Episode 119 - Divorce Questions and Answers
Todd and Leh tackle several divorce specific questions in this show. They break down the legal and practical sides to each question. Here are some of the questions they tackle:
How does a single mom get a divorce started when her abusive husband has cut her off from the marital finances?
How might domestic violence play into a divorce and child custody case?
If a Husband and Wife have been married less than a year, what can the Wife make the Husband pay?
How aggressively can a lawyer question a mom on the stand that is pregnant?
If my spouse signed divorce papers last year, are they still good?
How much is a divorce when children are involved?
Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on The New Talk 106.7. Here you will learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis, and from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com.
Todd Orston: I got to tell you, every time you read and you're staring right into the camera, I am clearly, I'm barely a radio person, but TV would not work for me because I just feel uncomfortable. I'm looking and watching you, and you're just ... You just focused, and it's very impressive.
Leh Meriwether: Oh, well, thank you.
Todd Orston: That's our show for the day.
Leh Meriwether: And for those of you that might not know, we record this show and publish it to YouTube. You can watch us make fools of ourselves at YouTube.com/AtlantaDivorceLawyer.
Todd Orston: Or, more to the point, you can listen to Leh make a fool of himself. Clearly I would never. So what's on top today?
Leh Meriwether: Not intentionally. All right. Today, last week we had some family law questions. We took a broad range of different kinds of questions, dealing with family law situations. Today, we're going to focus just on divorce. You ready?
Todd Orston: I'm in.
Leh Meriwether: Okay. I was just making sure.
Todd Orston: All right. Who's going to read ... Oh, and actually, before we go, you know, in the last show we did talk about this a little bit so I'm just going to hit on this. The reason we do this is because sometimes the best way to explain and to give advice and to just give people an idea of how the law would apply to a set of facts is to basically apply the law to a set of facts.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: To analyze somebody else's issue, and then, by listening to that, you're like, okay, maybe that applies, maybe that doesn't, but okay, that's valuable. I can now utilize that information in a way that is easily digestible.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: So, anyway, all right, are you going to read the first one?
Leh Meriwether: Sure. All right. Here we go. Seeking advice for a coworker in need. Uh-oh. So, long story short, her husband has been having an affair for about a year now. "My worker has proof of infidelity. My coworker used to be a stay-at-home-mom, and just recently started working for us in October. She has low income in comparison to her husband. Her husband has taken her off the bank account, so she is no longer able to access it. They have three children, and he does nothing to help care for them but the bare minimum financially. He's abusive mentally and emotionally. He makes large purchases on, say, $150-"
Todd Orston: You need to learn how to summarize. All right? We can assume it's not-
Leh Meriwether: I should have rewritten this. He makes large purchases on, say, $150 in drugs such as marijuana. She needs help but does not help much ... Have much-
Todd Orston: Oh, for the love.
Leh Meriwether: This is why I need to-
Todd Orston: Do I need to-
Leh Meriwether: How is it I get the ones where the grammar's a little bit off?
Todd Orston: She doesn't have a lot of money. [crosstalk 00:03:33]
Leh Meriwether: She doesn't have a lot of money. Yep.
Todd Orston: Yeah. She's been staying at home.
Leh Meriwether: They've been married nine years.
Todd Orston: There you go.
Leh Meriwether: She depends on him financially.
Todd Orston: Oh, my God. Are you done?
Leh Meriwether: Yes. I'm done.
Todd Orston: Best advice? File for divorce. I mean, I know that sounds very basic, okay? But, you know, cutting her off financially ... And we'll get into the adultery in a moment, and the impact, the true impact that adultery has, or may have, on a divorce, which a teaser would be, it's not as much as people think, oftentimes. Okay?
Leh Meriwether: Depends on their judge.
Todd Orston: Depends on the judge. Right. So, putting that aside for a moment, until she files for divorce, she's not going to be able to get any protections. By filing for divorce, if that's the direction she has to go ... I'm not trying to push people in the direction of a divorce, but if she knows that's what needs to happen, and reconciling and saving the marriage is not really possible, then you need to file. By filing, certain things happen. There's a standing order that gets put in place that prevents a party from wasting assets or moving assets out of the jurisdiction.
Todd Orston: On top of that, if he is just blowing through the marital funds, she can petition the court at that point to try and put a stop to that, to gain control of assets, or access to assets. And then, on top of everything, you can deal with issues of support. You can deal with issues of debt payment. All of those things. And, of course, custody. But until you file something, you really don't have a leg to stand on. You don't have any recourse.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: So, that's why I'm saying, filing the action is really the next step for this person.
