“Thinking of an Appeal? Think Carefully!” By Nick Booth

In almost every case that reaches a judge, one side will leave the courtroom unhappy with the outcome.  While this is often not due to any wrongdoing on the judge or attorneys’ end, sometimes a judgment is handed down that fails to consider key evidence or relies on faulty legal precedent.  In such cases, an appeal may be an appropriate option to consider.  However, there are numerous different types of appeals depending on the nature of the case and judgment entered, and each comes rife with its own set of procedural “traps for the unwary” that can keep your appeal from moving forward. The timeline for filing an appeal starts the moment the judgment is filed, and it is extremely important for the appealing party to understand the type of appeal that they are dealing with, and have a comprehensive grasp of the appellate rules to follow to ensure that their appeal is not dismissed for failure to follow the proper procedures.

“I Can’t Find The Will! What To Do If The Will Is Lost” by Leslee Hungerford

Many times, the original will of a decedent cannot be located. However, an estate can still be probated even in the absence of the original will. In Georgia, if a will cannot be found there is a presumption that it was revoked by the testator (the individual who executed the will). This presumption may be overcome and a copy of the original will can be admitted to probate. Overcoming the presumption of revocation may be achieved by showing that the will was destroyed or lost after the testator died. The individual offering the copy of the Will may offer circumstantial or direct evidence to rebut the presumption that the will was revoked. Testimony from individuals who witnessed the execution of the original will are most helpful in this endeavor.

 

 

 

 

“Grandparent’s Rights to Visitation” by Alyssa Blanchard

O.C.G.A. §19-7-3 governs visitation for family members.  Family members in this statute is defined as grandparents, great-grandparents, or siblings. O.C.G.A. §19-7-3(a)(1).  As a grandparent, you have the legal right to exercise visitation with your grandchild.  Grandparents can file an original action seeking visitation or intervene in a pending action where the issue of custody, divorce of the parent(s), termination of parental rights, visitation or adoption is before the court. O.C.G.A. §19-7-3(b)(1)(B).

As a grandparent, the court may grant you visitation if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that the health and welfare of your grandchild would be harmed unless you are granted visitation and if the best interests of your grandchild would be served by such visitation. O.C.G.A §19-7-3(c)(1).  When considering whether the health and welfare of your grandchild would be harmed, the court shall consider and may find that harm to your grandchild will likely result when prior to bringing an action for visitation, your grandchild lived with you for six months or more, you provided financial support for the basic needs of your grandchild for at least one year, you had an established pattern of regular visitation or child care with your grandchild or “any other circumstance exists indicating that emotional or physical harm would be reasonably likely to result if such visitation is not granted.” Id.

There is a rebuttable presumption that if you had a preexisting relationship with your grandchild, he may suffer emotional injury that is harmful to his health if your grandchild is denied any contact with you or is not provided some minimal opportunity for contact with you. O.C.G.A §19-7-3(c)(3).

For some grandparents, exercising visitation with their grandchild is not as simple as calling to make arrangements with a parent.  If you are among the many grandparents who are being denied access to their grandchildren contact an attorney today to learn more about your specific rights to visitation with your grandchild.

Starting My Legal Career. By Nick Booth

I grew up in East Cobb, graduating from Pope High School, and then made my way to Athens, Georgia, where I attended the University of Georgia. After realizing that four years spent in Athens simply would not cut it, I enrolled in the University of Georgia School of Law. Athens and UGA will always hold a special place in my heart, but I am so excited and grateful to be able to return to Marietta to pursue my legal career.

Being the first into my family to pursue a legal career, I had no idea of what to expect, from taking the LSAT, to going through law school, and now actually engaging in the practice of law. Fortunately, I had some fantastic professionals who work in the legal field to mentor me along the way. I believe that, no matter what profession one pursues, it is crucial that they do their best to surround themselves with people who can help them, and build and foster relationships with those people. The wisdom and advice that my mentors provided to me was invaluable, and I still lean on them for support and mentorship to this day.

After passing the bar exam and being sworn in, in order to become fully licensed to practice law in the state of Georgia, new lawyers must complete what is called the Transition Into Law Practice Program (TILPP). This program requires new lawyers to partner with a mentor who can guide you through the practice of law by giving you the opportunity to gain experience with both legal and community work that would be expected of a lawyer. Such activities include introduction to the legal community and the community at large, introduction to law office management, working with clients, advocacy experience, closing and transactional work, the obligation of attorneys to others, and negotiations. TILPP is a great program for new lawyers because it provides them with the opportunity to gain practical experience that many students may not have received in law school, and ultimately results in producing better attorneys for the citizens of Georgia and beyond.

I have always wanted to use my tools and talents to help others, and I have come to realize that attorneys are uniquely situated to assist people in some of their most dire times of need. As one of my professors and mentors in law school once told me: “Law school is about the law, law practice is about people.” I am appreciative of the opportunity to work at O’Dell & O’Neal, because of their commitment to this principle, and I hope to continue to grow and learn from the excellent attorneys who work here.

Why Do I Have to Complete a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit? By Alyssa Blanchard

Alyssa 2016 jpg (33 of 38)Pursuant to Uniform Superior Court Rule 24.2, in all cases involving temporary or permanent child support, alimony, equitable division of property, modification of child support or alimony or attorney’s fees, all parties are required to submit a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit (“DRFA”).  Unless otherwise ordered by the Court, if you file your case with an agreement or consent order resolving all issues (except divorce) you are not required to file a DRFA.  Your DRFA is a summary of your average monthly income and average monthly expenses including payments to any creditors.  It will also include a summary of your assets (value of your home, vehicle etc.)  You are required to file the DRFA 5 days before any temporary hearing or mediation.  If you later amend your DRFA for any reason you must file the DRFA 5 days before the final trial.

 

Your DRFA is important because it assists the Court in reviewing your financial circumstances and in making decisions.  For example, if you are requesting alimony which is based on need and ability to pay, the Court will look at your available resources and what your expenses are in determining whether and how much to award you in alimony.  When preparing your DRFA keep in mind that your expenses may not be the same exact amount each month so you will need to average your expenses.  The DRFA is important so be accurate as possible when completing.  Be sure to discuss your DRFA with your attorney and gather any documents supporting your numbers.

“What Do I Do With The Deceased Will?” By Leslee Hungerford

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When a loved one dies you may be left with several questions, including what do I do with their Last Will & Testament? Under Georgia law, a person in possession of a Last Will & Testament has an affirmative duty to file it with reasonable promptness with the probate court of the county having jurisdiction. See, O.C.G.A. §53-5-5. However, filing the Will with Probate Court is not the same as formally offering the Will for Probate. To formally initiate the probate process, you must file the requisite petition with the court in addition to filing the Will. Generally, the named Executor of the Will is responsible for offering the Will for Probate. If for any reason the executor fails to offer the will for probate with reasonable promptness, or if no executor is named, any interested person may offer the will for probate.

If you find yourself in possession of the deceased’s Will, the first step will be to check the Will to see if an Executor is named. If so, you should contact the Executor and discuss moving forward with initiating the probate procedure, including filing the Will with the court. If there is no named Executor in the Will, you may be permitted to file the Will and initiate the probate process yourself. Schedule a consultation to discuss the probate process and what responsibilities you may have as a holder of a Will.

The Bitter End of Brangelina Includes Supervised Visitation by Leslie O’Neal

Hollywood has been stunned by the sudden split of one its golden couples, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  It was announced in September that the couple is divorcing after a lengthy and high profile relationship spanning more than ten years.   They share six children together – 3 of whom are adopted – and they have a vast estate that includes a Chateau in the South of France with a working winery.  However, unlike many high profile splits, it is not the asset division that has become the biggest source of contention in this saga, but rather custody and visitation rights over their six children.

In a twist that would rival any Hollywood script, it was revealed shortly after Jolie’s divorce filing that the L.A. Department of Child and Family Services (“DCFS”) was investigating Pitt for becoming physically confrontational with the couple’s oldest son Maddox on an international flight aboard a private plane.  As a result, it has been widely reported that Pitt’s initial reintroduction and visitation with his children has been supervised by a third party based on temporary recommendation from DCFS.

Supervised visits are generally imposed by Courts in Georgia when there is a potential risk of an unsafe and/or unhealthy environment for the children involved.    This tool is also used when an investigation is being made into allegations of abuse or inappropriate behavior.  Until the investigation is complete and a determination can be made regarding the validity of the allegations, a judge may impose supervised visitation out of an abundance of caution.  This ensures the protection of the children if the allegations are later validated, but also ensures continuing contact between the children and that particular parent.  This is likely what is occurring in Pitt’s case, as it has been reported that all parties are awaiting the results of the DFCS investigation before moving forward with a more permanent visitation schedule.

