The 2018 Family Law Institute Revisited

By Jeanette Holmes

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More than 600 family law attorneys attended the 36th Annual Georgia Family Law Institute May 24-26, 2018. Those in attendance were able to hear from a variety of experts, peers, and members of the judiciary on issues that are helpful to our practice of domestic law in Georgia, while also earning CLE credits and visiting with friends and family at the Jekyll Island Convention Center. This is the second time in more than 15 years that the convention has been held in Georgia. If you were unable to make it to the Family Law Institute this year, here is a little bit of what you missed.

The program kicked off on Thursday with tips on how to handle a DFACS investigation, how to handle the unmanageable client, and how to efficiently use a forensic accountant in your case. Attendees learned that, when dealing with DFACS investigations, DFACS typically does not want to hear from us as family law practitioners. It is best for us to stay in the background and advise our clients on how to respond to DFACS inquiries—calmly, politely, and honestly. Further, when you have an unmanageable client, boundaries are key! Be sure to establish clear rules of what kind of treatment is inappropriate for attorneys and staff by the client. Knowledgeable forensic accountants engaged in a lively discussion of whether compensation should be treated as income or an asset—or a combination of both.

Other presenters covered topics of contested custody litigation, attorney’s fees statutes and collection tips, the division of trusts, as well as the intersection of our practice with criminal issues and ethical questions. After the first day of presenters concluded, many attendees enjoyed a Family Law Section Diversity Committee Lunch, followed by a well-attended welcome reception on the front lawn of the conference center.

Friday morning was packed full of helpful information on evidence, federal tax issues, and case law updates. When covering evidence questions, the audience was able to interact with the presenters by using “clickers” to share their opinions regarding questions of privilege and work product. We also heard from prominent psychologists about how to deal with narcissists in the context of divorce. Surprisingly, these professionals offered tips on how to use a client’s own narcissism to benefit the case and minor children involved in the case.

After the morning presentations, attendees were presented with the option of listening to live oral arguments to the Court of Appeals of Georgia or attending break-out sessions such as a presentation on how to best use a private investigator in a divorce case. One break-out session focused on the importance of knowing your limits as an attorney – and knowing when it is time to bring in reinforcements or co-counsel specializing in other areas of law. Presenters emphasized that a “jack of all trades,” when it comes to practicing law, is a master of none. It is important to evaluate your competencies or risk violating the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, which requires that a lawyer not handle a matter which he or she knows or should know to be beyond his or her level of competence without associating with appropriate co-counsel. For instance, if you work primarily in family law, and have not had exposure to complex bankruptcy issues, you should engage a bankruptcy attorney to assist you in a divorce case with complex bankruptcy issues.

In the afternoon, a beach party was hosted by the Young Lawyers’ Division. After the beach party, there was a reception hosted by the Family Law Section. The reception was a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues while enjoying music by the Specific Deviations—a band made up of a few of our own section members.

On the final day of the conference, participants heard from a panel of seven judges, as well as the Chief Judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, who explained how old bankruptcy case law addressing domestic relations issues may no longer be binding due to the significant changes to the bankruptcy code brought about under the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA). One of the most significant changes in the bankruptcy code is that all domestic support obligations (as defined in Section 101(14A) of the bankruptcy code) created by a divorce decree or separation agreement are non-dischargeable in every chapter. The entire program was both fun and informative.

Special thanks to the many, generous sponsors who made the Institute possible and successful!

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Since graduating from Emory University School of Law in 2013, Jeanette has practiced exclusively in the area of family law. She is an associate at Connell Cummings and lives in the Castlewood neighborhood with her husband, William. She can be reached at holmes@connellcummings.com.