In addition to serving clients, Justin O’Dell worked tirelessly for months to Secure Cobb’s Future. His efforts as co-chair of the advocacy group for a 1% sales tax referendum to improve transportation, quality of life and public safety across Cobb county were met with victory as 53% of voters said yes. Mr. O’Dell took his courtroom experience in educating and advocating outside the courthouse to the citizens of Cobb at town hall meetings and civic gatherings. Approval of this SPLOST is a testament to the educated voters in Cobb and their strong desire secure the future of this county. Serving clients and community on a daily basis, Justin O’Dell is committed to moving people forward to a better future!
Starting last month, we switched our discussion of Dick and Jane to the topic of divorce. This topic is going to be far ranging and extensive and we will also be looking at various issues from the perspective of both Dick and of Jane.
For this month, it is important to devote time and energy in determining how to hire a domestic lawyer. There are a lot of factors to consider in hiring a domestic relations lawyer and each factor is important. More than anything, it is critical that the client have a high degree of comfort, confidence and trust in their lawyer. If the attorney-client relationship is lacking in any of these three areas, the process will be extremely difficult. Along those lines, here are ten initial thoughts (in no specific order of priority) in choosing a family law attorney:
- Am I comfortable with this person? The answer to this question is unique to each individual. Some clients prefer attorneys of the same gender or race, others prefer the opposite. Some clients want a lawyer to be a tender heart and soothing voice, others prefer someone who can bluntly tell them to “get a grip.” Regardless of preference, the personality must mesh.
- Can I trust this person? The analysis here is simple. If you cannot be completely honest with your family law lawyer, you have the wrong lawyer. It is essential that your lawyer know everything to best represent you. If you cannot be that open, it is not a good fit.
- Does my lawyer practice where my case will be heard? Family law is different in this regard than most other types of cases. To quote the great Tom Browning, the discretion of a family law judge is “broader than the plan of salvation.” Different judges bring different attitudes and perspectives to issues like custody, alimony, misconduct, attorneys’ fees and so on. Your attorney needs to have a history and understanding of these factors in order to best handle the case.
- Does my lawyer need my business? This is a critical factor, often overlooked. The reality is that in a family law case, the longer the case goes and the more fighting that occurs, the more the attorney earns. There are law firms and lawyers who have high overhead to cover. There are law firms and lawyers who are struggling to pay the bills. In these instances, there is a latent danger that the lawyer could be picking a fight where one does not need to exist or advising against a settlement offer than might make financial sense (i.e. the lawyer rejects a total alimony award of $48,000.00 in settlement and goes to trial at a cost of $25,000.00 seeking to get a total alimony award of $60,000.00. Although the result obtained was “more” the net effect to the client was a monetary loss).
- Is my lawyer my cheerleader or my advisor? This is a fine line that exists in family law cases. Often times, lawyers can become emotionally invested in their clients due to sympathies to a particular situation. In these instances, both the lawyer and client become focused on “winning” rather than a positive overall outcome for the family unit. A lawyer must be able to tell the client, without hesitation, when the client is being irrational, off-base, unreasonable, etc… The lawyer is not to be a cheerleader merely feeding the client advice that the client wants to hear. The lawyer is to be an advisor and advocate.
- Will my lawyer go to Court? Most family law cases settle and most family law cases should settle. Parents and spouses should be able to take ownership of their own situation and, with advice and counsel, be able to hammer out an agreement for themselves. However, there are instances where compromise cannot be had and the facts get tough. Family law dos attract lawyer who simply are not interested in going to court or do not like the adversarial process. If the lawyer has a reputation of not wanting to go to Court or if an opposing counsel can sense that a lawyer is unwilling to try the case, the settlement negotiations become very one-sided.
- Does my lawyer explain the financial aspects of the case? Divorce litigation costs money and expenses can add up fast. As a case heats up, many lawyers start a routine process of following the same strategy for every client. Discovery depositions, demands for guardian ad litem, custody evaluations, etc… There is not a “one size fits all” divorce. Some clients cannot afford the full court press. Some clients can afford everything, but have no inclination to pay for it. A divorce can be fairly presented without exhausting every possible litigation strategy. It is important that the lawyer review the costs and benefits of each strategy with the client BEFORE committing to a course of action.
