the parties his or her “evaluation” of their positions (both their strengths and weaknesses) and his or her opinions as to what the likely result will be if the parties elect to pursue a final trial of their case rather than come to an agreement about all issues outstanding in their matter.

February 11, 2009

Atlanta Divorce Lawyers Guide to Divorce and Family Law Cases in Fulton County, Georgia: Mediation

Our next blog entry in our Atlanta Divorce Lawyers Guide to Divorce and Family Law Cases in Fulton County, Georgia is in regards to the mediation. Unlike most counties, Fulton County has really put its money where its mouth is about the importance of the mediation process in resolving divorce and family law disputes. In particular, Fulton County provides a free mediator for TWO separate four hour mediations in an effort to resolve as many disputes as possible without the need for court intervention. For time over the four hours, the parties will split the cost of mediator’s hourly rate (usually $150 to $200 per hour) or reschedule for a second session.

Fulton County also has the Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution to assist in scheduling the mediations as well as provide a neutral location for the mediation to take place. Fulton County has many mediators to choose from and all who have attended mandatory mediation training for at least 68 hours. All cases involving contested custody are required to mediate and for the most part the Court will ask all cases to mediate no matter the type of case.

February 4, 2009

Atlanta Divorce Lawyers Guide to Divorce and Family Law Cases in Fulton County, Georgia: Status Conferences

Our next blog entry in our Atlanta Divorce Lawyers Guide to Divorce and Family Law Cases in Fulton County, Georgia is in regards to the unique case management approach of Fulton County. In particular, the approach employed by Fulton County involves having a Judicial Officer (who is appointed by the Judge) holding various status conferences over the course of the case. The overarching principal behind the system is that by holding these various status conferences, the court is able to oversee the progress of each case every step of the way.

The first status conference is the 30 Day Status Conference which is scheduled by the Court approximately 30 days after the case is filed. This first status conference is mainly to introduce the process to the parties, exchange the required discovery discussed in our last blog in this series and address issues that cannot wait another 30 days.

If the case has not already settled, then the Court will hold a 60 Day Status Conference approximately 30 days from the last one and schedule mediation if one has not already occurred. Once again, this conference is held to measure the progress of the case and to ensure that the case is moving promptly through the court system.

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January 12, 2009

Benefits of Mediation

Mediation is one option for resolving a family law case. In mediation, the parties and their attorneys meet with a neutral, third party mediator to help them resolve the outstanding issues in their case. Our firm has been very successful in resolving cases through mediation and there are many benefits to the process.

At mediation, parties can get things through negotiation that they would not be able to get from a Judge at trial. A good example of this is the dependency exemption on tax returns. Under the IRS regulations, the custodial parent is entitled to the dependency exemption. Thus, a Judge cannot award this benefit to a non-custodial parent. Many times, however, a non-custodial parent will benefit more from the dependency exemption than the custodial parent and may even be able to have more expendable money to pay in child support if given the exemption. In that case, the custodial parent can use the dependency exemption as a bargaining tool and give it to the non-custodial parent in exchange for something else during the mediation process.

Parties are usually happier with the results at mediation as compared to trial because they have some control over the outcome. When you go into a courtroom, your case is in the hands of a Judge who will listen to evidence and make a ruling on the issues. Many times, this results in both parties being unhappy to some extent. At mediation, you exchange offers with the opposing party and come up with unique solutions that a Judge may not consider.

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