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Family Law: Who Says You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

On Behalf of | Jun 2, 2015 | Family Law

Tonight’s post on our Family Law Conference was written by our Wills, Trusts and Estates Guru, Steve Worrall.

I attended the 33rd Annual Georgia Family Law Institute last month, from May 21-23, 2015. This was the first program I had attended as a member of the Manely Firm Team, but I have attended these annual three day seminars for family law attorneys since 1988, missing only two or three in that stretch of 27 years.

Although my practice is increasingly estate planning and probate, I am still active in many of the family law cases of the firm and both need and want to fulfill my annual continuing legal education requirements by attending this event each year. Also I have valuable collegial relationships with divorce lawyers and Superior Court Judges throughout Georgia that this event fosters and maintains for me.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, this “Old Dawg” (yes, I am a proud graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law) learns the newest and best of cutting edge “tricks” every year at the Family Law Institute. The program grows every year and this year’s was the largest in scope by far, with 632 lawyers attending. We had 43 separate classes, scholarly and practical, led by over 40 Georgia family law attorneys, some with many years of experience and others who were younger, “rising stars;” 35 judges from Georgia trial courts, appellate courts and federal district courts; and several legislators, psychologists, private investigators, accountants and law professors.

We learned about important cases decided by the Georgia Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Georgia over the previous year. We learned how judges feel about the issues we present to them and better, more persuasive ways to present our cases to them. We learned about cutting edge issues affecting same sex family law relationships and electronic discovery.

Let’s put this into real-world cases and situations:

*   What surveillance techniques ae being used by private investigators in divorce cases?

*    How do we introduce police reports and business under new evidence rules passed in Georgia over the last few years?

*   What new laws affecting family law cases are being considered in the Georgia General Assembly and what impact can family lawyers have in shaping those laws?

*   What happens to our clients (and even to us as their lawyers) if they engage in illegal electronic surveillance of their spouses (and how do we advise them to make sure they don’t get themselves in trouble)?

*   How do we introduce evidence from social media accounts? Ever try subpoenaing Facebook? It’s not that easy!

*   What do trial judges really want and NEED to hear from us at temporary hearings: answers to questions about temporary alimony, temporary child custody, use of guardians ad litem (GALs), properly preparing and presenting our clients’ financial affidavits, and getting temporary attorney’s fees awards?

And that was just PART of Day 1 of this 3 day program! We went on the rest of the week to learn about legal remedies in Georgia for uncoupling couples who are either unmarried or perhaps married in another state, but living in Georgia, where their same sex marriage is not legally recognized, yet breakups of those families occur just as they do in “traditional” marriages. Frozen embryos are a hot new issue in divorces (have you heard about Sophia Vergara-Nick Loeb lawsuit?) and how do we handle those under Georgia law? We even learned all the ins and outs of cross examination from the expert of cross-examination: Valdosta lawyer Roger Dodd, who is part professor and part stand-up comedian. And a federal judge specifically addressed an important international parental kidnapping case, Chafin v. Chafin, in which our firm and Michael Manely played the lead role in successfully arguing before the United States Supreme Court.

What’s on the horizon in Georgia family law? Administrative legitimation will likely be reconsidered in the legislature again in 2016. We may see more changes to fine-tune the child support guidelines and the child support worksheets. There are many existing intersections of state and federal law in family law case and we will likely see more in the future.

The biggest “new trick” I took away from this year’s Institute, though, was being a part of the Manely Firm Team. As Michael has written previously, 9 of our 10 attorneys attended. We took up an entire row in the ballroom where the classes were taught. We were able to discuss the topics and relate the lessons to our current cases. The collegiality of our team environment was so refreshing and intellectually challenging for a lawyer who spent the last 20 years largely as a sole practitioner. And some of our own young “rising stars” might have learned a few new “tricks” from this “old dog.”

All in all, it was a great program and a wonderful team-building experience.

Steve Worrall

Steve serves all of our clients; wills, trusts and estate and probate needs in Marietta, Atlanta, Lawrenceville, Savannah, Canton and Gainesville.