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194 – Examples of What Happens When You Do Not Stay on Top of Legal Deadlines and Issues.

194 – Examples of What Happens When You Do Not Stay on Top of Legal Deadlines and Issues. Image

04/02/2021 1:00 pm

In this show, Leh and Todd give examples of what happens when you miss legal deadlines or you do not take action on certain legal issues. They discuss when the failure is fatal to the case, and when you might be able to do something about it. The examples we tackle include:

  • If I missed a Court Hearing, can I file an appeal because I can barely see my daughter?

  • My Marriage application was voided by the Probate Court because I did not file the proper steps, does that mean that I don't have to file for divorce because the marriage is not valid?

  • When we got married, it turns out that my husband's divorce was not final. Does that mean we have to get remarried?

  • I was separated from my deceased husband for years, but he died recently. We never bothered to get a divorce. No I want to get remarried but I can't get a marriage license because the Court keeps saying I still married. My former mother-in-law put on the death certificate that he had been divorced.

  • What happens if my rights were terminated and I want them reinstated?

  • and a few more!




Transcript

Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. We are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. Here, you will learn about divorce, family law, and from time to time, even tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online in AtlantaDivorceTeam.com.

Leh Meriwether: All right, Todd, you almost missed it.

Todd Orston: Almost missed it? Well, traffic was terrible. I mean, my dogs were running up and down the stairs, there was a mash-up in the kitchen, it was terrible. But I made it, I'm here.

Leh Meriwether: That's good.

Todd Orston: And ready, kind of.

Leh Meriwether: Ready. Fantastic.

Todd Orston: For once.

Leh Meriwether: Well, today we're going to talk about what happens when you don't stay on top of legal deadlines and issues. And just to give you some background, there are some online places where people can post questions and sometimes I respond to those online. But sometimes I'll see sort of a theme, I'll see a series of questions and it gives me an idea for a show. If I see a number of questions along a certain topic, wow, this is on the minds of people here locally, at least. It's focused on Georgia.

Leh Meriwether: So I pulled some of those questions out of there to talk about this, because some of these, we as lawyers read these and we just look at it and go, man, this all could've been avoided had you just taken care of X, Y and Z. Now, sometimes it's obvious to some people, and some of the things we're going to talk about, if we get to all of them, aren't so obvious, and that's why we're going to try to include them. Let's get started.

Todd Orston: Absolutely. All right. So go ahead, hit me, I'm ready. I'm kind of ready. I'm getting ready.

Leh Meriwether: All right. So the question is, steps to file custody appeal in Georgia without hiring a lawyer. "Got my court date mixed up and I missed court and I lost all my rights. Father is now the custodial parent, has me put on child support. I can only see my daughter four times out of the year supervised, we live five hours apart. The list goes on and on as to what I was ordered to do; basically, whatever he asked the court, he got because I didn't show up to court.

Leh Meriwether: "I want to represent myself, as I was ready for court with all my evidence but got my dates mixed up. I've been doing research on paperwork to go with the appeal, but I'm wondering if someone can tell me exactly where I can get an actual appeal form from and what would I need to do with that form? I've seen examples and samples, but I need an actual form."

Todd Orston: All right. Well, I'm not going to go into the forms and process for an appeal, because we could do five shows on that, and it is a complex system in order to appeal a court order. And there are very strict deadlines. So if you are thinking about appealing an order, please understand: if you miss a deadline, you're dead in the water. At that point, you can't appeal, and whatever order you have, you have.

Todd Orston: But I'm not going to get into that, because I can very confidently state this is not appealable. If you miss a court date, and this is what, Leh, you were talking about. It is so incredibly important: the number-one thing that you have to do, obviously, you need to do discovery, you need to organize, you need to gather that evidence and be ready to present that evidence. But if you don't show up on the day you're supposed to be there, all of that was for naught.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Orston: So unfortunately, the fact that you mixed up the court dates, I'm so sorry, and it's terrible and it's unfortunate, and it sounds like the order is incredibly, grossly unfair. But it was your responsibility. If we represent a client, it is our responsibility to make sure we know exactly when court is and advise our client, you have to be there. So unfortunately, you missed court, it's not an appealable issue that you were not there at the appointed time and the court issued an order in your absence, meaning the court had a hearing, took whatever evidence the father wanted to provide, and then issued an order.