- Does my lawyer get along with the other lawyer? This is often hard for the client to gauge at first. Over time, the client should be able to review the correspondence between the attorneys and see them interact in person. It is not essential that the lawyers be best buddies, but they should be able to treat each other with civility, respect and professionalism. Although it is initially fun to read a caustic letter from your lawyer to the other side, in the end it just ratchets up emotion and ultimately expense.
- Does my lawyer return my messages? The number one complaint to the State Bar regarding lawyers is a lack of consistent communication. Your case is important to you and it should be important to the lawyer. If your lawyer cannot at least send an e-mail or leave a voice message in response to an inquiry, get a new one.
- Does my lawyer have an investment in the community? In choosing a lawyer, consider whether that lawyer is committed to their immediate environment. Are they involved in the civic, charitable and social causes on the community? If not, the lawyer is probably more interested in pulling money out of a community than truly being a part of it. Lawyers are uniquely suited and tailored to serve at Church, in civic clubs and on charitable boards. They are asked to do so constantly. If the lawyer is not involved somehow, somewhere, it is a deliberate choice.
Next month, we will look at the process of a divorce consultation and the first meeting with a lawyer. What should Dick and Jane expect to get out of that first meeting?
Stephen Collins became a household name while playing the role of the family patriarch in the popular TV series “7th Heaven”, which ran from 1996-2007. On the show, Collins played a minister and devoted father to a family of five children. However, the shocking allegations from his divorce case paint a far different picture of Collins’ real life persona.
Collins filed for divorce against his wife of 27 years, Faye Grant, in 2012 citing irreconcilable differences. At the time of the filing, Collins claimed the split was perfectly amicable. Grant didn’t see it the same way. Grant’s response to the divorce petition was explosive, alleging that she learned in January of 2012 that Collins had a long term pattern of sexually molesting children. Grant further alleged that Collins had narcissistic personality disorder with sociopathic tendencies.
The situation dramatically worsened on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 when TMZ released an incriminating audiotape from a joint therapy session between Grant and Collins. The audio reveals what sounds like Collins’ voice confessing many of the child molestation allegations. Collins’ lawyers have accused Grant of extortion tactics related to the recording, claiming she suggested she would leak the recording to the media unless Collins acquiesced to her settlement demands. Grant released a statement adamantly denying any involvement in the leaking of what she called an “extremely private recording”. Since the recording was leaked by TMZ, Collins’ career has gone down the tubes. He was dropped from the film “Ted 2”, was pulled from previously filmed “Scandal” scenes, and has voluntarily resigned from the Screen Actors Guild.
Allegations of psychological issues are not uncommon in divorce cases. These types of allegations play a central role in cases where custody or visitation is in dispute, as the mental health of the parents is one factor that a court is required to consider in determining custody of a child. In Georgia, the Judge overseeing the lawsuit has the authority to order that one or both parties of a custody dispute to undergo a psychological evaluation by a court appointed psychologist or psychiatrist. Thankfully for all involved, custody is not an issue in the Collins/Grant divorce, as their only child, Kate, is twenty-five years old. However, it won’t be surprising for Collins’ conduct to remain a central focus in his ongoing divorce case.
This month, the students at Lockheed Elementary School in Marietta got a special treat. Leslie O’Neal spent time with Kindergarteners reading “Bunny Cakes”. In her role on the Cobb County Board of the United Way, Leslie always looks forward to volunteer opportunities in local elementary schools. The story of “Bunny Cakes” is much like legal disputes. Max and his sister, Ruby, have different ideas about what kind of cake to bake. But in the end, compromise prevails and a settlement is reached!
We are pleased to announce that Justin O’Dell has been recognized as a Fellow of the Academy of Court-Appointed Masters! Justin is the only attorney in Cobb County to hold this special certification and will offer his services to assist area Judges in a variety of ways. As a Special Master appointed by a Judge, Mr. O’Dell can provide time and cost savings to the Court. He is qualified to assist parties in reaching settlement agreements and resolving discovery in Family Law matters, resolving Contract and Employment disputes and serving as a Civil Trial Master. Mr. O’Dell can be appointed to oversee the implementation of court orders and/or settlement agreements in Civil Matters. At O’Dell & O’Neal, we continue to seek ways in which we can serve our clients and the community!
