Don’t be a Stranger in a Strange Land

A recent poll asked “If you ever tried to represent yourself, was the judge biased against you for not understanding the law or courtroom procedure?” 95% of people who answered said “Yes”, and almost half of people felt that the judge turned against them for not knowing the proper procedures.

Think about it another way; imagine you and a friend were traveling to China. Your friend speaks Chinese fluently, and you only know a few phrases. At the first store you go to, you try to ask the cashier what you think is a simple question, but her response is like a tidal wave of information, all in Chinese. Wouldn’t you ask your fluent friend to help translate? And don’t you think the cashier might be happier to talk with someone who really knows the language, not just a few words?

Law practice is very similar to learning to communicate in a foreign language. Lawyers and most judges have gone to law school, sat for an extensive bar exam, practiced enough to sustain an income and have had to pursue continuing legal education every year. We know court procedure and the law.  We know how to present a case effectively to the judge, as well as how to defend against the opposing party. We know the language in this foreign land.

With so much at stake in a court case (your money, your home and your family), can you really afford to be a stranger in a strange land?

by Caitlin Herndon, Attorney at Law.

Violence & Threats

Not only is divorce the time when people show their worst side, it can also be the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship.  When an abuser begins to feel he is losing control of his or her spouse is when the most violence occurs.   The Georgia Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-334-2836.

It’s important to carefully evaluate your situation and decide how best to proceed with initiating a divorce when any kind of abuse has occurred.  Verbal abuse and control is abuse.  Abuse rarely gets better and usually escalates.  Getting counseling to ascertain your desires and to evaluate your options is wise prior to talking divorce to an abusive spouse.  In addition, making a safety plan for you and any children involved is necessary.

Even if you feel that your partner will never be abusive to you again, it’s important to be prepared.  Have a safety plan in place in case you need to flee.

  • Tell someone you trust about the abuse.
  • Decide how you and your children will get out.
  • Make a plan for how you can escape from each room in your house, in case of emergency.
  • Set aside emergency money, cash if possible.
  • Create a false trail.
  • Create an escape route from your place of employment.
  • If you need help in a public place, yell “FIRE” as this draws more attention than “HELP”.
  • Teach your children how to dial 911 and where to go in an emergency.

Remember, the Justice Café is your safe source for legal advice.  Starting at $75 you can receive help with paperwork as well as the legal counsel you need to keep your family safe.  Knowing where you stand legally and what steps to take will give you additional security.   When you are able, contact us for a confidential appointment to determine your legal rights.  You don’t want to have to navigate the court system alone and you don’t want an abusive spouse to take advantage of you.

And, in addition to the above, stash an emergency suitcase either in your home or with a trusted friend so that if you need to make a sudden escape you have the necessary items to do so.  When it’s possible, original documentation is preferred, however, copies are helpful in a pinch.  NOTE: In an emergency, get out right away!  Only if you have time, gather and keep the following, or copies, in a safe place.

Here is a short list of what to pack in your emergency suitcase (again, if you have time):

  • Protective Order
  • ATM and Credit Cards
  • Cash/Checkbook
  • Passports
  • Driver’s License and Registration
  • Social Security Cards
  • Green Card, VISA, or Work Permit
  • Cell Phone and Charger
  • Important addresses & phone numbers
  • Medical Records
  • Your Partner’s Social Security Number
  • Insurance Policies
  • Important Legal Documents
  • Medications
  • Change of Clothing
  • Lease
  • Birth Certificates, Marriage Licenses, Wills
  • School Records
  • Police Records (if reported)
  • Spare Car Keys
  • Special Personal Items (Photos, Jewelry, etc.) 

The Georgia Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-334-2836, available 24 hours every day.   They provide support, advice, and shelterIn addition there are potentially free legal resources with Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers, Partners Against Domestic Violence, and Cobb Legal AidThese resources are confidential and do not charge for their services.  These organizations have great experience at providing resources, support networks and safety planning.  They can help either independently or with Justice Café attorneys working in partnership with them.  The Justice Cafe will afford-ably supplement those free resources and can provide the family law assistance that isn’t readily available for free or at a comparable rate.

She’s an Attorney – Not Your BFF

You know it’s so easy to call 678-791-0734, schedule a convenient time and location to meet with a Justice Cafe attorney, and pre-pay for an affordable $75.  In fact when you meet with your skilled, compassionate, and likable attorney, you just might want to ask him or her to meet you for lunch!

It’s tempting to lean heavily on your Justice Cafe attorney because those unbundled, affordable services are such a good deal – and they are such nice people.   But it is counter-productive.  Your attorney’s strength is helping you navigate the legal system.  Just remember, keeping that attorney doing just the legal part though is good money management.

Instead of leaning on your attorney to help you feel better, find a good therapist.  (Oh, and you aren’t crazy just because you are seeing someone to help you sort through your emotions.)  If you are involved in almost any of the weighty matters handled in The Justice Café, a little bit of crazy and overwhelm just comes with your situation.)  You’ve been smart enough to choose The Justice Café to resolve your simple legal issues, now be smart enough to add another resource to your team.

The following are nonprofits that offer subsidized, affordable, or free care and support groups:

DivorceCare; Christian divorce support for adults & children

Richmont University; low cost Christian counseling in GA and TN

Odyssey Family Counseling; subsidized counseling

Metropolitan Counseling Services; low cost counseling

Visions Anew Institute, divorce resources, support groups, & weekends

The Link Counseling Center; affordable non-profit counseling

Trillium Springs LLC; free divorce support groups for abused women

Shalom Bayit free abuse support; 770-677-9322



It’s About the Money, Honey.

They say that money is the root of all evil.  That evil has the potential to cause chaos in divorce.  When it comes to divorce it seems all issues revolve around money and the kids.

So what can you do to prepare yourself to take care of your own needs and be reasonable within the financial negotiations that will inevitably happen? 

First gather every piece of paper with a dollar sign that is part of your family finances.  Go to for a list of forms that can help organize that information.  If you have children under 18, also download

These filled-out forms can be extremely helpful as you organize yourself for divorce.   Just looking at, touching, and sorting these items can begin to put you in touch with your financial reality.  You will see the household cash flow. 

Organizing these documents on a thumb drive and/or in a notebook with page protectors, should help you feel more confident in your decisions.  Remember divorce is about money and kids. This preparation can give you real numbers so you can be more prepared to make hard decisions and negotiate with your soon-to-be-former spouse from strength.

If all the financial stuff becomes too complicated or is just overwhelming, consider speaking with a professional.  CPA’s, who understand tax issues and Financial Planners (and there are even Certified Divorce Financial Analysts) will often give low cost or free advice about wise asset and liability division.  Consider the value of their input.

Once you know the income and outgo of your family you are better able to make the division decisions that must be made.  It’s always good to know what’s actually there in the family wallet and what you absolutely need to live.   Negotiation and preparation for the next phase of your life will be based on these numbers and the decisions you make about the minor children.

After organizing the finances you will have something concrete to show an attorney.  You might, in fact, only need a few hours of a lawyer’s time to handle your divorce.  That is what is so wonderful about The Manely Firm P.C.’s unbundled services with The Justice Café.  On your own you can accomplish as much as possible gathering information and filling out the forms – then talk with the attorney about how many affordable, pre-paid Justice Café hours it should take to complete the divorce settlement.

Information is power.  Calm yourself down and methodically gather and organize the financial details of your family.  The time spent in this preparation, together with the wise counsel of your Justice Café attorney, will save untold stress and regret in your divorce.  

Divorce is a Snow Storm

Here in Atlanta a few inches of snow has always caused havoc.  The only real surprise is that we are surprised.

Divorce, like bad weather, is complicated:

  • Divorce is often unexpected by one of the parties
  • Divorce interrupts almost every aspect of our lives
  • It is easy to blame the other guy for the divorce mess
  • Divorce navigation is treacherous

Whether you are the one who instigated the divorce or the one who was just hit by the snowstorm, divorce is hazardous.  Patience and wisdom are necessary to get to a safe place.  You just have to plough through.

Like a snow-jam, interruption of our lives by divorce is often total.  Your kids feel the pain of their lives radically changing.  Nothing will ever be the same for them.  Your finances are often completely torn apart and must be re-assembled.  You may have to sell your house, move to something smaller, or live with relatives for a while.  Every part of a life is subject to the upheaval of a snowstorm and of a divorce.

During our snow mayhem we blamed the broadcasters, the governor, and the school administrators for our problems.  Why didn’t they have this all worked out for us?  But perhaps some personal responsibility is in order here.  Do you carry a spare gas can, warm clothing, or drinking water in your car?  Might the divorce be partially your fault?

Regardless how we were caught in the snow, regardless how we become entangled in divorce, let’s take one step at a time in getting prepared.  First, attend to body and spirit.  You must be strong enough to weather the storm.  Then, assemble a team to help navigate the treacherous roads of divorce:  a therapist for the emotions, a financial professional for money issues, and an attorney to help with the legal piece.

Before you decide that’s more than you can afford, investigate your options.  Do you know that The Justice Café model, created by The Manely Firm P.C., can provide assistance for as little as $75 and not more than $750?   At $75 per hour, you just purchase the time your need – with no retainer.   That means you can let The Justice Cafe help you with the Child Support Worksheet, or the Financial Affidavit, or whatever seems too iced up to handle alone.  And, their intake specialist will also provide you with a list of free and low-cost family resources for the emotional and financial support you need.