Todd Orston: Clearly, with these types of terms, it was a doozy. The evidence that was presented by the father was probably pretty significant to limit your rights so dramatically. And so appeal, unfortunately, I'm not hearing anything about this that would open the door to an appeal. So in terms of what your course of action would be, I would read very carefully what the order states, try and figure out what kind of allegations were made, in essence, what convinced the court to limit your rights so dramatically?

Todd Orston: And then that may open the door to can you do a motion for reconsideration. Was there a ton of just bad information provided by the other party, just lies? Maybe you can re-open that door by asking the court to reconsider its order. Or if, Leh, you were talking about this offline, if you got into an accident or something like that, if there was some real reason why you missed court, bring that to the court's attention and maybe the court will reopen the case, set aside that order.

Todd Orston: And then the third option would be potentially you are trying to modify. If the court said, well, it's because of your drinking, then you may need to go get some analysis done, show that you don't have a drinking problem, that's not correct, or at the very least it's been resolved, you don't have a drinking problem, your rights should be reinstated, or at least you shouldn't be supervised or whatever the case might be.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And you wouldn't want to come back to court on a modification right away, you would want to wait to make sure that you checked every box that the court ... if the court gave reasons, we don't know if the court gave reasons why they did it, and probably, here's the other problem, the case wasn't taken down. If the other side doesn't show up, you don't take down the evidence. So there's a whole slew of reasons why this is not appealable. Just because you didn't show up, that's not a basis. I mean, the fact that you didn't show up is in the record, but the reasons are not in the record.

Leh Meriwether: The proper course of action is for the cause of your failure to show up ... for instance, something severe, a car accident, a heart attack. Something that puts you in the hospital, made you physically incapable of getting into the courtroom. Then the court could set that aside and actually reschedule the hearing. But it sounded like you got notice of it and so you're fine ... to give you an idea of how harsh of a rule this is, and there's reasons for it, partly because the courts would be constantly backlogged if everybody just said, oh, I forgot about the court date. Things move slowly as it is, that would make it even worse.

Leh Meriwether: Years ago, we had appealed a case where a client had an attorney who he had fired, he told the attorney, I'm firing you, the attorney was not corresponding with the client, and so the client went directly to the court and said, "Hey, I have fired my attorney and I need to know when the upcoming court date is." Well, for whatever reason, the court never told him the court date, and the only response was, "Well, your lawyer needs to file a motion to withdraw." Well, they couldn't find the lawyer. To this day I'm not even sure what happened to him.

Leh Meriwether: But needless to say, they had a hearing without him, he got crushed financially by the results, the court would not set it aside, and the court of appeals also would not set it aside, even though his hands were tied. They wouldn't talk to him because he had a lawyer, but he couldn't get a hold of his lawyer to tell him he was withdrawing from the case, so he never got the court date.

Leh Meriwether: Now, that was years and years ago; thankfully, today most courts are all online. I'm speaking in Georgia, and I know a lot of other states have this very similar thing, but you can go online, and this is why now, today, there's almost no excuses.

Leh Meriwether: You can go online and there'll be what's called a rule nisi, that's the title here in Georgia, of the documents setting a court date, but you can go online, look at the docket, look at the paperwork, and should be able to see, hey, the court date has been set for this date, and then you put it on your calendar and you put, like, 10 reminders of that upcoming court date. With our phones today too, when you put it on your phone, you can put a reminder a month out, a week out, whatever it may be, so that you do not forget that court date.

Todd Orston: Yeah, and there are things that you need to, if you're going to represent yourself, that you need to actively do. You need to let the court know, let the clerk know, let the judge's office know. If you're representing yourself, make sure they have that data, that they have contact information. There are people where, let's say, in that situation that you were talking about, I've seen people where they fire their attorney, or they just go into it without an attorney, and they don't provide updated information to the court in terms of contact.

Todd Orston: And then what happens is the court sends out a notice, goes to the wrong place, trial or some hearing is set, the person doesn't get the notice, they don't show up, an order is entered, and they're like, well, hold on, you didn't send me any notice. And the court says, well, do you live at 123 Sycamore? Well, no-no, I haven't lived there for six months. Well, that what you gave to the court. We sent that notice to that address.