Justin O’Dell has been an advocate for positive changes in Cobb County for his entire career practicing law. He is committed to supporting improvements in transportation, quality of life and public safety for all residents of Cobb. On November 4th, voters in Cobb will have the opportunity to vote on a SPLOST approval that will provide funds for future projects and enhancements. Justin O’Dell is Co-Chair of the committee to “Secure Cobb’s Future” and will work to gather information and deliver it to voters.
Donald Sterling can’t catch a break these days. The disgraced owner of the Los Angeles Clippers lost another major battle in Court last month, with a Judge ruling in favor of his estranged wife and allowing her to move forward with the sale of the team. Sterling appealed the ruling in a final effort to block the sale, but his appeal was denied last week. After audio recordings leaked of Sterling spewing racist comments to his mistress sparked outrage throughout the sports world, it’s not surprising that the Court found Sterling’s wife to be a more credible witness than Sterling himself in matters related to Clipper’s business. The sale of the Clippers is expected to be the precursor to an impending divorce battle where the proceeds from the sale – reported to be roughly $2 billion – will likely be divided pursuant to California law.
In Georgia, it is not uncommon to see marital property ordered to be sold and the proceeds from the sale divided. Georgia Courts have the authority in a divorce case to order any asset to be sold for purposes of equitably dividing the proceeds. This is most commonly seen with the sale of a marital residence or other real estate that has value. It is less common for a Judge to order a business to be sold because often the business is an important stream of income for at least one of the parties – and potentially the source of income that the other party is making an alimony claim against. Therefore, Courts often consider it counterintuitive to order the sale of a business; and rather award the business to one spouse while compensating the other spouse for his or her marital interest in the business through some other asset or a monetary award.
Once the business is either sold or valued by the Court, the question becomes how the value (or the proceeds from the sale) will be divided between the parties. In Georgia, title is not relevant to the division of an asset, which means that even if one spouse was never listed as an owner, officer, or employee of the business, that spouse still has a marital interest in the value of the business because he or she is considered to have contributed to the marriage’s overall wealth in other ways.
Additionally, Georgia is an equitable division of property state – not an equal division state. This means that the Court does not have to divide the assets equally and is entitled to award a greater share of the marital property to one spouse over the other. Some of the factors that a Court can consider when deciding how to allocate marital assets are the duration of the marriage; any prior marriage of either party; the age, health, occupation, and employability of each party; and the contribution or services of each spouse to the marriage. Even the conduct of the parties can be taken into account in Georgia when dividing up the assets of the marriage. Thankfully for Donald Sterling, conduct will not play a role in his marital asset division because California is an equal division state and divides the assets of the marriage 50/50. Maybe that means he can spend less money on divorce attorneys; and more money on a much needed PR team.
Starting this month, we are going to switch our discussion of Dick and Jane to the topic of divorce. This topic has a variety of subtopics and issues and we will spend time each month looking at issues ranging from division of property, alimony, child support, child custody and attorney’s fees.
For this month, the discussion needs to start with an overview of the divorce process. A divorce is a lawsuit and is similar, in parts, to any other civil proceeding. A divorce is initiated by filing a Complaint. The other party files an Answer. Both parties are able to conduct discovery. The Courts will hear a interlocutory or temporary hearing and, if necessary, will hear and consider a final hearing. In Georgia, a party can actually have a jury trial on the issues of division of property and alimony.
When people hear the word divorce and learn that lawyers are involved, visions of the classic film “War of the Roses” with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner begin to pop into their minds. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ebv3i_9Ltc
The reality is that the overwhelming majority of divorce cases are resolved by agreement. In many instances, the case can be resolved without any legal disagreements at all. In others, the case may start off in a disagreeable posture, but eventually finds a middle ground.