Divorce and bad weather happen – each is better traveled with wisdom, integrity, and people you can trust.

- Margot Swann, Engagement Coordinator

What is Limited Scope Representation?

In describing what the Justice Café offers, I frequently get asked, “what does limited scope representation mean?”  Limited scope representation, also known as unbundled legal services, refers to an attorney taking responsibility for only a portion of a client’s case.  Rather than handle an entire matter, an attorney only performs specific legal services as requested by the client.

Forrest S. Mosten, Esq., a family law practitioner who teaches at UCLA School of Law and formerly taught at Mercer Law, is known as the “Father of Unbundling.”  He wrote the seminal book, Unbundling Legal Services, in 2000.  In his book, Mosten explains the concept of unbundled legal services with an analogy to a menu where services are available a la carte.

As Mosten explains, limited scope representation is based on a sharing of responsibility between consumers and service providers similar to when one prepares their taxes with an online program and has an accountant give the papers a final look.  In unbundling legal services, the lawyer and the client agree that the lawyer will perform some of the work involved in the client’s case and the client will be responsible for the remaining work.  Under Rule 1.2 of Georgia’s Rules of Professional Conduct, “A lawyer may limit the scope and objectives of the representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent.”

Unbundling is a way for people to get legal services at affordable prices, while enabling lawyers to serve clients who are self-representing due to high lawyer fees.  Unbundled services represents a win-win-win scenario:

Attorneys can expand their market share–usually only relatively wealthy or very poor clients receive legal services.  By offering cheaper, a la carte legal services, an attorney can offer affordable legal services to more clients.

Clients can reduce their legal services costs, and only have to buy services they need.

Courts can benefit from an improvement in the administration of justice through a reduction in the number of uninformed self-represented litigants.

Limited scope representation falls into three general categories:

Consultation, such as giving advice and direction;

Document preparation; and

Limited representation in court.

The Justice Café offers unbundled services in which the client pays a reduced attorney fee of $75 an hour to have specific, agreed upon, legal tasks performed.  Its street level, storefront locations in Atlanta, Marietta, and Savannah create an inviting, less formal environment for clients.  We welcome you to visit any of our locations, call us at (678) 791-0734, or write to us via the “Contact Us” page of our web site at if you have any questions or need our assistance.

by Luis Velez, Justice Café Executive Director

Why Have a Justice Cafe?

For lay people, successfully navigating the civil justice system can be a confusing, stressful, and expensive process.  Many people can afford to retain an attorney who will provide them with a full range of legal services.  For these individuals, competent representation makes navigating the system a lot less frustrating.  Unfortunately, too many people cannot afford to get the information or help they need to handle their civil law matter.

In 2009, The Supreme Court of Georgia Equal Justice Commission’s Committee on Civil Justice highlighted this issue when it commissioned Kennesaw State University to conduct a study regarding the civil legal needs of modest and moderate income Georgians.  The study’s results were sobering.  The study found that more than 60 percent of the households surveyed experience one or more civil legal needs per year.

Many of these civil legal needs relate to family law-related matters, including divorce, child custody, child support, etc.  In fact, according to Georgia’s Administrative Office of the Courts, in 2011, there were 277,296 civil cases filed in Georgia’s Superior Courts, of which 182,127, or 66 percent, were family law cases.  The number of civil cases in Superior Court actually dropped from the prior year, but the percent of family law cases went up by 6%.

Thus, family law-related matters represent a significant number of the cases heard in Superior Court.

Sadly, only a fraction of the people who have civil legal needs actually get to court.  In addition, despite the high level of legal needs among economically challenged Georgians and the complexity of the legal system, nearly 75 percent of individuals tried to resolve their problem on their own.  The study found that for many, poverty was a leading cause of keeping them from accessing the court system altogether or appearing in court without an attorney.

What’s the problem with so many unrepresented litigants?  According to the study, 95% of court personnel report that the large number of unrepresented litigants impedes the efficient functioning of the court system.  Also, the study found that 67% of those who got legal help were satisfied with the outcome of their case, whereas 60% of unrepresented litigants were unsatisfied with the disposition of their matter.  Clearly, having a trained attorney makes a difference.  The bottom line is that many Georgians do not have access to an attorney and, consequently, are at a disadvantage when they come in contact with the civil justice system, if they reach the courthouse steps at all.

Visit one of our three locations in Atlanta, Marietta, or Savannah and take advantage of this revolution in the provision of legal services. 

by Luis Velez, Justice Café Executive Director