Leh Meriwether: Hey, when we come back, we're going to continue to break down some examples of what happens when you do not stay on top of your legal deadlines.

Leh Meriwether: I just wanted to let you know that if you ever wanted to listen to this show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings, WSB. You can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston: Better than counting sheep, I guess, right?

Leh Meriwether: That's right.

Todd Orston: You can turn on the show and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether: There you go.

Todd Orston: I'll talk very softly.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome back, everyone, this is Leh and Todd, and we are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com, and if you want to read a transcript of this show or go back and listen to it again, you can find it at DivorceTeamRadio.com or wherever you get your pods.

Leh Meriwether: All right, today we're talking about ... we came across some questions that were basically, people didn't take care, either didn't stay on top of legal deadlines or issues, and now they're asking questions what to do about it. So we're taking these and we're breaking down each one, what they might be able to do, and we're using them as examples of what to do, or just examples of what not to do in some situations, so that people are aware of these things and stay on top of them.

Leh Meriwether: Okay, ready for the next one?

Todd Orston: Yeah, absolutely. All right, I'll read this one. "I got married; unintentionally, my husband's divorce wasn't finalized until five months later. Is our marriage still valid?" The writer writes, "My husband's previous wife left him and moved back to New York in 2016. After no contact for two years, he thought the paperwork he received from his previous wife in 2018 was his divorce papers. Since he never heard from her again, he thought it was finalized. We were married in August 2020; she found out and informed him that she never finished the paperwork. He obtained a lawyer and filed for the divorce again, the divorce was granted on 1/25/21 in the state of New York where they were married. Is our marriage still valid, or do we have to obtain new marriage licenses?"

Leh Meriwether: Well, the short answer is no, and yes.

Todd Orston: All right, I think we're done, let's move on to the next one. That was ... it's the clarity I appreciate.

Leh Meriwether: No, your marriage, you can't be married to two people at the same time, which would nullify the second marriage, even though they didn't know about it. And you absolutely want to obtain a new marriage license, and you'll probably have to, you can just have a justice of the peace marry you, it's a formality at that point, but it's important because if you don't do that and, let's say, during the course of your marriage, you and your husband have an agreement that you're just going to be a stay-at-home mom, and 20 years later you haven't pursued your career, he wants to get a divorce, but suddenly you realized, oh wow, we never were actually married because he never got divorced the first time, and you can't pursue any sort of alimony, or even a division of assets.

Todd Orston: That's right. I was about to jump in and say and division of property. That's where I've seen, not so much alimony. I mean, I've seen that a couple times, but where I've talked to people and seen bigger problems is division of property.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Orston: And you invest 10, 15 years into a relationship and, let's say you are the stay-at-home mom and the other party has worked and built up retirement and assets in their name. All of a sudden, you find yourself in a situation where you are thinking about a quote-unquote divorce, and unfortunately, if there's no marriage, there's no equitable division.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Orston: And there's no other equitable right for you to go in and go, well, I know we weren't married, but I want a part of his retirement, I want a part of that asset and this asset. Unfortunately, you're dead in the water, and so it's really important for you to, again, like you were saying, go get the licenses and renew those vows.

Leh Meriwether: Let's take one step back, how could this have been avoided? For divorce, and any legal action, for that matter, nothing is final until a judge signs off on it with a final order or a final judgment of divorce in a divorce case, and it's filed with the clerk of court. So what you want to see, if perhaps you're marrying someone who was previously divorced. You might ask, hey, do you have a final judgment? You don't have to see their settlement agreement, but the final judgment should have a signature from a judge and what's called a date stamp from the clerk's office, and the date stamp shows that it was filed in the office on a certain date, and some of them say a certain time, but you want to make sure those are on there.

Leh Meriwether: It doesn't have to be a certified copy, but you want to at least see a copy with a judge's signature and a filed-in-the-clerk's-office date. And that's at least the law in Georgia and many other states. But absent getting that, if you were getting a divorce and the person was out of state, absent receiving a signed, date-stamped, filed order, your divorce isn't over.