The divorce process is best divided into two types of divorces: uncontested and contested. An uncontested divorce is one in which the case is resolved first and then filed with the Courts. Sometimes these cases are filed with the assistance of a lawyer and other times not. Due to increasing levels of complexity related to dividing assets like 401(k) plans and issues related to Court mandated parenting plan forms and child support calculator worksheets, it is difficult and unwise for anyone with children or any level of assets to proceed with a divorce without at least consulting with a lawyer.
In an uncontested divorce, a lawyer cannot represent both the Husband and Wife. The lawyer can only represent one of the spouses. The other spouse can consult with a lawyer of his or her choosing or waive that right. Given that every divorce involves some inherent level of mistrust or lack of communication, it is often helpful for the non-represented spouse to engage the services of a lawyer to at least review and explain the paperwork.
Uncontested divorces can still be contentious, it is just that the arguing takes place outside of the Courtroom and there is no judge to make decisions. However, in virtually every instance, the parties will find that if they are able to reach the agreement themselves as opposed to having a Judge impose it upon them, the spouses have a much better chance of parting ways amicably.
There are some areas in which an uncontested divorce can be unwise or a poor choice, even if the process is amicable. Those instances are:
1) Where one spouse is at an informational disadvantage. It is unwise for a spouse to simply sign off on a division of assets and debts where he or she has no independent knowledge of the parties’ income, assets and liabilities. The spouse has no idea whether what is being agreed to is really a “fair deal.”
2) Where one spouse is at an emotional disadvantage. This situation can occur in one of several ways. When a spouse is caught in an adulterous relationship (or perhaps is itching to pursue a new relationship), that spouse may be tempted to sign an agreement out of feelings of guilt. It is very common for these spouses to sign away far more than ever would have been occasioned in Court. In a short while, the spouse finds themselves in financial trouble or unable to meet the obligations that they agreed upon. In many instances, these agreements cannot be undone or modified. Other emotional disadvantages occur when one spouse has been subjected to emotional, mental or physical abuse. In these cases, the spouse may sign an agreement which is disadvantageous simply because they have been abused to the point where they do not have the ability or psyche to stand up to their partner any longer.
3) Where one spouse is at a financial disadvantage. Sometimes spouses find themselves in a situation wherein the primary wage earner presents a divorce agreement with the statement that the deal is “off the table” if the other spouse seeks to hire a lawyer. Other times, the spouse will threaten to stop paying for certain expenses if a spouse contests things or disagrees with a proposal. Once again, these situations lead to unfair and unreasonable divorce agreements.
4) Where the assets, debts or case is complex. There are instances wherein the parties get along amicably and really have no desire to fight, however, their earnings structure, asset pool or debt structure are such that each side is going to have to engage a lawyer (and perhaps accountants, business valuation experts and others) to help them fully understand the process and make the best decision for the parties collectively. The divorce process does allow the parties to move certain assets without penalties and allows for certain tax benefits, if the parties structure the agreement appropriately. In these cases, it can be financially costly to sign a quick agreement.
Outside of these situations, most cases should be resolved by the parties and attorneys should aid in that process whenever possible. Some cases must be filed and fought either temporarily or to a bitter end. A case which is filed without an agreement attached is a contested divorce. As indicated above, many of these cases are still resolved by an agreement at some point.
Next month, we will look at the process involved with filing a divorce and some of the initial items that Dick and Jane will need to consider in bringing a divorce. Throughout our divorce discussion, each month will look at the case first from Dick’s perspective and then from Jane’s perspective to try and provide insight into the thought process and legal advice for each.
Wise words by Justin O’Dell in May 2013 proved to be true a year later as Awtrey Middle School Principal, Jeff Crawford, was cleared of accusations regarding an alleged failure to report. The alleged incident was said to have occurred in February 2013 and Mr. Crawford was notified on March 1, 2013 of a suspension by the CCSD. It took more than a year, but diligent efforts by O’Dell & O’Neal led to all charges being dropped and a letter of dismissal from the Professional Standards Commission. Justin O’Dell is committed to obtaining a positive outcome for educators who find themselves in the midst of disciplinary actions from the school board. He works tirelessly to preserve the employment goals and professional reputation of educators who have devoted themselves to serving the needs of students. The following news articles were published as this case progressed: