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Professional Atlanta Attorney Bankruptcy, Real State Divorce Child Support Services - Russell H. Hippe III

QUESTIONS REGARDING DIVORCE                           (678) 503-0590

Atlanta Attorney

The Law Office of
Russell Hippe
(404) 857-0456
3621 Vinings Slope
Suite 4300
Atlanta, GA 30339

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Attorney Russell H. Hippe, III dedicates about half of his practice to divorce and family law matters. His approach to domestic cases is to be reasonable and fair and, whenever possible, to try to compromise to preserve resources and de-escalate emotion. However, if you are facing or are likely to be facing an unreasonable spouse, and a divorce trial in Atlanta or North Georgia, Mr. Hippe will aggressively advocate for you in court. He is an experienced domestic trial lawyer with significant domestic trial wins, including trial wins over such divorce "super lawyers" as Steven Clifford and prominent divorce firms such as Kessler, Swartz and Solminany.

As an initial matter, unless the relationship has become abusive, he generally discourages divorce if children are involved. Counseling and work on the marriage should first be exhausted. The harsh financial reality for most couples with children is, unless the parties are wealthy, divorce will mean a reduced standard of living for the entire family. There is emotional and psychological impact on the children. A separate household is expensive to fund. Child support as required under O.C.G.A. section 19-6-15 is not particularly generous for the custodial parent, and alimony, unless you are in a long term marriage with children, is difficult to get and is usually only for a short period of time. This is especially true in the urban counties. And, of course, divorce lawyers can run up staggering, even outrageous, legal bills. Prominent divorce firms can charge over 100k to handle a full divorce trial.

In order to preserve resources, if engaged, Mr. Hippe attempts to keep both his hourly rate and his approach modest. He does not "churn" files or escalate tension to generate billing. He will do his best to stay within budgets discussed. He has defeated lawyers who charge more than twice his hourly rate. Other lawyers have referred to him as one of the best values in Atlanta.

Below is a list of common questions you may have about divorce or post divorce legal actions. Every family situation is different, and there is no substitute for the counsel of an experienced family law practitioner. Mr. Hippe does not offer "free consultations". He charges a flat $500 fee and will discuss your family situation with you in the privacy of his office, with full privilege, for however long it takes for you to be comfortable. He will advise on what to do and help you formulate a plan. For your benefit, whether or not you become a client, below are general answers to common questions. (Unless you have entered a written engagement agreement with Mr. Hippe, and paid his retainer, you are not yet a client.)

Should I file for Divorce? This requires extensive consultation, and ultimately, only you can answer this. Are you considering divorce principally because of money or boredom? Are you having an affair? Are your friends and/or family pushing you? Are you emotionally and financially prepared for the consequences? Legally, you can file a divorce if there are simply "irreconcilable difference". If there are minor children, Mr. Hippe's general advise is to file only after counseling and work on the marriage has been exhausted. Divorce is the answer to some problems but can make other problems, especially financial strain, worse.

Should I move out of the marital residence? If the situation at home has become so tense and abusive that violence is a risk, then yes. But otherwise, generally, no, not until you have spoken with a lawyer. If you are the husband, and there are children, moving out may compromise your custody claim. Despite what many believe, the wife does not have an automatic default right to occupy the marital residence. Until there is a court order signed by a judge, both spouses have equal rights to both access and to live in the marital residence.

What if I'm afraid of my spouse and he won't move out? You should retain a lawyer immediately. If your spouse has hurt you, or has threatened to hurt you, and you are legitimately in fear, you can seek an immediate temporary protective order, which will require your spouses' immediate removal from the home. He can be ordered out for 30 days before you ever have to see him in court.

Who will get custody of my minor children? Under Georgia law, custody is broken down into physical (who has possession of the children and during what times) and legal (decision making in important areas such as health – what treatment or procedures will the children undergo – education – will the children attend private schools – religion – when and where will they go to church – and extra curriculars – what sports will they play.) Georgia court award custody based on the "best interest" of the child. O.C.G.A. section 19-9-3 contains the list of factors that the judge will consider when making a custody determination. Generally speaking, if the mother is a fit and responsible, does not abuse drugs or alcohol, and is not a convicted felon, then ordinarily the mother will be awarded primary physical custody. However, fathers can fight for extended parenting time (more than standard visitation) as well as final decision making authority in certain area of their children's lives (education, extra curricular activities for example) . In certain instances, fathers can win primary physical custody if they can demonstrate that the children are truly better off living with Dad. (For example, the situation where the father has been the primary care taker and wife's conduct caused the divorce.) If there is a custody fight, the court will usually appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the children and make a report and recommendation to the court on who should have custody.

How will divorce impact my children? If you have children, before you file, a good child psychologist should be consulted. Aside from the psychological and emotional impact, the child will experience the hostility of a divorce and the disruption of the father being absent from his, her or their lives on a daily basis and visitation with the father in new and unknown surroundings. The children may further experience a diminished quality of life. With dual households, there may not be enough financial resources for the same level of lifestyle, entertainment or activities.

How much child support will I receive or have to pay? This is a relatively easy calculation once each spouses' average gross monthly income over the past few months is established. O.C.G.A. section 19-6-15 establishes the amount of monthly support the non-custodial (usually the father) owes the custodial (usually the mother) and dictates the data be entered in an excel spreadsheet. There are deviations based on each family so an experienced attorney should be consulted to give you an approximate number for the likely amount of support a court would award on either a temporary or permanent basis.

How much alimony will I receive or have to pay? This is much more difficult to calculate / forecast than child support. There is no required spreadsheet for alimony. Generally speaking, alimony is determined based on the length of the marriage, the number of children, the need of the wife (including any separate resources she may have), the income and ability to pay of the husband (including any separate resources he may have), and conduct. O.C.G.A. section 19-6-5. The amount of any temporary or permanent award of alimony will be based on the facts of your case and on the individual judge's general attitude toward alimony (does he or she expect the wife to work). In the Atlanta metro counties, a very general rule of thumb is, if there are two or more children, if the marriage is 7 years or more, and the wife does not have a job, then one year of periodic alimony for ever four or five years of marriage would be expected at a final bench trial (non jury). The amount is entirely up the judge at a temporary hearing or the judge or jury at a final trial based generally on need and ability to pay. But again, the award is always subjective and will turn in part on the judge's attitude toward alimony generally. (The modern trend is moving away from periodic alimony under the principal that the wife is expected to work.) Conduct matters as a threshold entitlement to alimony (a spouse who commits adultery is not entitled to alimony ) but is generally not to be considered in awarding a monthly amount of alimony. Alimony can be either periodic or lump sum and the award amounts can vary greatly from case to case.

How will our assets be divided? Georgia is an "equitable division" state which, generally speaking, means usually but not necessarily 50/50. The analysis for asset division is not unlike for a grant of alimony. The question is essentially what is fair between the parties and conduct counts. The first step in any asset division calculation is to parse out any separate property. Any accounts, funds, personal or real property that a spouse had before the marriage, or that were acquired by gift or inheritance during the marriage, are considered the separate property of the particular spouse and are not subject to division. The second step is to look at what assets are "marital". Generally speaking, a marital asset is one acquired during the marriage, for example a home, car, furniture or financial asset (stock, bond, cd) purchased during the marriage or a financial account (checking, savings, brokerage, retirement) established during the marriage into which marital income (earnings of either spouse) were deposited. Sometimes it's difficult to label an asset. An asset can be part separate and part marital, a down payment on a home purchased after the marital ceremony but with separate property for example. Assets may also be "traced". For example, joint spouse contribution of separate monies to a financial investment. Once you have a good handle on the marital estate – the assets that are subject to division by the court – then the general rule is the assets will be equally divided. However, Georgia law requires only "equitable" not necessarily equal division. Conduct counts in these cases and sometimes a spouse will go to trial to seek a better than 50/50 division. This is why divorces with significant assets and allegation of marital misconduct are difficult to settle.

Can my spouse claim an interest in my 401K or Pension? Yes. Any contributions or valuation acquired after your marriage is generally subject to division. However, at a trial, the judge will generally make an effort to award the retirement account to the spouse who earned it, if other assets can be so allocated to make the final disposition fair to both spouses.

Can my spouse claim an interest in my business? Yes. Any ownership interest in a corporation, partnership, LLC or other entity acquired during the marriage is subject to equitable division. Also, the increased value derived from labor and efforts expended during the marriage can be claimed as well. It you own a business this should be considered in any pre divorce planning.

Will debts be divided? Yes. Credit card debts are often awarded on a pro rata income basis but not always. They may be awarded or "charged" to the spouse who incurred the debt, in particular after separation.

What about the engagement ring? The general rule is an engagement ring is a per-marital gift to the wife conditioned upon the completion of the marital ceremony. The engagement right is typically the wife's separate property. However, other jewelry given during the marriage can be claimed as gifts to the marital union, not the husband or wife separately. This turns on donative intent.

How much will this cost? Estimating the cost of divorce is difficult. Divorce work is labor intensive due to all the emotion and requires the following: client consultation, pleadings, discovery, temporary motions if necessary, mediation, trial prep, and the trial itself. The amount of time expended will depend on how much work you want your attorney to do (how high maintenance you are) and how work your opponent forces your attorney to do (how difficult your spouse is). If there are limited resources, usually the cases can be settled. Mr. Hippe has a reasonable hourly rate but these cases take time. Mr. Hippe will discuss flat fees for given stages. For example, if mediation has failed, and discovery is complete and all motions have been ruled on, he will consider taking a case through trial for a flat fee as the scope of work is easier to estimate.

Will embarrassing conduct come out? Yes, unfortunately. Spouses can testify to any conduct they have personally witnessed or have personal knowledge of which is relevant to the action, for example adultery, alcohol, drug use, abusive conduct. It is not uncommon for spouses to tender emails and text messages or testify to conduct based on notes and calendars. Conduct is relevant in custody issues, alimony, and even in property division awards. Private investigators can be employed and can come to court and testify to what they observed, photographed, recorded etc.

Can I be ordered to take a drug or alcohol screen? Yes, if you have children and there is an allegation of substance abuse. If your spouse can claim you drink excessively and / or make use of any kind of recreational drugs, and you are contesting custody in any way (expanded visitation for example), you are at risk of being ordered to take an alcohol or a hair follicle drug screen.

Can my reputation be protected during divorce? Yes. Protective orders can be granted where it is clear a spouse is attempting to use the judicial process to injure the reputation or earning potential of a parent, in order to protect the children. Other measures can be employed as well including possible permanent protective orders. Recently, Mr. Hippe, defending a husband / father, a respected member of the financial community, in a Dekalb county final trial, secured a permanent restraining order against a wife who had threatened to defame the husband to his clients and injure the husband's career. Mr. Hippe has also secured temporary restraining orders protecting professional clients.

How can I keep this affordable? There are many ways to keep your divorce affordable. The first is to attempt to secure all relevant information on your spouse before you file so that expensive discovery is not necessary. (Bank statements, phone records, taking your spouse's personal phone or personal computer in for expert inspection / hard drive scans – computers or phones owned by an employer should not be investigated.) The second is to hire a good, reasonably priced attorney. The third is to set reasonable expectation, be prepared to compromise some to try to reach an early settlement, and plan to be heavily involved in your case. The third is to plan to be your own paralegal. For example, you can do a lot of homework in areas of document production and other areas that can dramatically minimize the time your attorney has to spend on your case. Also, try to only call or email your attorney when it's important or after you have had the chance to gather all your thoughts or information. All communication with your lawyer is time fairly billed. You should accept that your divorce will cost money and that this expense should be considered with the perspective of an important life expense, not unlike the cost of health care, which is paid monthly for your entire life. Mr. Hippe is agreeable to a monthly charge plan, if you keep a credit card on file with him.

Will I be ordered to pay for college? No, not if you take your case to a trial. Your child support obligation is limited to the date the child graduates from high school or turns 18, which ever is later. However, you are obligated to support the child through age 20 if he lives at home and has not yet graduated from high school or attends a secondary or technical school. However, you may be asked to commit yourself to paying for college in settlement negotiations, which should be carefully considered.

What if my spouse is planning to move from the state? This is a serious problem for non-custodial spouses. The courts will not enforce settlement agreement that "automatically" shift custody if the custodial spouse moves from the state. Modification petitions have to be filed, which is expensive and cumbersome. If you are certain your spouse is planning to move from the state and he or she wants primary custody, then you need to consult a good divorce attorney immediately.

Below is a general survey of Title 19, Divorce and Family Law.

19-9-1 Authority of Superior Court to grant Standing Orders on Any Domestic Case

19-3-1 Essentials of Marriage, parties able to contract, license and ceremony

19-3-1.1 Abolition of common law marriage effective January 1st, 1997

19-3-2 Must be 18 to get married, 16 or 17 with parental consent

19-3-3 Degrees of relationship within which marriage prohibited

19-3-3.1 Same Sex Marriage Prohibited

19-3-4 Marriage Must Be Voluntary and Without Fraud

19-3-5 Fraudulently Induced Marriages Void 19-3-8 Interspousal Tort Immunity

19-3-9 Separate Property of Spouses Remains Separate Property

19-3-10 Transactions between Spouses as Related to Creditors of Either

19-3-30 to 19-3-36 Marriage Licenses Generally

19-3-33.1 Surname of Spouse

19-3-42 Want of Authority of Minister or Person Who Conducts Ceremony Non-Issue

19-3-43 Marriages In Other States of Same Effect

19-3-60 Marriage as Consideration for Contract

19-3-62 – Pre nuptial Agreements , must have two attesting witnesses

19-3-67 Recording of Marriage Contracts and Settlements, as against bono fide purchasers of marital property