Todd Orston: Yeah, what I would follow up with is what I see very often, and I'm going to stress the word very, dealing with issues like divorce, people don't want to deal with it, and there are some people hit it head-on, right, they follow up, they are proactive, they do what they need to do in order to get through the very difficult process or the potentially very difficult process.

Todd Orston: But there are a lot of people who, they want to just put their head in the sand and don't want to deal with it. So in a situation like that, they don't want to deal with it, this person maybe was like, well, okay, you're moving forward with it, I hate this, I don't want to have to deal with it, and then they stopped being proactive and proactively getting the information they need to make sure that, if you're going to go through the process, let's make sure that we dot the Is and cross the Ts and do whatever we need to do.

Todd Orston: They end up just sort of washing their hands clean of it, and it's like, well, if you're doing it, just do it.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah.

Todd Orston: Send me the paperwork when it's over. In this kind of a situation, you can't do that. You have to make sure that your rights are being protected, whether you have an attorney and you have to work with the attorney; you still can't put your head in the sand and say, attorney, just do it. But at least then you're protected.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah [crosstalk 00:17:55]-

Todd Orston: If not, you need to be proactive.

Leh Meriwether: And I've seen a case where the person was told, hey, this is what the agreement's going to say. She received that information and said, oh, well, they're ready, go to the lawyer's office and sign everything. So she goes to the lawyer's office, she signs everything, thinking it says what the email from her husband said. They actually act on the email for two years. And two years later, they get into a fight and he says, we're going to go back to the original agreement. And she's like, we've been operating under the original agreement.

Leh Meriwether: So he very sarcastically says, you should really read things before you sign them. She never even got a copy of all this stuff, by the way. And in the agreement, he had primary custody, she barely got any parenting time, and it was very harsh on her. So it was very deceptive. If she had taken the moment to read the documents and get a copy of them, she would've known this was coming. Now, thankfully, in a modification action we got all that stuff fixed, but it cost a lot of money to do so.

Todd Orston: And you're talking about deception, like true deceptive practices, okay. But it doesn't even need to get to that level.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Orston: All right, sometimes what you put sort of on, pen to paper and you're like, okay, well, this is what division of property will look like, or this is how we're going to deal with the house or this is how we're going to handle the kids. What you put on paper in terms of just some notes, you sit down, oh, this is what our agreement is. The translation, something gets missed.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Orston: Especially if you're not using ... well, I'm going to say specially if you're not using an attorney, but even when you are using an attorney, if the wrong information was conveyed to the attorney and the attorney then drafts, maybe something was missed. If it's the other side's attorney doing the drafting, you have to, again, you can't put your head in the sand and just assume it correctly reflects the agreement that reached. You need to review it, you need to make sure it's accurate.

Leh Meriwether: Right. All right, so next question, this is a short one, because it kind of goes in line with the other one. "My marriage application was voided by the probate court. Do I need to file for divorce/annulment if we are no longer together? I had the wedding ceremony before we applied for a marriage license; the probate court voided our marriage application since we didn't follow the proper procedure and no license was ever obtained. The officiant signed a marriage application."

Todd Orston: All right. My understanding is if you applied for a marriage ... if you filed a marriage application and the probate court voided it, then it's as if it never existed.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Orston: And therefore, there are arguably is no legal marriage. And then I guess, wouldn't you say, Leh, it just begs the question, if you're in a state that doesn't allow for some level of, well, Georgia doesn't ... I apologize, I'm having a senior moment. But if there's no formal marriage, then there's nothing you need to do in terms of a divorce, okay? There are some rules, Georgia doesn't have them, but sometimes if you haven't gone through the formal process, a jurisdiction can still look and say, okay, you're married, because you acted as if you're married.

Todd Orston: Georgia doesn't allow for that, and so in situation, unfortunately, it sounds like you're not married, you didn't get the right application. Or you did-

Leh Meriwether: The timing was wrong.

Todd Orston: -it was wrong, it was voided, so unfortunately it doesn't sound like there is any marriage.

Leh Meriwether: There could be a case that comes out and says ... that changes all that, there could be a change in the law, but as it stands now, it doesn't look like you would be able to ... there is a marriage, because it was voided by the probate court. When we come back, we'll continue to break down problems when you don't follow legal deadlines and issues.