Leh Meriwether: I will say a couple ... Let me give a few practical things. First off, if this coworker, if you're ... So, we're talking about a woman. If you're a man writing this, be careful of that relationship, because what you don't want to have is, okay, you have a case where she's got proof of his adultery, now you have this appearance of a relationship. Because we see this happen all the time. A coworker needs help, there's another person of the opposite sex, they step in, they feel sorry for them, next thing you know they're in a relationship and there is adultery there, or at least the appearance of adultery, and it muddies the waters here. So, make sure that you have certain boundaries so that doesn't occur, because you want to set it up to be as clean on her side as possible.
Leh Meriwether: You can petition the court in some ... In Georgia, here, particularly, you can ask for attorney's fees, as the other person has access to all the resources and you do not. There is a ... 19.6-2 is the code section. You can request a court to order him to pay some of her attorney's fees. Obviously you can get child support. You may be able to get some temporary alimony. We don't have enough information on dollars. It is a relatively short marriage, with nine years. You don't often see any long-term alimony with a nine-year marriage. Sometimes you don't see any alimony. You don't have enough there.
Leh Meriwether: But I will say, sounds like she's doing the right thing in that she has gotten her own employment. She is setting herself up for certain financial independence, apart from this guy.
Todd Orston: And courts respect that.
Leh Meriwether: Yep.
Todd Orston: Okay. And also, let me just build on the alimony component. There's permanent alimony, meaning what will happen once the divorce is finalized, but there's also temporary alimony. So if she needs, and can establish to the court, that she needs financial help while the case is pending, she can petition the court, but that goes back to my, you have to file. Until you file, you can't get the court to protect you, to help you, to do what needs to be done so that everyone is treated fairly and one party isn't suffering, for lack of a better way of putting it, in the meantime. So that's why the best advice would be tell her to go ahead and file, and then she can deal with all of these issues and hopefully get the help that she needs.
Leh Meriwether: One last thing, we'll move to the next one, is, make sure you have your own separate bank account. Because what wasn't clear was was she working and her paycheck going into this bank account that he's suddenly cut her off from? Which would be ... That is a sign of abuse.
Todd Orston: Or it's another account that they have mutually used, and her money goes in, and the next thing you know, he just wipes it out, takes all the money out-
Leh Meriwether: Yeah.
Todd Orston: ... transfers it to another account, and she's sitting there scratching her head, going, "How am I going to pay bills?" You know, or, "What money am I going to use to live?"
Leh Meriwether: Set up your own independence.
Todd Orston: Yeah. And very quickly, what I meant on adultery. Some people will call and they will think, "Well, I have caught my spouse having an adulterous, or engaging in an adulterous affair. I win." Right? "I want 90% of the assets. I want alimony. I want ... I win." It doesn't work that way. Alimony is need-based and behavior has nothing to do with it.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: Child support's not affected. Custody, unless the behavior is absolutely directly impacting the children, something is happening in front of the kids or whatever, usually doesn't play a big role, depending on the judge, I get it, but doesn't usually play a big role, so really you're down to division of assets and debts. And even then there are a lot of judges who will just take the position of, "You know what? That's why you're getting a divorce."
Todd Orston: So, don't think, "I've got the evidence. I win." That's not the way it works. Okay? But an attorney, if you talk to an attorney, they'll be better able to take the specifics in terms of the evidence that you have ... Because I've also seen judges get angry. You know? One relationship is bad. Somebody who is a serial adulterer, I have seen judges get really angry at that.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. Especially if they're spending money on all those people.
Todd Orston: That's right. That's right. Anyway, talk to an attorney and they can help you.
Leh Meriwether: All right. So, I'm going to tease this next one.
Todd Orston: Tease.
Leh Meriwether: All right. How does divorce work with domestic violence? "My husband was arrested for simple battery towards me. He choked me. He has decided, since I had him arrested, he wants an uncontested divorce. He states he wants 50/50 custody of our children, and I would have to find another home in the same town as the home is in his name, so he gets it." That's what he's saying. "He said his lawyer will draw up all the paperwork so no cost will be on me. Would a judge even go for this? Is this something I should worry about? Should I get a lawyer?" Well, the first answer to the last question is, "Yes. Get a lawyer."
Todd Orston: Uncontested usually means both parties agree on the terms and reach an agreement. I mean, you might as well throw some public canings in there, you know, maybe shave your head, ride around town on a donkey. Just other punishments. This is basically ... We see this all the time, jokes aside, we see people, and we'll go into this more after the break, where it's like, "I want this to be uncontested. Here are my terms." And they're pretty strict, pretty draconian, you know? So, going to your point, you need to hire an attorney so that you can understand what's going to be fair, what's going to be reasonable, because I can tell you right now, this is somebody who wants to take advantage of you to get what he wants.
Leh Meriwether: Yep. And up next, we'll talk about what the court might accept and what the court can reject even if the parties agree.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp radio on The New Talk, 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online, AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. Well, today we're diving into some divorce questions, because we found that often people can learn about their situation by hearing us answer questions that other people have, because we talk about all kinds of different areas of the law when we answer these questions.