Supervised visitation services in Georgia generally come at a steep price.  They generally run at about $50 per hour, plus an added fee for the supervisor to prepare a written report at the conclusion of the visit.  In addition to the cost, both parents must fill out forms in advance of the visits and follow-strict guidelines during the visit. However, despite the cost and strict guidelines, supervision services often place a particular emphasis on keeping the visits as natural as possible for the child.  The following provides more detailed information for supervised visitation services offered in Georgia and other states:  http://www.svnetwork.net/.  Thankfully for Pitt, he can easily afford any cost associated with supervised visits with his children, though the affordability probably doesn’t ease the sting of the negative stigma.

“I’M DIVORCED: NOW WHAT?” by Justin O’Dell

So Dick and Jane got divorced.  Jane has the kids on a primary basis with Dick having visitation.  Before they each settle back into their own lives, each one of them has some important “I’s” to dot and “T’s” to cross related to their respective estates.

First and foremost, Dick and Jane should each immediately update their life insurance policies, 401k policies, IRA policies and any other benefits or plans wherein a beneficiary has been named.  Their divorce may require them to name each other as the beneficiary (or a trustee beneficiary for the children) for a certain amount. If so, that provision should be followed.  However, all other policies and accounts need to be immediately updated.  If, for example, Dick were to die and Jane was still listed as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or IRA, the policy or account is going to pay out to her.

The second thing each needs to do is update their Wills.  In the instance where a party has a Will executed while married, but then gets divorced, the Will is not revoked.  However, the spouse is treated as predeceasing the maker of the Will.  This is a safety net for the parties in the event that they do not update their Wills and avoids the draconian consequences seen with life insurance and the like, but the situation is still rife with potential problems.  First of all, the Wills created as a married couple probably created a Guardian for the children and a person to serve as Trustee over any money left to the children.  Either person may wish to revisit that decision.  If the parties had named Jane’s sister while married, Dick may want to change Trustees of money he leaves to the children to someone from his own family.  As for the Guardian, the opposite spouse would be the presumptive guardian of the children if one of them died.  However, when that second spouse died, the Court would make a decision based on the person appointed in that spouse’s Will.  It is imperative that each side make an expression as to whom they would wish to have in that role.

Thirdly, both spouses need to make a note about their tax status and future filings.  The parties have probably been filing joint returns.  Now as separate tax filers, they are no longer both benefitting from certain deductions.  One spouse may be able to file head of household, one may have the dependency exemptions over the children and one of them may have the mortgage interest deductions.  If one is paying alimony to the other, it may be tax deductible to the payor and taxable to the payee.  Both Dick and Jane may want to speak with their CPA and tax preparer to review their withholding status and also to plan to set money aside for future taxes.

Lastly, Dick and Jane may want to start a diary or journal of the various dates, deadlines and obligations arising under the decree.  It might be beneficial to keep a calendar regarding the dates visitation and parenting time is exercised and the dates when it is swapped.  Each side may wish to keep a log of any disputes and of the other parties’ attendance at the children’s events, activities, conferences and the like.  Often times parties will act like this sort of journaling is unnecessary under the belief that “We are getting along and working together, so I don’t need to arm myself for future court.”  Those parties are well-served to remember that the couple also exchanged wedding vows which contained a host of promises and commitments, yet wound up in a divorce.  Life changes and situations certainly present themselves which neither party anticipated.  It is better to be ready than to be caught off-guard and guessing.

Uncontested Divorce 101 written by Attorney Alyssa Blanchard

One can proceed with a divorce action in one of two ways: 1) contested or 2) uncontested.  In a contested action parties come to the court with most if not all of the issues unresolved.  In an uncontested action, parties have resolved all issues and come to the court to have the divorced finalized based on the agreement the two parties have reached.

Ideally an uncontested divorce will proceed in the following manner: 1) One files the Summons and Complaint for Divorce; 2) One’s spouse acknowledges service of the Summons and Complaint; 3) One’s agreement is reduced to writing and executed by both parties; 4) a final uncontested hearing is scheduled; and, 5) Parties attend the hearing and obtain the Final Judgement and Decree of Divorce. A Summons, Complaint, Acknowledgement and Agreement may also be filed at the same time.

The key to the uncontested divorce is the Agreement.  If both spouses have already discussed the terms of settlement and are in agreement as to what those terms are, the divorce proceed uncontested.  The agreement should address all issues of division of property (both real and personal), assets, alimony and if the parties have children the agreement should also address custody and child support.

Keep in mind that the terms of an agreement will be unique to the parties’ particular circumstances.  When proceeding uncontested, remember that it is important that each party knows exactly what his or her rights are so that the agreement is fair and parties are protected.