Leh Meriwether: Hey, everyone, you're listening to our podcast, but you have alternatives, you have choices. You can listen to us live also at 1:00 AM on Monday morning on WSB. If you're enjoying the show, we would love it if you could go rate us in iTunes or wherever you may be listening to it, give us a five-star rating and tell us why you like the show.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome back, everyone. This is Leh and Todd, and we're your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online in AtlantaDivorceTeam.com, and if you want to read the transcript of this show or go back and listen to it again, you can find it at DivorceTeamRadio.com.

Leh Meriwether: Well, we've been talking about what happens when you do not stay on top of legal deadlines and legal issues, and how they can sort of come back in bite you in the butt. We've been going through some questions that've been posed online and using those questions as examples of what can happen, what you could've done to avoid it, and what you might be able to do to get out the problem.

Leh Meriwether: We left on, I just want to circle back around on the one regarding the marriage application was voided by the probate court. If you're the one who wants to try to enforce the fact that there was a marriage, even though this was voided, and perhaps you've been married for a long time and you weren't aware of this, and you're trying to get access to an equitable division of the marital estate. I just want to say this: there could be some nuance that we aren't aware of, because the question was very simple, that could change the answer we had given. There could be some nuance or could be in a new case that came out that we just haven't read yet.

Leh Meriwether: We literally had that happen, where we were talking about something and then the next week a case comes out and kind of changes things. Or statute, we would be giving an answer regarding child support here in Georgia, at least, and then the governor signs a brand-new statute two weeks later that changes what we had just said. So this is 2021, and we're giving this information. You should always consult with a lawyer on your specific detailed situation, because a lot of these questions don't include details.

Leh Meriwether: But the whole point of this was to illustrate problems that happen when you don't take care of legal issues in a timely manner. And deadlines, too. All right, next one.

Todd Orston: All right. The next one is definitely unfortunate, but the person writes, "The ex is deceased, never filed for divorce, but the courts won't let me remarry." They go on say, "My friend is trying to get married, her ex is now deceased; they were married but estranged when he was alive. After his passing, his mother filed for the death certificate and put that he was divorced when he wasn't, and now my friend is being told by the courts she is still legally married and they can't prove that, even with the death certificate, that the deceased male is actually her once-known husband.

Todd Orston: "She is trying to find an attorney who handles these matters and doing what she needs to do in order to move on with her life and with her current fiancé."

Leh Meriwether: Well, these situations are definitely frustrating. It sounds like, I'm guessing here, it sounds like, because the death certificate listed the husband was divorced, that they're saying, well, this can't be, the John Smith you're married to can't be the same person on this death certificate. Just a few things: first off, if you're separated from your spouse and estranged, you don't talk to them for a long period of time, just move forward with an uncontested divorce. I mean, we're all about reconciliation here, but we've seen this happen before, where people just wait years and then they ... I didn't include any of these questions, but there was dozens of questions online about, what do I do if I can't find my husband or my wife? They disappeared, I want a divorce, I'm ready to get remarried.

Leh Meriwether: Don't wait on this. This is one of those examples of what happens when you wait to take care of certain legal issues. In this person's defense, I mean, you just don't think about that because you're not a lawyer, number one, and you're not in this field where you see this time and time again. More accurately, you're not aware of it; I'm not saying just because you're not a lawyer you can't figure this out. As lawyers, we see this happen day in and day out, and that's why we're going to do this show. Okay.

Todd Orston: and very quickly, and then we'll move on to the next question: I think it's because people think of divorce as a mere formality.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Orston: Right? It's just a formality, I need to just file some papers just so that there is that designation of divorce.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Orston: What they don't think of is the consequence of their inaction, right?

Leh Meriwether: Right.

Todd Orston: I have people call me weekly, where it's like, oh, we've been separated for five years, seven years, 10 years, I've had people call and say we've been separated for 20-plus years. And in their mind, they believe that it was just a formality, that I just didn't go through it. It's like, okay, yeah, you're right, it is a formality, but now we need to find that person and we need to get them to cooperate, and maybe at this point they are not willing to cooperate, or we just can't even find them.

Todd Orston: So absolutely, procrastination is not your friend there. You need to just sort of bite the bullet and say I'm going to take care of this now, contemporaneously, with the split-up, and just get this done.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, I'm glad you said that, Todd, because you're correct, a lot of people think of this as just, I just didn't check that box, is that really going to cause a problem? Yes, that box, even though it may seem simple on its face, has massive legal consequences. And here's one I'd never ... the reason I brought this one up, this situation, I'd never heard of this before, so that really got me thinking about how, wow, if you don't take of these things, something bizarre as this can happen. Now you can't get remarried, even though your husband's dead.

Leh Meriwether: How would you deal with this? Okay. Well, first off, if I were in the clerk's office, I would say what information do you need from me to prove that the person on this death certificate is the one I was married to? Because his mom didn't realize we didn't actually get a divorce. And hopefully, they would answer that question. Now, they may say I can't give legal advice, then you got to go to a ... and I got an answer for that too, but you may need to hire a lawyer and file an action with the judge and present evidence to the judge, which is a royal pain the butt.

Leh Meriwether: But before that, one thing I would think of, hopefully you filed joint tax returns that would have his Social Security number on it. I can't remember of the top of my head, and I'm sorry I don't have the answer to this, but I thought Social Security numbers were also on marriage certificates. I could be wrong. But I know that they're on tax returns, so you could take your tax return in and say, here's my Social Security number, oh, and here's the death certificate with the Social Security number attached to it, you see? This is the same person.

Leh Meriwether: And while you're going through those steps, go to his mom, and say, hey Mom, Mom-in-law, we actually never got a divorce, can you swear an affidavit you weren't aware of that, and when you filed this you were unaware of that? And then you take those three items back to the clerk's office, and hopefully at that point they'll go, oh, okay, here's your marriage license.

Todd Orston: Yeah. All right.

Leh Meriwether: All right.

Todd Orston: Next question.

Leh Meriwether: All right. "If someone takes you off child support, how long before they can re-sue? My children's mother had me on child support, she got married, dropped the child support and is threatening to put me back on child support."

Todd Orston: Okay, so the reason I'm hesitating is because once you're on child support, it's not so easy to just quote-unquote take you off of child support.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Orston: Child support is pursuant to a court order, and unless there's a new order that basically says you're no longer responsible for child support, then you are still responsible at the terms or pursuant to the terms of the existing order. If it said $500 a month, then you're responsible for $500 a month until such time as a new court order says your obligated is reduced, increased or terminated.

Todd Orston: So my first question would be, why do you believe she quote-unquote took you off of child support? Because if what she did was say, hey, we're married, I don't need you to pay child support anymore, then that's not taking you off of child support, all right? So you need to look to see what order was put in place to establish your obligation, and was anything done to affect that order? If nothing has been done, then it's a dangerous situation, I've seen people fall into this trap too many times.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Orston: Where they think, oh, you're telling me I don't need to pay anymore? Oh, okay. Or I lost my job and my income changed and the other party goes, oh, don't worry about it. I know that you're struggling, don't worry, you don't have to pay child support. The problem is you still owe the child support, and then one month, six months, I've seen five years, six years, seven years later, all of a sudden you're like, well, I didn't pay child support for three years, and the other party comes in and goes, oh yeah, you owe me that child support arrearage, is what it's called.

Todd Orston: Not only do you owe that amount, but there's significant interest that accrues on that arrearage. And I've seen people in the hole 20,000, 50,000, I've seen 100 to $200,000. And they're like, but I didn't know I had this obligation. Well, you should've asked the right questions.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. We're focusing on Georgia here, so could there be a state out there that allows you to push a pause button on the child support? I guess that's possible, I haven't studied child support in all 50 states and maybe we're missing something, but as a general rule, child support, an order doesn't just end because one party says, oh, I'm not going to collect. Well, it still continues to accrue, especially here in Georgia. In most states that I've ever looked at, but I can't give legal advice in other states. So.

Todd Orston: Yep. I agree.

Leh Meriwether: Great answers.

Todd Orston: Formally, you need to put people on child support and formally, you need to terminate the child support, if it applies.

Leh Meriwether: Exactly. All right, and that means a court order. When we come back, we're going to continue to break down what happens when you don't stay on top of legal deadlines and issues.