19-4-1 Annulment, unavailable where children born or wife pregnant

19-4-4 Procedure for Annulment shall be same as Divorce Cases

19-4-5 Effect of Annulment, dissolution of void marriage

19-5-1 Divorce, Jury Trial demands, must be in writing before call of trial calendar, and ADR

19-5-2 Six Month Residence Requirement for Divorce Actions

19-5-3 Grounds for Divorce, most common is

19-5-3 (13) (irreconcilable difference)

19-5-4 Condonation, Consent, Like Conduct

19-5-5 Requirements of Divorce Petition, must be verified

19-5-7 Transfer of Property Proscribed, Lis Pendens Authorized

19-5-8 Divorce, Alimony and Custody Cases May Not be Entered by Default

19-5-10 Ex Parte Cases where No Defense, finial judgment may be entered from evidence tendered at hearing or on verified pleadings and up to two affidavits

19-5-11 Confessions of Adultery or Cruel Treatment

19-5-12 Form of Final Judgment and Decree

19-5-14 New Trials May be Granted in Divorce Cases

19-6-1 Alimony, Temporary and Permanent, conduct is threshold inquiry, non available if the requesting spouse committed adultery, alimony is authorized, but is not required, to be awarded according to the needs of the requesting spouse and the other's ability to pay

19-6-2 Attorney's Fees to be awarded in domestic cases in accordance with the financial circumstances of both parties

19-6-3 Temporary Alimony, either party may petition at any time for temporary alimony and court will inquire as to the circumstances giving rise to the separation and will look at the financial circumstances of both parties, including any separate estate either may have

19-6-4 Permanent Alimony

19-6-5 Factors in Calculating Final Alimony

19-6-7 Estate of Alimony Obligor Liable for Continued Payments

19-6-8 Separation Agreement Potential Bar to Permanent Alimony

19-6-9 Equitable Authority to Compel Support Agreements

19-6-10 Petition for Alimony Available When Spouses Separated but No Divorced Filed

19-6-13 Both Spouses Liable to Third Parties for Necessities of Children

19-6-14 Court May Grant Temporary Alimony for Support of Children, obligor then relieved of liability for necessities

19-6-15 Child Support Guidelines

19-6-18 Modification of Periodic Alimony by Either Party when Husband's Income or Financial Status Changes

19-6-19 Modification of Periodic Alimony by Either Party when Either Party's Income of Financial Status Changes; Cohabitation with Another Grounds for Modification, temporary modification allowed upon motion

19-6-20 Substantial Change in Income or Financial Status Required for Modification

19-6-22 Award of Attorney Fee's Authorized in Defense of Petition to Modify

19-6-24 Continuing Jurisdiction to Modify Child Support Order

19-6-28 Powers of Court to Enforce Child Support Orders, Contempt Motions, Acknowledgment of Service

19-6-28.1 Suspension of License for Person in Child Support Arrears

19-6-29 Availability of Accident and Sickness Insurance

19-6-30 Garnishment Available of Obligor is later than 30 days

19-6-31 Income Deduction Order

19-6-32 Specific Language of IDO

19-6-34 Life Insurance Premiums May be Ordered to Be Paid

19-7-1 Parental Power and Potential Loss Thereof

19-7-2 Parental Duties to Child

19-7-3 Grandparent's Action for Visitation when Parties Separated or Divorced

19-7-4 Deprivation Actions

19-7-5 Duty of Health Care Provider to Report Child Abuse

19-7-6 Reporting of Child Drug Abuse

19-7-20 Legitimacy of Children Born Out of Wedlock

19-7-22 Legitimation Action

19-7-25 Until Legitimated, Natural Mother has all Parental Power

19-7-40 Jurisdiction in Paternity Action

19-7-43 Paternity Action

19-7-44 Guardian Ad Litem may be Ordered in Paternity Action

19-7-45 Standards for DNA testing

19-7-48 Settlement of Paternity Action, Child Must Be Party

19-7-54 Motion to Set Aside Paternity Determination

19-8-1 through 19-8-43 Adoption

19-9-1 Parenting Plan Requirements

19-9-1.1 Arbitration – All matters of divorce and custody may be handled in Arbitration

19-9-3 Determining Factors in Child Custody Award

19-9-5 Agreement Between Parties for Custody of Child

19-10-1 Child Abandonment – misdemeanor

Chapter 14 – Enforcement of Duty of Support

Chapter 13 – Family Violence

19-13-1 – Family Violence Defined

19-13-2 - Venue, Action should be filed in County where Respondent Resides

19-13-3 Ex Parte Petition

19-13-4 Protective Orders


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