Divorce – Atlanta Style
Prior to moving to Atlanta, a little over 10 years ago, I practiced law in New York City. I was an associate at a boutique litigation firm on Madison Avenue, and had my wife not gotten a wonderful job offer here in the South, I would likely still be spending much of my time on the subways and commuting by train. I am absolutely thrilled that we settled in Atlanta, and have continually tried to get friends and family to add our Southern hospitality to their lives. My office is less than two miles from my home and the lifestyle that Atlanta affords my family continues to amaze me.
That being said, after settling a Divorce case today, I was reminded about the most common question I get from former colleagues up north. “Is practicing law, Divorce or otherwise, different in the South?” Now, obviously, their are procedural differences that impact the practice of law. However, what I see as the biggest, and often most frustrating difference, is the slower pace by which matters progress. This might seem strange, in light of the fact that I believe the average case in New York takes much longer to wend its way through the system. No….what I am getting at is the speed with which you actually find out what the other side is looking for and and figuring out if you had any room to discuss settlement, or were issues to be submitted to the Court for a ruling. The case I settled today is a great example. Three days ago I received an counteroffer from the attorney on the other side. We had presented our initial settlement proposal nearly six months ago. The original counter-proposal I received from opposing counsel would have put both clients in a potential financial disaster. We completed financial discovery nearly 4 months ago, and despite numerous discussions and requests for comment on our last offer made in late December, 2008, opposing counsel refused to let us know what his client agreed with and what were points of contention. Finally, I asked the Court to place us on a trial calendar. My client was frustrated, but understood that this was the only way to move the matter along.
Two days after I contacted the Court, and three months after we sent out last offer, opposing counsel provided us with a counteroffer, one whose terms almost exactly mirrored the terms of the original settlement agreement that we submitted nearly nine months ago. They agreed with our terms on alimony, child support, visitation. My client will pick up an extra credit card and will be responsible for any shortfall in the value of the home, if ti sells for less than it is worth. Unfortunately, the house has lost value since the time of the original settlement proposal. Had they agreed at the onset, it probably would have let the parties cash out of their home with some equity and not cost them over $20,000 in legal fees.
I have seen this progression all to often, since moving to Atlanta. The attorney on the other side was a good lawyer, effectively argued his client’s position and was a pleasure to deal with. He just let us move the case along at a snail’s pace. This is in no one’s interest.