Leh Meriwether: I just wanted to let you know that if you ever wanted to listen to this show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings, WSB. You can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston: Better than counting sheep, I guess, right?

Leh Meriwether: That's right.

Todd Orston: You can turn on the show and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether: There you go.

Todd Orston: I'll talk very softly.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome back, everyone. This is Leh and Todd, and we are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online in AtlantaDivorceTeam.com, and if you want to read a transcript of this show or go back and listen to it again, you can find it at DivorceTeamRadio.com.

Leh Meriwether: Today, we're talking about what happens when you do not stay on top of legal deadlines and issues. We're going through some really almost bizarre questions, some of which I have never seen before, but they're great examples, and sometimes bizarre examples, of what happens when you don't take care of certain legal issues.

Leh Meriwether: All right, well, let's hit, there's three left, hopefully ... we may or may not get to all three, but we're going to do our best.

Todd Orston: Oh, I know I'm going to do my best. You'll hit about 70%, but I'm going to ... all cylinders, I'm ready.

Leh Meriwether: Okay. All right. Let's see, is it my turn to ask you a question?

Todd Orston: Yeah, go ahead.

Leh Meriwether: All right. "What should I do if I think my rights are terminating and I want them reinstated? Hi, I am a father of one 10-year-old daughter, the mother of my child has been keeping my daughter away from me for three years now. After many failed attempts to see her, she's blocked me and my family on all social medias and through text. The court order says I have not taken care of my daughter since birth, which is a lie. I have all the evidence of payment, I have not received a paper saying my right were terminated, nor was I informed about the decision. I want the best legal help possible to get rights to my child and visitation.

Leh Meriwether: The mother of my children are remarried, and I also want to check to see if her new husband has adopted my daughter. She is in Evans County, Georgia, but I'd really like to fight the case where I live. I live in Atlanta, Georgia."

Todd Orston: All right, this is one of those examples and one of those situations where it's like, when you think about what's the worse that could happen? Well, this sounds like it's coming really darn close to sort of a worst-case scenario, and where the person says I've not received a paper saying my rights were terminated, nor was I informed about the decision ... look, I may be wrong, but I have a hard time believing that you didn't receive some notice that there was a court proceeding that involved custody which could result in termination. It's not like this kind of stuff just happens.

Todd Orston: Again, what I'm about to say: should you have this reviewed by an attorney? Yes, you should, because this is as severe a sanction, if you will, as you can imagine, right? Your rights to a child were terminated, but the bottom line is, these things don't happen in a vacuum. It doesn't just happen that your rights are going to get terminated. You have certain rights, and they have obligations to serve you with a petition to terminate those rights, to put you on notice that this is something that could happen, to give you an opportunity to come to court to defend yourself and your relationship with your child.

Todd Orston: The problem is, if none of those things happened, you might have an appellate issue here. You might have the ability to step in and undo that order, but if you did get handed documents from a sheriff deputy or from a process server saying, hey, you've been served, there's a custody action now. If you didn't notify the court and say, I'm here, give me documents over here and tell me when there's a court date. If you didn't file an answer, if you got notice of a court date, if you didn't show up, then this is the kind of stuff that happens.

Todd Orston: So in terms of a lesson for others, and I'm sorry that you are dealing with this, but this is where horrible things can happen if you don't keep the court notified of who you are, where you are, and if you don't file responses to petitions that are filed, you could lose something big like a relationship with a child.

Leh Meriwether: And I want to add something here too, because a lot of times people are afraid of dealing with court because they don't have a lawyer, so they just ignore it, for lack of a better term. You are better off going ... well, first off, if you can get a lawyer, get a lawyer, all right? Just listening to this show can help you prepare for court, and going to our website, MTLawOffice.com. But putting that aside for a minute, when you show up to court and at least present some evidence, you're not going to get the worst-case scenario, you're going to get an opportunity to present evidence and not have your rights terminated, because that's the worst-case scenario.

Leh Meriwether: Are you going to get your ideal scenario? Probably not. I mean, sometimes you may, if the other person's pro se and doesn't know how to present their case, you're probably going to come out okay. But not showing up to court is the worst thing to do. Go ahead and go to court, because at least you'll get a chance to go back to court again later.

Todd Orston: Yeah.

