Family Law

Thompson, Meier &King's attorneys are very experienced in handling diverse domestic law issues. We understand that family issues can be life-altering. Whether our clients desire to adopt a child, design prenuptial agreements, or file for divorce, Thompson, Meier &King will match the client with an attorney skilled in the needed area. Our attorneys provide counsel regarding property division, child custody, child support, spousal support, visitation rights, paternity, and legitimation actions. Further, Thompson, Meier &King attorneys are knowledgeable and skilled regarding issues surrounding grandparental rights, are very active in the field of Juvenile Law, and are frequent guest speakers at various meetings and training sessions held in these areas.

Thompson, Meier &King also provides Mediation Services in connection with Family Law issues.

Thompson, Meier &King is dedicated to providing professional and competent counsel to our family law clients.

 

Divorce

Uncontested Divorce
Not all divorces in Georgia have to be lengthy, expensive or high conflict. Our attorneys frequently handle cases in which the parties are able to settle all of the issues by equitably dividing their assets and liabilities without the stress of a high conflict divorce. Although you and your spouse may agree on all of the issues between you the cumbersome paperwork involved with the divorce actions can be overwhelming and confusing. Our attorneys will guide you through the divorce process and can also assist you with preparing the necessary documents for cases involving minor children.
Contested Divorce
A contested divorce or high conflict divorce occurs when the parties are unable to resolve the issues pending between them prior to filing the Complaint for Divorce. At Thompson, Meier &King, we pride ourselves in being able to guide you through the most difficult and stressful time of your life. Our attorneys handle a wide range of complex divorce and family law cases and will diligently represent you through your divorce. With a wealth of experience, the attorneys at Thompson, Meier &King, P.C. will provide knowledgeable guidance to you to help you navigate the division of your real property, personal property, as well as any other issues involved.
Divorce with minor children
When parents decide to get a divorce, it can be a difficult time in both the lives of the parents and the children. Our attorneys will ensure the proper preparation of the Parenting Plan and related documents and vigorously represent you in obtaining custody of your children.
High Asset Divorce
Dividing assets can be very difficult when there are businesses, real estate, financial accounts and substantial assets involved. Our attorneys are experienced in litigating high asset divorces and can assist you with obtaining your equitable portion of the marital property.
Same Sex Divorce
The arrival of same-sex marriage throughout the United States, including Georgia, was a tremendous development in the advancement of equal protection under the law. The change in the law means that all legally married couples now have to go through the same divorce process.

Child Custody

Child Custody
Legal Custody v. Physical Custody: Custody of minor children can be broken down to two main categories: Legal custody and physical custody. The term "Legal Custody" refers to decision making power for the minor children, particularly in the areas of education, medical decisions, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. Legal custody can be held by one parent alone or can be divided between parents. "Physical Custody", on the other hand, refers to the actual time that the minor child spends with a parent. When dealing with child custody actions, it is important to have your agreement or final order clearly explain each parent's responsibilities and obligations surrounding legal and physical custody.
Parenting Time/Visitation
Parenting time, also known as visitation, refers to the time a minor child or children spend with the non-custodial parent. In every child custody action, the law now requires that a parenting plan be submitted to the Court. A parenting plan outlines the time that the minor child or children will spend with each parent as well as how the decision making power for the children will be divided between the parents. The attorneys at Thompson, Meier, &King P.C. are well versed in preparing these plans as well as drafting agreements and final Orders that reflect the parties' true intentions surrounding legal and physical custody of minor children.