Leh Meriwether: We left off with a question about how does divorce work when there's domestic violence involved? I'll summarize. The husband choked the wife. He was arrested as a result. Now he wants a, quote - I'm putting air quotes up - uncontested divorce with 50/50 custody, and that she has to move out. And he'll pay for the lawyer and she won't have to worry about anything. But what wasn't in here is I bet that he doesn't want to have to pay any child support, too.
Todd Orston: Oh, well, duh. That would be unfair. This is an uncontested, you know, so that means whatever he wants he gets.
Leh Meriwether: So, no. Being sarcastic, because you definitely need to talk to a lawyer. And don't be afraid. Let's say she was the stay-at-home-mom, doesn't have a whole lot of funds, reach out to someone. Ask for some money for just a consultation and sit down, because, you know, I don't think the terms he's offering based on this little bit of information sound fair to me. But there are situations where someone does offer something, not only that's fair, it's incredibly ... It's favorable to our client.
Todd Orston: Take it. Take it.
Leh Meriwether: And we'll tell them-
Todd Orston: Take it.
Leh Meriwether: ... "Take this now, before this person changes their mind or talks to a lawyer."
Todd Orston: And let me now, let me focus on that domestic violence component, because that's really the main part of the question. How do the two interplay? How does the domestic violence interplay with the divorce, or a divorce?
Todd Orston: First of all, if you are filing a protective order, one has nothing to do with the other. Now, sometimes, the divorce court, if they're pending at the same time, will say, "Now, don't go. I want that TPO. I want that protective order hearing to go in front of me also so that I hear everything." A lot of other courts will just be like, "No, whoever's handling the protective order hearings, go deal with that, and if you get the TPO, obviously that can become evidence or not in this divorce case."
Todd Orston: If it's an uncontested, truly uncontested, you're trying to resolve everything and really, at that point, the domestic violence isn't a big issue. Now, if he is a violent individual, part of the uncontested resolution should take into account the fact that he's an angry individual, likes to choke people, and maybe that needs to impact certain parts of the divorce, namely custody. If he has a temper towards a child or children.
Leh Meriwether: Or he commits acts of family violence in front of the children.
Todd Orston: That's right. That's a crime.
Leh Meriwether: Because we had that seminar recently where we had some psychologists come and talk and they said that incidences of family violence in front of the children are psychologically almost, or as harmful, as actually attacking the child themselves.
Todd Orston: Which is why it's a crime in Georgia.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: If you commit a misdemeanor or a felony in front of a child, that act in itself constitutes another crime, which is cruelty to children. So, yes, it's extremely harmful, but the point is, how does it interplay? Well, it may need to be something that's addressed in the divorce.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: You may need anger management counseling, or something, and it should be contemplated.
Leh Meriwether: I think that's the big question. Was this an isolated ... They've been married for 10 years. Is this the only time this person did it and there was all kinds of ... I'm not excusing it, but there was all kinds of extenuating circumstances, or is this an ongoing pattern of conduct? The result of there's anger management issues and that type of thing? Because if it's the latter, that could seriously impact his custodial time.
Todd Orston: That's right. So, yeah. And going back to the very beginning, get yourself an attorney. Do not be content with him having the attorney, drafting everything up, and basically just putting forth his demands, and you're just going to say, "Okay." All right? Because my guess is it's not fair, it's not reasonable, and you need somebody who can look at this impartially, or at that point partially towards you, and say, "No. These are some other things that would make this a fair agreement. As it's written, it's not fair."
Leh Meriwether: And domestic violence can ... division and certain circumstances, again, depending on the severity of it. So, it can impact your case at different levels. It can impact custody. It really doesn't impact alimony, because alimony cannot be, at least here in Georgia, cannot be used to punish someone, but it can definitely impact custody. Sometimes you need a really good parenting plan to avoid the two of you getting together. A very carefully crafted parenting plan so you can co-parent well, if there's been a history of family violence. To me, if this was a severe incident, then 50/50 custody does not sound like a good idea.
Todd Orston: Well, and there might be so many other issues that would make 50/50 not applicable.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: And if this man is a bully, and if he is abusive, and if he ... Then a 50/50 is not appropriate and wouldn't be in the best interest of a child or children, but you're not going to know that until you talk to an expert, somebody who understands family law, understands divorce law, and can give you good advice.
Leh Meriwether: All right. Next one. You ask.
Todd Orston: All right. Oh, I love this one. "Can my wife make me pay?" That's easy. My wife makes me pay every day. Oh, I'm in so much trouble.
Leh Meriwether: Oh, I'm going to so send this recording to her.
Todd Orston: Honey, I'm so sorry. I'm coming home with flowers.
Leh Meriwether: I'm going to double check that.
Todd Orston: So, the question, "Can my wife make me pay? My wife asked me to leave our home, and she's filing for separation maintenance. She bought her house before we were married, asking me to sign an agreement to pay her biweekly for help with the house and items [inaudible 00:17:43] child. She's four months pregnant. I agreed to help pay for the nursery furniture. I've bought baby items. But I have to purchase my own items for our child at the residence I'm currently residing at. I'm carrying her on my benefits and I have to get a place of my own. She canceled my auto insurance without my knowledge, threatening me with alimony but we've only been married since July. Threatening me about not seeing my unborn child. Stating I have no rights because paternity hasn't been verified, but we did IVF which we have documentation. Am I obligated to respect her demands? Can she make these demands? Should I consult an attorney?"
Todd Orston: Yeah. Just like I may have to after that comment, and my wife listens to the show. By the way, Leh, can you stick around after the show? I have some questions. Yeah. So, go ahead, Leh.
Leh Meriwether: All right. So, first off, if this is less than a year marriage this is not an alimony case. I'll just start right there. I've never seen it happen. I've had judges say, "I've never ordered alimony on less than five years." So, don't see that happening.
Todd Orston: And especially if you've already separated.
Leh Meriwether: Right. Yeah.
Todd Orston: She's living in a house she had premaritally. You are living elsewhere, because sometimes what I do see is, on a very, very limited scale, you need some help. Let's say the wife is moving out and needs a little bit of help with moving expenses or something like that, and it constitutes a form of alimony. Fine. The court will say, "Okay. I'll help with the move." Other than that, no.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: Yeah.
Leh Meriwether: So, here's the other thing. The law in Georgia, and I think a lot of states follow this law, if a child is born during the course of a marriage, then by law the parents of that child are the father and the mother in the marriage. So, that's the law there in Georgia.
Todd Orston: And this is an issue that just came up for me in a phone call that I took with somebody calling, you know, with a legal question. A lot of the judges here in Georgia, once they know that there is a child on the way, they won't even grant the divorce.
Leh Meriwether: Right. They're going to wait and make sure the child's born.
Todd Orston: They're going to wait. Right. Because they know that on Monday they finalize a divorce, and Tuesday, the child is born, the parties are coming back, and we have to deal with custody, and child support, and parenting time. So, the fact that she has threatened these things, even if you found an attorney, meaning she finds an attorney who says, "I can get this passed through with the court. The court will grant the divorce before the child is born." I would tell you do not do that, because building on what you were saying, there is an assumption, a presumption, that a child born during a marriage is a child of the marriage. So, why on Earth, if she's already making these claims that this is not your child, why would you allow the divorce to be finalized if you don't have that presumption?
Leh Meriwether: I'm going to shift gears here for a minute. You know, we've seen this before where a pregnancy ... People handle pregnancy differently. And for some, it causes, to use one of the female attorneys in our firm, it can cause ... She calls, this is her term, pregnancy brain. Okay? She may be going through a tough time. And there could have been a misunderstanding. So, before we launch into that he should file for a divorce or anything like that, he may not be legally obligated to pay things, but he may want to just to keep the peace in the hopes that they can get into marriage counseling, figure out how to work through this, so that this child that's about to be born is going to have their father and their mother in a solid marriage.
Todd Orston: It's a great point. And maybe they've already gotten to the point where it's not possible, but you know, and without putting any kind of a name to it, she may just be scared. She may be dealing with issues. She could just be mean. But whatever the [crosstalk 00:21:54]
Leh Meriwether: You know, he could be really young and not know how to talk.
Todd Orston: Right. Yeah. But the bottom line is, I would hope that they at least consider reconciliation efforts knowing that a child's on the way.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. And he definitely needs to pick up the book, Crucial Conversations, to help have a good conversation with her. And next we're going to talk about more divorce questions.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on The New Talk 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. All right. Today we're getting into some good divorce questions, and maybe some other questions, but mostly divorce.
Todd Orston: I love when, in the body of the question, you already know what they're talking about. Like the next one. What can I do? Really. That's it.
Leh Meriwether: Well, you can pay taxes, and bathe every day.
Todd Orston: Brush teeth.
Leh Meriwether: We got to read the rest of the question.
Todd Orston: Oh, okay. Got it. That was a little open-ended, though, I thought.
Leh Meriwether: That was the title to the question.
Todd Orston: Got it. All right.
Leh Meriwether: The subject line.
Todd Orston: All right. So, going beyond the brushing teeth and hygiene and-
Leh Meriwether: Yes.
Todd Orston: Okay. So, here, I'll read this one.
Leh Meriwether: All right.
Todd Orston: "What can I do? My wife and I are separated, and I haven't seen my two kids in about three weeks. They moved and I don't know where. She won't tell me where they are and won't let me see them. What are my options? There is no custody agreement."
Leh Meriwether: All right.
Todd Orston: "What can I do?"
Leh Meriwether: Maybe she separated because he wasn't brushing his teeth.
Todd Orston: Yeah. That's a different show. That's-
Leh Meriwether: Just kidding. I'm just kidding. If you're listening to this, I was just totally kidding. All right.
Todd Orston: I will apologize on behalf of everyone here at Meriwether & Tharp for that bad joke.
Leh Meriwether: I mostly leave the jokes to you. I'm particularly bad at this. All right. So, what can I do? Well, first off, when you have a husband and wife and one party takes off with the kids, it's not kidnapping. There really isn't, from a legal standpoint, apart from filing for divorce, there's nothing you can do.
Todd Orston: You both have the same legal rights to your children.
Leh Meriwether: Yep. The way I like to put it is that, when you're married, each of you has a 100% interest in your children. And as long as you're married, that's not an issue, but as soon as you're at odds, neither of you can have the children 100 ... I mean, you both cannot have the children 100% of the time in separate locations. It's just not possible. And so, the court has to step in, if the parties can't agree, and say, "Mom, you get 60%, or 70%, or 50%, or dad, you get the other percentage." So, the court comes in and decides what that percentage is.
Leh Meriwether: You're in a tight spot here. I don't know how old the kids are. You may need to file for a divorce. If this is something ... And just so you know, you can file for a divorce, and if the two of you work things out, you can always dismiss the divorce action. So you might want to file for a divorce, and then you're going to need to start hunting her down. You can do that different ways. If the children are in school, hopefully she has filed ... Well, a lot of times they file something with the school, like, she moved to a completely different county and enrolled the children in that county, there'll be a request to transfer the school records.
Leh Meriwether: I've had a case where that's how we tracked down where the child went, was through the school system. So, that's an option. There's always a private investigator you can hire.
Todd Orston: Yep. But again, building on what you were talking about, if each of the parties has 100% rights to the children, then absent a court order that defines when the children should be with each parent, where they should stay, who has whatever rights we're talking about, there's very little that you can do.
Todd Orston: Unfortunately, you may not want to file for divorce, but if she is rejecting, or he in other circumstances, if the other party is not allowing you to visit with the children, won't answer your phone calls, moves, won't tell you where they are, then you may have no choice, because there are limited ways in which you can get in front of the judge in order to deal with that situation, to put a stop to what I'm going to call that bad behavior.
Todd Orston: The other thing I will say is, that's not the kind of situation where you want to wait, because like you were just talking about, how they move and you can hire a private eye and find the person, well, what happens, Leh, if a month goes by? Two months? Three months? The children have been moved to a different jurisdiction. They've been enrolled in school. Mom has an apartment and they've basically started their lives in that area. Saying, it becomes a little bit more difficult because now the court's going to be like, "Well, all right, the case is pending, I'm going to maintain the status quo."
Leh Meriwether: Right. Yeah. Well, you've got that problem. The other issue is, if you wait more than six months there can be an argument that wherever they are now, that is now where the children's domicile is, and it's called the UCCJEA, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act, takes over, and that's where the case may have to be held. But if it's something within a month or two, and especially if there's someone left the jurisdiction of the court, and you get them served, because I don't know, the person sitting there in Coweta County, I don't know that ... Off the top of my head I can't remember [crosstalk 00:27:51]
Todd Orston: So, that's-
Leh Meriwether: I can't remember if they have a standing order. I just can't remember off the top of my head.
Todd Orston: Yeah. And again, the standing order is, every court has an order that gets filed automatically-
Leh Meriwether: Well, actually, it's not every court. Some-
Todd Orston: I apologize. Correct.
Leh Meriwether: We're in the metro-
Todd Orston: Correct. A lot of courts that we deal with on a regular basis have what's called a standing order, where as opposed to you have to go have a hearing, and deal with issues, and then the court will issue an order specific to those issues, there is an order that's already been pre-signed by all the judges-
Leh Meriwether: In the jurisdiction.
Todd Orston: Or could just be the one judge who's issuing the order, but sometimes it's all the judges in that jurisdiction. That basically says ... I'm going to summarize it this way. Don't do anything stupid.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah.
Todd Orston: Don't take the kids out of the jurisdiction. Don't just give away all your stuff. Just don't be a dummy, because if you do, it's not just going to be held against you because the court's like, "Oh, that was wrong. You shouldn't have done it." It's now a violation of a court order.
Leh Meriwether: Yep. We actually had a case, years ago, where the case was filed, the mom took off to Georgia, dad filed for a divorce in California, standing order went in place, said, "Children have to stay here." She got served here in Georgia. She wouldn't come back with the kids. He filed the motion in front of the judge. Got an order that those children need to be back in California, and so he hired us to what's called domesticate that order. So, we went to a judge here in Georgia, got an order from that judge that allowed us to walk, literally, to the Sheriff's department and say, "I need you to go pick up these children and put them on a plane."
Leh Meriwether: The father flew out, and so, the Sheriff escorted our client to the house. Picked up the kids, and they flew back. The bad thing about that is, because now, well, the judge is going to be mad at Mom in this situation. The judge was mad at Mom, because the kids had to experience that whole fight.
Todd Orston: That's right. I mean, I can't even imagine that. That's not something any child should have to see. But sometimes parties can't see beyond their own anger and whatever, and then, usually the victims are the kids.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: All right. What's next?
Leh Meriwether: Okay. "Is my marriage even legal? I never filed in Georgia. I got married in Tennessee in 2004. I got married in 2004-"
Todd Orston: Take your time there, Leh.
Leh Meriwether: Oh, my God. Well, if you keep waving things in front of me.
Todd Orston: Next time I'm going to simplify this into Cat in the Hat kind of, just very ...
Leh Meriwether: "I got married in 2004 in Tennessee. I never filed in the State of Georgia, and he and I have never lived as husband and wife. He's been ..." Oh, "Because he's been incarcerated for over half of the time, and now I'm just going to marry someone else. What do I do?" Okay. So, I guess they got married in Tennessee, but then he got arrested and she moved here to Georgia. That's-
Todd Orston: You're married.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. You're married.
Todd Orston: As long as you ... It doesn't matter. Full faith and credit, right?
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. So, Georgia will recognize the marriages of any other state.
Todd Orston: That's right.
Leh Meriwether: You don't have to ... And this is the short answer. You don't have to actually file your marriage in the State of Georgia. If you got married in Tennessee and there's a marriage certificate out there in Tennessee, then you're married, and Georgia will recognize it for the purposes of a divorce. And Georgia will also recognize it for the purposes of bigamy if you wind up getting married and you have not gotten a divorce on the other end.
Leh Meriwether: Now, I've only heard of one case where someone actually got charged with bigamy, but it happens. And so, you definitely want to take care of that divorce first. I mean, if you have nothing together, you can probably file here in Georgia and ask him to waive any objection to Georgia.
Todd Orston: Yeah. And the fact that you never lived together as husband and wife doesn't matter.
Leh Meriwether: Doesn't matter.
Todd Orston: If you were legally married, the paperwork was filed in Tennessee to recognize legally, the marriage, then you are married. You may have, at some point in time, had a right to move instead of for a divorce, but for annulment. I don't know what the laws in Tennessee are on annulment, but here in Georgia, there are limited reasons and grounds for an annulment, which would void the marriage. But if you've never done that then you are married.
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: So, you have to get a divorce.
Leh Meriwether: All right. So, how much does it cost to get a divorce with a child?
Todd Orston: $1.
Leh Meriwether: You have a minute to answer.
Todd Orston: Oh, wow. It depends. If it's an uncontested case and both parties are in agreement, and we can take all the facts and circumstances, and get all the data from the client, and of course from the other party, we can draft things up very quickly. And in a divorce case there's a, in Georgia, a 31-day wait period. I usually tell people, "Give me a week on the front end, week on the back end, that's about 45 days will be the minimum amount of time." So, usually, when I tell people uncontested 45 to 60 days, but that, again, is uncontested, meaning the parties are working together and there's not a lot of strife.
Todd Orston: Other than that, and if it's going to cost that much, it could be depending on the attorney, $1,000, $1,500, you know? But with a bigger firm, usually somewhere around $1,500 to $2,500 for an uncontested, without a lot of stuff.
Leh Meriwether: And when we come back, I'm going to throw a wrinkle into that because the person doesn't know where their spouse is.
Leh Meriwether: Todd, while we're in a break, let's take a moment to speak just with our podcast listeners.
Todd Orston: Great idea, Leh. First, thank you for listening. If you're a client of ours, thank you for taking the time to educate yourself. It really helps us help you.
Leh Meriwether: And I want to thank those that recently took a moment to review our podcast. We really appreciate it. If you feel like you're gaining a value from this show, please take a moment to post a review. The reviews help others find the show, which allows us to help even more people.
Todd Orston: And if you're not sure how to post a review, our webmaster's put together a simple explanation on our web page. You can find it at MTLawOffice.com/ReviewIt. That's M as in Mary, T as in Tom, LawOffice.com/ReviewIt.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on The New Talk, 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online, AtlantaDivorceTeam.com.
Leh Meriwether: Well, we're on our last segment. I can't believe we've already gone through three segments of these questions. And I actually had a lot more questions that we are not going to get through.
Todd Orston: I blame you.
Leh Meriwether: But that's okay. Even if it's my fault, it's still okay, because we're learning a lot today.
Todd Orston: All right. We're going to go through these very quickly.
Leh Meriwether: But not too quickly.
Todd Orston: All right. All right. We're going to go through these at a reasonable pace.
Leh Meriwether: There we go. Okay.
Todd Orston: What's the wrinkle?
Leh Meriwether: All right. The wrinkle in this situation, that question I threw out there, was that we don't know where the father is. We don't know where the other parent is. So, one parent has custody of the child, the other parent, spouse, has taken off, don't know where they are. So, is it now still $1,500, $2500?
Todd Orston: The interesting thing is that the cost actually may go up a little bit, and I'll tell you why. Since you're asking we might as well talk about it. In order to move forward with a divorce, it's called a divorce by publication. And Georgia allows you to obtain the divorce by publishing in a local paper, and each county is going to have a designated paper where those notices go, but you have to show the court that you have made a diligent effort to find the other party, and you have to make a diligent effort. And then you're going to put an affidavit together, and a motion. These are other documents that need to be prepared, and-
Leh Meriwether: And they all take time.
Todd Orston: And they all take time. And then when you file it, you're not stopping there. Then you have to get the proposed motion over to the judge with a proposed order. You're going to get that order signed, hopefully by the judge if the judge accepts that you did engage in a diligent effort-
Leh Meriwether: And sometimes the judge rejects it.
Todd Orston: That's right.
Leh Meriwether: You got to work harder.
Todd Orston: That's right. And if the judge accepts it, then you have to take that document, and you have to bring it over to the local paper showing that you have an order, ordering for the publishing of that notice. Then, it's going to go through that process, and at the end of the publishing period, if the other party has not filed an answer and basically appeared, entered an appearance in the case, then you can present the court with the documentation including an order, basically, that deals with all the issues.
Leh Meriwether: [crosstalk 00:36:39] hearing.
Todd Orston: But if this was an uncontested, between parties, we can actually do that, oftentimes, in writing and through the mail. Usually when you're dealing with this kind of a case what's going to happen is you're going to be called into court, and in open court, the court will call the case. The other party isn't there. The other party doesn't announce. And the court will then look at you and say, "Okay, do you have a proposed order?"
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: So, it's going to require absolutely a court appearance, usually.
Leh Meriwether: Sometimes two appearances.
Todd Orston: Sometimes two, and so, all of these things are actually adding to the cost. The benefit is, if you truly can't find, you're presenting an order with your terms, whatever your terms are, but the court can still reject it. If you're like, "I want him ..." Whatever. "I want ..." And it's unreasonable stuff, the court will be like, "No, we're not doing that." Okay? "This is not reasonable." But as long as it's reasonable, then the court's going to sign off on the order, and you get what you asked for.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. So, the extra costs, often, are the time it takes for us to track down the other person. Sometimes you hire a private investigator, because I've had judges reject things. Had to hire a PI and then have the PI give an affidavit about all their efforts to find this person.
Leh Meriwether: So, all these extra steps cost money. I've seen some of these be literally twice the cost of a normal, uncontested divorce because of all the steps we had to go through to prove to the court ... And there's good reason for that. It's just unfortunate. But the court doesn't want to have happen where, which we've seen before, where somebody flees to another state, tells the court, "I can't find them," and then gets an order, like you said, with everything they want, and then we show up to court later and say, "Hey, they were emailing this at the same time."
Todd Orston: Yeah, they were emailing. They were texting. Right.
Leh Meriwether: They were claiming they didn't know where we were, and they never told us about a action for divorce.
Todd Orston: And we're usually successful in having that final order set aside so that the parties can actually negotiate and deal with the issues.
Leh Meriwether: Yep. You're the next one. [crosstalk 00:38:51]
Todd Orston: All right. "Can I still file my divorce papers? I got my divorce papers, signed them and had them notarized. I'm in Georgia. Sent them to my husband. He signed them, had them notarized, sent them back. He's in Minnesota. We got married in Georgia." Doesn't matter. "I have not had the money to file the papers, and it's been a long time, a year or more. Is there a time limit, or can I still file them? This is an uncontested divorce. We have no property, no children. We were only together for two months before we split. Please help. Thank you."
Leh Meriwether: I would say yes. But here's the thing. There has been a time, you're going to need to file it. You're going to need to file it with ... He's going to have to acknowledge service, number one. So he'll have to sign a piece of paper saying, "Hey, I got a copy of the complaint." And then number two, he needs to sign a document saying he's waiving any objection to the jurisdiction of Georgia, and you get those two documents, and then have him waive his right to a jury trial and all of that stuff.
Leh Meriwether: There's three documents he can sign, and basically, when the court sees that he signs this, they'll wait 31 days because if he doesn't file an answer, the court says, "Okay. He's still good with the settlement agreement." You show up and you'll be able to get a final order and the divorce.
Todd Orston: Yeah. And one year, that doesn't offend me. That's not-
Leh Meriwether: The only place-
Todd Orston: That's not so long a period of time, because there are times where people get married at the beginning of a year, and they want to wait for tax reasons until, let's say, the year ends. So we're going almost a year to file. So, I don't think that a court would have any problem, and once the other party signs all those additional documents, reaffirming their desire that this be filed with the court, I don't think the court's going to have a problem.
Leh Meriwether: Yep. Shouldn't be a problem. The only time it might be an issue, if there is kids. But again, if he doesn't object then the court's going to be fine with it. All right. This one isn't exactly a divorce question, but it comes up in divorce cases, and it's just a trial technique. So, "Can a lawyer question me aggressively if I'm very early in my pregnancy? I have to go to court for a custody case of my husband's children. They are my step-children. They are taken away from their mother by child services, and their mother, my husband's ex-wife has a very aggressive lawyer, but I'm worried that the stress from being questioned on the stand might harm my pregnancy or cause a miscarriage. Is there anything I can do to protect myself from-
Todd Orston: Earmuffs. Just wear them into court and then you won't hear the ... No. That's not a valid ... Okay.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. The judge might get mad at you.
Todd Orston: All right. All right. Here's the thing. Most judges will require counsel to be civil. Okay?
Leh Meriwether: Right.
Todd Orston: Sometimes, aggression is in the eye of the beholder. So, your definition of aggressive questioning, a judge might be listening going, "He's just ... He may be not nice, but he's not being aggressive." But if your fear is that you're going to be taking the stand, getting, like out of some Matlock TV show, yelled at, and that's not going to happen. Or at least, it shouldn't be happening.
Leh Meriwether: And your husband's lawyer should object, saying, "He's being ..." Either badgering the witness or being argumentative. There are two objections you can make, in that situation, but it has to cross a certain line.
Todd Orston: Yeah. And if you don't feel comfortable, you can look to the court. I mean, again, make it reasonable. If somebody doesn't say please at the end of the question, that's not aggressive questioning. If they're yelling at you, I would have no problem you looking at the judge before you answer the question, and say something along the lines of, "I have every intention of answering the question, but I just don't feel comfortable with the way he's talking to me. Can you please ask him to be a little more civil in how he ...?" And, more than likely, the court will at least look at the attorney and say, "Tone it down a little bit."
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. And there's one more thing that you can do. This is before you ever walk in the courtroom. Ask to speak with your husband's attorney ahead of time, and have them prep you for the type of questions. Because sometimes, you can really take the bite out of someone's attack by just answering the questions in a certain way. So, someone comes in and says, "Well, isn't it true you did this?" "Yes." And you're just quiet. And they're like, "Oh, I was expecting you to argue with me." They're like, "Well, didn't this happen?" "No." "Well, what happened?" "Oh, well, this is what happened." You can actually, by getting a little practice, perhaps, with your husband's lawyer, you can get ready for his questions.
Todd Orston: Takes away the anxiety a little.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. Exactly. And that's what we're worried about, the stress here. It'll take away that anxiety. In fact, we've had two shows about testifying in court, and how to get ready to testify in court.
Todd Orston: That's right.
Leh Meriwether: And what you should do. So definitely go back and listen to those two shows. I wish I could remember those show numbers. All right. What's next?
Todd Orston: All right. Well, I think we have time for one more very fast one.
Leh Meriwether: We're going to have to be real fast. Well, let's do the stepchild.
Todd Orston: Let's see. Okay. Which one is that?
Leh Meriwether: Number 11.
Todd Orston: Oh, number 11. Okay. "How do I go about getting my stepchild adopted in Georgia?"
Leh Meriwether: You got 58 seconds.
Todd Orston: "I got married and now I want to adopt ..." Why me? You answer that question. "I got married, now I want to adopt my wife's child. How do I go about getting this done? The father is giving me consent in a text message. Do I need him to write me a letter saying that he gives me consent to adopt the child? That he gives up his rights as a parent?" Yes. There are more documents than that.
Leh Meriwether: Yep.
Todd Orston: They would have to be signed.
Leh Meriwether: It's called a step parent adoption.
Todd Orston: That's right. And it actually is fairly, if it's a consent, it's not complex.
Leh Meriwether: Right. It's pretty straightforward.
Todd Orston: As long as the biological father, or parent that is giving up the rights, will sign the necessary documentation, you just need to make sure you have all the documents presented to the court, and I'm done. Tag.
Leh Meriwether: Great job. Just call a lawyer. It's a step parent adoption. They're pretty straightforward.
Todd Orston: It's not complex.
Leh Meriwether: But it's very procedural, and a lawyer can walk you through it. And until next time-
Todd Orston: Thanks for listening.
Leh Meriwether: Thanks for listening.
Speaker 3: This audio program does not establish an attorney-client relationship with Meriwether & Tharp.