Since Annie wanted to file for divorce right away, we drafted a complaint for divorce for her to review. We convinced her to allege in the complaint that the marriage was irretrievably broken rather than to allege she wanted a divorce because of Sam’s adultery. We thought that would both protect their children from learning about the affair and keep Sam from going ballistic. We sent the complaint to Annie to review and approve, and explained we also needed her to sign and have notarized the verification we were required by law to attach to the complaint. Annie stopped by the office to sign the verification in front of one of our notaries, because we explained that she, the notary, and the piece of paper all had to be in the room at the same time.
With the advent of eFiling in the Fulton County Superior Court, it was so much quicker to file pleadings. As soon as we filed the complaint for divorce, we received an electronic notification and could download a hard copy. We sent the hard copy directly to Sam with a letter that said we represented Annie, and asking him to acknowledge service. The letter also advised Sam that we were not his lawyer, he should retain his own lawyer, and that he or his lawyer, once he retained one, should contact us, as we wished to resolve the case amicably. It would be a few days before we received the Order to Attend 30-Day Status Conference, and we would serve that and the Fulton County Family Division mandatory discovery package on Sam or his attorney when we received the order.
“Tell me again what the status conference is and what the mandatory discovery is,” Annie asked our paralegal who was notarizing the verification. The paralegal asked me to speak to Annie and answer her questions, knowing that the paralegal could not give any legal advice. The attorney explained that Fulton County has a Family Division. Four judges are assigned to the Family Division, and all four of those judges hear only family law cases. The Family Division, which was launched in 1998, was designed to improve case processing from initial filing to disposition by assigning cases involving the same family to one judicial team, and scheduling cases at regular intervals through status conferences so that the case moved forward without dragging on for too long. The goal of status conference, which was presided over by Judicial Officers rather than the judge assigned to the case, was to have the parties, and their attorneys, discuss temporary issues such as living arrangements, financial arrangements, and parenting arrangements, and also to make sure that both sides were sharing financial information.
Mandatory discovery are forms provided by the Fulton Family Division that require each party to share some basic information and documents. “We will need you to fill out those forms, as well as the Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit before the status conference,” I told Annie. “If you have access to tax returns and credit card statements, that would be helpful. If only Sam has access to certain documents, then he will need to provide those. I like to think of the Fulton Family Division as therapeutic justice, with a goal of concluding the cases as quickly as possible so people can move on with their lives without being mired in the emotional turmoil of a divorce.”
Annie sighed as she reviewed the mandatory discovery forms and all the time and work that would be required of her to fill out the forms and gather the documents. I assured her that Sam had to do the same, but that if she worked on it now, this how process would be over more quickly.
“By the way,” Annie said on her way out the door, “did I tell you we had not had sex in three and a half years?”