Modification Actions

Modification of Child Support
A Modification of Child Support is the only remedy available to change a child support award. There are a number of factors to be considered to determine if the child support should increase or decrease. The most common reason for a change in child support is due to a substantial change in either parent's income. A Modification of Child Support action can be filed every two years. The Attorneys at Thompson, Meier &King, P.C. can help you navigate through this complicated process and ensure that what you are paying or receiving is appropriate.
Modification of Parenting Time/ Modification of Visitation
A Modification of Parenting Time/ Modification of Visitation can be filed to modify the amount of time that you are spending with your children. This type of action does not mean that primary custody is changed but instead requests that the non-custodial parent either have more or less time with the minor children. There are a number of factors to consider in filing this type of action. The Attorneys at Thompson, Meier &King, P.C. can assist you with either filing or defending a Modification of Parenting Time/ Modification of Visitation.
Modification of Custody
Either filing or defending a Modification of Custody action can be very stressful and complicated. Generally, the Petitioner must show that there has been a material change in circumstances that affects the well-being of the children. A small change will not suffice. This type of action can be very difficult and complicated and it is important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney to guide you through this process.
Modification of Alimony
Georgia law recognizes two types of alimony, lump sum and periodic alimony. Periodic alimony may be subject to modification. Alimony can potentially increase or decrease depending on the financial circumstances of the parties. If the parties are unable to agree to a change in alimony, then the parties will be forced to go to court and have the judge decide whether or not the alimony should be modified.

Alimony

Alimony
Alimony is never a guarantee in Georgia. The Court will look at many different factors to determine whether or not alimony should be awarded. Alimony can be awarded as periodic payments or as a lump sum. Our firm is experienced in determining whether alimony is appropriate, for how long it should be paid and how much should be paid.
Contempt for Failure to Pay Alimony
There are times where one party ordered to pay alimony has stopped doing so. If this happens then you may find yourself in a position where you need to file a Motion for Contempt in order to obtain the monies owed to you. If you are forced to file a Motion for Contempt you may also be able to recover attorney's fees from your former spouse if it can be proven that your former spouse willfully violated the Courts Order requiring the alimony payment. On the other hand, you may find yourself defending such a motion for contempt. In either situation, our attorney can assist you.
Motion to Terminate Alimony
Typically, alimony terminates on a specific date as outlined in final divorce documents. However, there are times when the Court can order termination of the alimony prior to the expiration outlined in the final divorce decree. Among other reasons, alimony can be terminated if the recipient dies or remarries or if the recipient engages in a meretricious relationship.
Motion to Modify Alimony
Georgia law recognizes two types of alimony, lump sum and periodic alimony. Periodic alimony may be subject to modification. Alimony can potentially increase or decrease depending on the financial circumstances of the parties. If the parties are unable to agree to a change in alimony, then the parties will be forced to go to court and have the judge decide whether or not the alimony should be modified.