Leh Meriwether: Because you can come back for a modification. But if you don't, I mean, that can just end everything. I think an important point in this order, which makes ... I mean, this question, which makes us doubt whether he actually got the things he said he never received, he mentions a court order that said he had not taken care of his daughter since birth. And he said that's a lie, I have evidence of payment. But it sounds like he never showed up to court.

Todd Orston: Yeah, I mean, just picture it this way, and I know we're spending too much ... not too much, but we're spending a lot of time on this. But this is, I believe, an important point also.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Orston: Think of it in terms of that court appearance, and if only one party is there, saying, oh, he hasn't seen the child in three years, and maybe they brought witnesses, family members, friends, oh, I never see him. Yeah, he hasn't been involved. He doesn't talk to teachers, he doesn't do ... you may be talking to teachers and going to practices and recitals and whatever every week, but the only story the judge heard was the other party's, and it could be filled with lies. But because you didn't show up, that's the only story the judge is going to consider.

Todd Orston: But if you're there, even if you're by yourself, Leh, to your point, hey, he hasn't seen the child in three years. Uh, that's a lie. I saw last week and the week before, and two weeks before that. Or they don't know the teacher or the coach or whatever. Uh, the coach is Mr. Jones or Mrs. Jones, and the teacher is this and this is ... so I am involved. So now all of a sudden the court's going to be like, well, man, you're saying he's not involved, but ...

Todd Orston: Not showing up for court, you are asking for something bad to happen, and that's one of the main purposes of this show. You can't stick your head in the sand and just assume things are going to work out well. Things will not work out well if your voice is never heard.

Leh Meriwether: Yep. I just want to add more thing, and we'll hit the next question. So he says he didn't see his daughter for three years. Well, you don't just sit back when you don't see your ... you've got to take legal action, this goes back to that, a few shows ago, about what happens when you don't take legal action. This is an example of that. It almost sounds like he never legitimated, but he should've gone to court as soon there was problems, within a few months of having problems, gone to court, legitimated if it wasn't too late, and got a court order, and then if she didn't follow that court order, file for contempt.

Leh Meriwether: And those things are pretty straightforward, and ideally you want an attorney, but you could do it without an attorney. So that's what happens when you put your head in the proverbial legal sand and don't do anything.

Todd Orston: Yeah, and also, the last part of the question was, but I would really like to fight the case here in Atlanta where I live. That's not the way jurisdiction works and [crosstalk 00:42:31] works. Basically, jurisdiction there would be where the mother and the child reside, so it sounds like that was the right place where the case should've been handled, and you don't get to just say, well, I understand that, but I don't really want to go down there, appropriate would be up here where I live. That's just unfortunately not the way it works.

Leh Meriwether: It's in the Constitution. If you file an action, you have to file in the county of the residence of the defendant. So that's actually ... I mean, our Georgia constitution, not U.S. Constitution.

Todd Orston: We're running out of time, let me read you a very quick one.

Leh Meriwether: Okay.

Todd Orston: All right, "Can my son's DNA dad demand a paternity test after I get married and my future husband adopts him?"

Leh Meriwether: All right, well, if you're going through an adoption program, well, if you're adopting, you have to give the biological father notice so that their right can be terminated. It sounds like this can all come up, so let's say you didn't tell the DNA dad that you even had a child, and you get married and now your husband wants to adopt, so Dad gets notice of the first time of this, yeah, not only can he ask for a DNA test, but he can also ask for parenting time. He can ask for legitimation.

Leh Meriwether: If he was unaware of this, because that's the way I'm reading this question. Maybe he doesn't know that he's actually the father, because otherwise why would he demand a paternity test unless he knew?

Todd Orston: And you have to be very careful, if the other party, if you didn't put them on notice and you do or should know that that's the father, any adoption that goes forward may be able to be overturned.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative). You have to get the biological father notice, period. They have to be served, either consent to it or have a battle. So yeah, short answer is yes, from the limited information we have here.

Leh Meriwether: Well, everyone, thanks so much for listening. I hope you got a lot out of this show. The important thing, if there's any question about anything, don't sit back and do nothing. At least do some research on the internet, but the best thing to do is to contact a lawyer and at least pay for a consultation to make sure you're not making a huge mistake. Thanks so much for listening.