Contempt

Contempt / Application for Contempt / Motion for Contempt
When an order is issued in a divorce action, child custody action, child support action, or any other domestic or family law case, one or both parties are typically subject to ongoing obligations to the other party as a part of the Court's order. For example, one parent may be required to pay monthly child support to the other parent, turn over certain items of property, refinance the marital residence, obtain life insurance, pay alimony to the former spouse, satisfy credit card debt, or make the parties' minor child available for visitation with the other parent. Unfortunately, the failure of one or both parties to fully comply with all the terms of the Court's orders is a frequent issue that arises both during the litigation and years after the case has been finalized. When that occurs, the aggrieved party must file a "Motion for Contempt" with the Court, which alleges willful non-compliance with the Court's order and asks the Court to enforce the provision which the other party has violated. Fortunately, a Court has the power to compel parties to obey its orders and to punish parties for contemptuous behaviors, including the power to incarcerate the offending party to compel obedience. Other inherent powers of the Court to enforce its orders include the ability to hold a party in both civil and criminal contempt, to enter a writ of execution, or fieri facias, and to enter income deduction orders or garnish the party's wages to ensure timely payment of past due or future support. Our attorneys are skilled in addressing contempt matters, and will strategically pursue the enforcement options and remedies which will best serve our clients and help make them whole again or defend such an action.
Contempt for Failure to Pay Child Support / Child Support Collection and Recovery
One of the most common forms of contempt is the failure of one parent to pay the court ordered child support to the other parent for the benefit of the minor child following the entry of a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce, or any other court order which establishes that one parent must pay child support to the other parent. Often, the failure of one parent to help support the minor children leaves the custodial parent in a very difficult financial situation, and the custodial parent may feel that he or she does not have the financial resources to pursue a contempt action or hire an attorney. Thankfully, Georgia law provides that contempt proceedings to recover child support shall not constitute the filing of a new action or require the payment of a new filing fee, which reduces the financial burden on the custodial parent. Furthermore, the law provides the Court with the discretion to grant the custodial parent attorney's fees as part of the expenses of litigation in a contempt case. Accordingly, in addition to helping our clients recover the child support arrears and amounts owed to them, our attorneys are skilled in petitioning the Court to order the other parent to reimburse our clients for any legal fees incurred while seeking to collect the child support owed. With a wealth of experience in this area, our attorneys are equally adept at defending contempt actions.
Contempt for Failure to Pay Alimony
Another common form of contempt is the failure of a former spouse to pay alimony to the other spouse as ordered by the Court. Frequently, one spouse may be in contempt for failure to pay temporary alimony ordered by the Court while the divorce case is still pending. Additionally, a former spouse may cease making alimony payments years after the divorce is finalized for a variety of reasons. Often, the former spouse claims that they are simply unable to pay the financial obligation as an attempted defense to the contempt action. It is true that a party's inability to pay financial obligations may be a defense to a contempt proceeding because a finding of contempt requires the party's willful disobedience of a court order. However, a former spouse's inability to pay alimony is only a defense when he or she can demonstrate that their inability to pay has not been caused by their own actions, and that they have exhausted all resources and assets available and are still unable to obtain the funds necessary to comply with the order of the Court. Our attorneys are well versed in analyzing the former spouse's financial situation in order to refute claims of inability to pay and to identify resources which the Court may use to satisfy arrearages and sums owed to our clients, as well as defending alimony contempt cases.
Contempt for Failure to distribute assets or comply with provisions of the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce
Contempt actions may be brought against a former spouse for failure to distribute assets or comply with various provisions of a settlement agreement or the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce. For example, contempt actions commonly involve one spouse's failure to refinance the marital home, execute a quitclaim deed to property, allow the other spouse access to property to retrieve their personal belongings, secure life insurance, pay off credit card or other debts, or to execute a Qualified Domestic Relations Order ("QDRO") to distribute retirement funds or pension benefits to the other spouse. Clearly, each of these situations necessitates different remedies and methods of enforcing the Court's orders and the parties' agreements. Our attorneys are experienced in analyzing each individual situation and crafting a contempt action which is aimed at enforcing the Court's orders and compensating our clients for any losses which have been suffered based upon the other party's non-compliance, and are skilled in defending such actions.

Termination of Parental Rights

Termination of Parental Rights is an area of law which arises in both Juvenile Court dependency proceedings and Superior Court adoption proceedings. Georgia law provides specific conditions and procedures under which a mother or father's parental rights to their child may be terminated on a final basis. Some circumstances which may give rise to the termination of parental rights include the written consent of the parent to the termination, the willful non-compliance of a parent with a court order to support the child for a period of twelve months or longer, the abandonment of the child by the parent, a Court determination of parental misconduct or inability, or a Court finding that the parent has subjected his or her child to aggravated circumstances. Generally, a termination hearing in either Juvenile Court or Superior Court considers the welfare of the minor child as a major concern, while also giving due regard to the rights of the parent or parents. A consideration of the welfare and best interest of the child includes careful consideration the physical, mental, emotional, and moral condition and needs of the child, including the need for a secure and stable home. Our attorneys are well versed in the law regarding termination of parental rights, and are prepared to assist our clients with the variety of situations which may involve these proceedings.

Adoptions

The process of adopting a child can be very emotional for families, and often may be more complicated than the family initially expects. It is important that the statutory guidelines and procedures are followed from the outset in adoption proceedings, and our attorneys have the knowledge and experience to ensure that the necessary procedures are followed and documents filed based upon the individual circumstances and that the process goes as smoothly as possible. Notably, there are different requirements for different categories of adoptions, which include step-parent adoptions, relative adoptions, third party adoptions, DFCS or agency adoptions, foreign adoptions, and the emerging category of embryo adoptions. Each category of adoption has specific filing requirements, and often involves the surrender or termination of parental rights of the birth mother or father, which can be extremely difficult to navigate without the assistance of an experienced attorney. Moreover, the transport of a child over state lines for the purposes of adoption involves the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), which requires additional paperwork and applications with multiple state and government agencies. Similarly, if the child potentially has any Native American (Indian) heritage, the adoption proceedings will be subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which is a Federal law that governs jurisdiction over the removal of Native American (Indian) children from their families, and may require extensive inquiries or dealings with tribal governments. There are many other nuances of adoption law which require strict compliance, and our attorneys are equipped to assist our clients with these matters and ensure the best possible outcome.

Guardianship of Minors

Sometimes a situation arises in which a non-parent is placed in the position of having to assume the parental role for a child. This often necessitates a guardianship. Under Georgia law there are 5 types of guardianships for minors. Those types are:
  1. Natural guardians or parents;
  2. Testamentary guardians (individuals nominated in a will)
  3. Temporary guardians;
  4. Standby guardians (individuals nominated by a parent or current guardian because of a pending health issue); and
  5. Permanent guardians.

In order to become a legal guardian, a court action must be initiated in the Probate Court where either the person requesting guardianship resides or if that person lives outside the state, in the county where the minor resides. In addition, only the person with physical custody of the minor child may file a Petition for Guardianship. Please note that if a child's natural guardian or parent does not consent to the guardianship then the Probate Court must dismiss the Petition and no guardianship will be created.

If a situation arises in which it is believed that a parent is unable to properly care for a child but the parent will not consent to a guardianship, then filing an action in Juvenile Court to obtain custody of the child may be appropriate. Our attorneys can help you decide which option is best and can help you navigate the complexities of the legal system.

Legitimation Action / Petition to Legitimate

Legitimation
Legitimation is the statutory legal process through which a biological father becomes a legal father of a child born out of wedlock. Before a child born out of wedlock is properly legitimated by the biological father, the mother is entitled to custody and exercises all parental power over the child. Accordingly, the filing of a legitimation action is typically the starting point for a biological father who wishes to have a court order establishing visitation rights. Notably, only a biological father, and not a stepparent or other parental figure, may bring a legitimation action. Importantly, a biological father has no absolute right to the grant of his petition to legitimate the child, and two standards may apply to evaluate whether legitimation is appropriate. Those standards are the test of the putative father's fitness as a parent and the best interest of the child test. These doctrines may be applied differently depending on whether the legitimation proceeding is brought in response to an adoption petition or a custody proceeding between the legally declared father and the putative biological father. The trial court considers the desires and contentions of the parents in addition to the best interest of the child, which requires consideration of the benefits to the child if legitimated, as well as the legal consequences. Legitimation actions may involve establishment of visitation, parenting time, custody, and child support, among other issues.
Paternity Action / Petition to Establish Paternity
In contrast to a legitimation action in which the biological father files the petition, in a paternity action, the mother or the Department of Human Resources may file a petition for paternity. However, the issues of name change, visitation, and custody cannot be determined by the Court when the paternity petition is brought by the Department of Human Resources, as only the issue of child support may be addressed. Importantly, when a mother counterclaims for paternity in a legitimation action filed by the father, the action is converted into a paternity suit. In such a consolidated action, there is no right to a jury trial on the issue of child support, whereas either parent may demand a jury trial on the issue of child support after a petition for legitimation is granted in a legitimation action. Our attorneys understand the important differences between legitimation, paternity, and related actions and will competently help out clients navigate these proceedings.

Family Violence Matters

Under the law, there are several tools that can be used to protect victims of domestic violence and stalking. Our attorneys have experience in handling Family Violence Temporary Protective Orders, and Stalking Temporary Protective Orders and can assist you in deciding if one of these Orders is something you need to pursue.Unfortunately, sometimes people use these same tools to make false allegations. Having one of these Orders issued against you can have long reaching consequences that can affect your day to day life, including employment. Our attorneys also have experience in defending these actions, and you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss the matter before an Order is issued against you.
Temporary Protective Order
A Temporary Protective Order, or TPO, is a Court Order that prohibits a specific person from being able to contact you and/or your minor children, either directly (in person) or indirectly by the use of telephone, e-mails, or social media. A TPO requires that a specific person stay a certain distance away and also prohibits that person from using a third person to affect contact. There are two types of TPOs: Family Violence Protective Orders and Stalking Protective Orders. Either type of Order can last between 12 months and three years, or the Court can order that the TPO be granted on a permanent basis. TPOs can also be taken out on behalf of a minor child in order to protect the minor child from abuse or stalking.

In order for the Court to grant a Family Violence Protective Order, the law requires that a certain familial relationship exist. Specifically, either you or your minor child must have experienced an act of family violence by:

  • A spouse or ex-spouse;
  • Parent, step-parent, or foster parent;
  • Child, step-child, or foster child;
  • Any person who lives in the same household with you; or
  • Someone you have a child with.
Stalking Protective Order
The law makes a distinction between a Family Violence Protective Order and a Stalking Protective Order. The Court will only grant a Stalking Protective Order if someone exhibits conduct or behavior that meets the legal definition of stalking. Specifically, a person must follow, place under surveillance, or contact you or your minor children, without your consent for the purpose of harassing or intimidating you or your minor children.

Requesting a Temporary Protective Order can be a stressful and emotional event. Having competent and compassionate legal counsel to guide you through the court system can help ease that burden, and our attorneys can provide you with just that type of assistance.

Unfortunately, there are times when these same tools are used to make false allegations. Having one of these Orders issued against you can have far reaching consequences, potentially affecting many areas of day to day life, including employment. Our attorneys have experience in defending these actions, which should immediately be taken very seriously.

Juvenile Court Matters

Dependency
The Juvenile Court has exclusive jurisdiction over and is the sole court for initiating dependency proceedings. The purpose of dependency proceedings is to assist and protect children whose physical or mental health and welfare is substantially at risk of harm from abuse, neglect, or exploitation. The primary factor in a determination of dependency is the child's need, and not the parent's circumstances nor who is responsible for the circumstances that the child is in. Dependency proceedings are subject to strict timelines and other rules to ensure expeditious resolution and to provide the greatest protection as promptly as possible for children. Similarly, although due process is an important aspect of every legal proceeding, the due process requirements that parents and litigants be given reasonable notice, an opportunity to be heard, and an opportunity to present his or her claim or defense are particularly important based upon the serious nature of dependency proceedings and the potential to affect a parent's rights to their child. A petition alleging dependency may be filed by an employee of the Department of Family and Children Services ("DFCS" or "DFACS"), a law enforcement officer, and any person who has actual knowledge or information of the abuse, neglect, or abandonment of a child. There are several hearings held for the protection of the child involved, including a preliminary protective hearing ("72-hour hearing"), a dependency adjudication hearing, a dispositional hearing, and a permanency plan hearing. Importantly, in dependency cases, an attorney or a Court Appointed Special Advocate ("CASA"), or both, may be appointed as the child's Guardian ad Litem, and the child is treated as a party to the litigation, in comparison to Superior Court custody cases.

Grandparent Visitation Rights:

Subject to certain exceptions, any grandparent shall have the right to file an original action for visitation rights to a minor child, or to intervene in and seek to obtain visitation rights in any action in which any court in the state has before it any question concerning the custody of the minor child. For example, a grandparent might file a motion to intervene in a divorce action between the parents of such minor child, a termination of parental rights action of either parent of the minor child, a case involving visitation rights to the minor child, or whenever there is an adoption in which the child has been adopted by the child's blood relative or stepparent. Importantly, an original action by a grandparent to establish visitation rights is not authorized where the parents of the minor child are not separated and the child is living with both parents. The Court may grant reasonable visitation rights if the court finds that the health or welfare of the child would be harmed unless such visitation is granted, and if the best interests of the child would be served by such visitation. Factors which the court shall consider in making this determination include whether, prior to the filing of the action or intervention, the minor child has resided with the grandparent for six months or more, the grandparent provided financial support for the basic needs of the child for at least one year, there was an established pattern of regular visitation or child care by the grandparent with the child, or any other circumstances exist indicating that emotional or physical harm would be reasonably likely to result if such visitation is not granted. Our attorneys have an in depth knowledge of the circumstances in which grandparent visitation rights may be considered, and are available to help grandparents understand and consider the options available to them under Georgia law.

Petition for Name Change

Georgia law provides for both minor children and adults to legally change their name under multiple circumstances. Name changes are most frequently obtained pursuant to a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce, wherein the Court may order that the wife is restored to her former maiden name. However, individuals may also petition the court for a name change either on their own behalf or on behalf of their minor child under O.C.G.A. § 19-12-1. Such name changes are not limited to a woman's prior maiden name, and theoretically, an individual may change his or her name to whatever name they wish. However, the petition must fully and particularly set forth the reasons why the name change is requested, and the ultimate decision as to whether the petition shall be granted is left to the presiding judge. Additionally, if the petition seeks to change the name of the minor child, the written consent and/or service to parents or guardians will be required, subject to certain exceptions. In all name changes, the petitioner is required to publish notice of the petition in the local legal organ of the county once a week for four weeks, which notice must contain specific information in order to prevent fraud and to prevent the petitioner from evading creditors. The attorneys at our firm are prepared to help our clients file, publish, and obtain their name change as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Appeals / Writ of Certiorari / Motions for New Trial

When parties wish to challenge the final ruling of a judge, the outcome after a jury trial, or certain other dispositions in both civil and criminal cases, under certain circumstances the party may pursue an appeal and/or a motion for new trial. Circumstances which commonly lead to an appeal include criminal jury trial convictions/verdicts, the Court's entry of a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce regarding property division or custody after a hearing or trial, or the award of a certain sum of money in a personal injury or other civil case following a bench trial before a judge or a judgment entered after a trial by jury.

The presiding judge may grant a new trial under the following circumstances: when the verdict of a jury is found contrary to evidence and the principles of justice and equity; where the verdict may be decidedly and strongly against the weight of the evidence even though there may appear to be some slight evidence in favor of the finding; when any material evidence may be illegally admitted or illegally withheld from the jury over the objection of the movant; when new material evidence is discovered by the applicant after the rendition of a verdict against him; when erroneous jury charges have been given or omitted over the distinct objection of a party; or in any other circumstance where the presiding judge may decide to grant a new trial after the exercise of sound legal discretion according to the common law and practice of the courts. When the presiding judge grants a new trial, the entire trial will occur again in the same court in which it originally took place.

On the other hand, when a party appeals from the judgment or jury verdict in a case, a higher court either reviews the case for error, or hears the entire matter again on the merits, which is referred to as a de novo investigation, where the whole record from the lower court and all competent evidence shall be admissible, whether adduced on the former trial or not. Importantly, an appeal will generally suspend, but not vacate, a judgment entered, so if the appeal is dismissed or withdrawn, the rights of all the parties shall be the same as if no appeal had been entered. Appeals generally must be filed within a certain time frame or the right to appeal is lost. For example, any appeals to the Superior Court must be filed within 30 days of the date of the judgment or order complained of was entered, and the notice of appeal must be filed with the court, agency, or other tribunal which issued the ruling.

Certain rules also govern which court hears an appeal from each particular court or tribunal, which is sometimes based upon the type of case appealed in addition to the type of originating court. For example, some Magistrate Court cases may be appealed to the State Court or the Superior Court, but almost all Probate Court matters must be appealed straight to the Superior Court. Moreover, from many lower court or tribunal matters, including many objections raised in Probate Court matters, the party must petition the Superior Court for a Writ of Certiorari through a specific process, rather than simply filing a notice of appeal. Similarly, certain appeals to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court must be made by application in the nature of a petition enumerating the errors to be urged on appeal and stating why the appellate court has jurisdiction. Although the time frames governing appeals and the procedures which must be followed are very technical and stringent, our attorneys are qualified to handle many different appellate matters and ensure that a client's grievances are addressed in the higher courts.

Guardian ad Litem

In child custody disputes, a Guardian ad Litem may be appointed to represent the best interest of the minor child or children. The role of the Guardian ad Litem can vary from case to case, but many times it is the Guardian ad Litem's responsibility to conduct an investigation and make a recommendation about legal and physical custody of the minor children. Investigations often include meeting with the parents, meetings with the children, interviewing collateral witnesses, reviewing school and other records, and evaluating the homes of the parties. Attorneys in our office are often called upon by the court or other family law attorneys in many counties across North Georgia to serve as a Guardian ad Litem. Our attorneys are very experienced in the area of child welfare and family law, which gives them specialized training and knowledge as to the law related to minor children and as to what is in the best interest of minor children.