Unhappy holidays: Start of divorce season

Maybe it’s not the most wonderful time of the year.“The day after Thanksgiving, the first prayer I say is, ‘I wish it were January 2nd,'” sighs John Mayoue.

Andy Sharp/Staff


John Mayoue’s new book is ‘Protecting Your Assets From A Georgia Divorce.’

The new Grinch? Nah. Just a lawyer (no, they’re not the same thing) who’s famously discreet about his famous clientele. So don’t expect juicy tidbits about the high-stakes unhitchings of Jane Fonda, David Justice or Marianne Gingrich (ex-Mrs. Newt No. 2) to surface in the Atlanta attorney’s new book.

Instead, “Protecting Your Assets From A Georgia Divorce” (PSG Books, $19.95) is aimed squarely at the local Everyman and woman. From choosing the right lawyer to understanding how a “fair” settlement isn’t necessarily an “equal” one, the book is a comprehensive, somewhat cautionary primer for Georgians considering or already in the process of divorcing.

Unfortunately, its arrival may be a case of perfect timing. An eyepopping number of marriages find the proverbial lump of coal in their stockings in December, says Mayoue, who evinces little cheer in making that statement. During a conversation in his Vinings office recently, Mayoue — who is donating all author royalties to Camp Sunshine, an Atlanta-based facility for children with cancer and their families — discussed divorce at the holidays and beyond in Georgia.

Q: If everyone reads your book, couldn’t you possibly put yourself out of business here? Why take that risk?

A: I really do think that we lawyers have an obligation to educate the public. And it seems to me to be not very good consumerism to walk into a lawyer’s office knowing absolutely nothing, before paying someone several hundred dollars. I’ve always found it peculiar that people do not get educated in a legal matter that affects 50-plus percent of all people who get married. Yet if you had an illness, you would certainly read up about it, if you had a business you were interested in getting involved in, you would certainly read about it.

Q: Still, most divorcing people will need a lawyer’s services whether they end up going to trial or not. Is settlement what you’re always working towards?

A: Always. Every lawyer I know is going to make every reasonable effort to get a case settled first. Because settlement is something that the parties can control — they can basically control things such as custody, visitation and the allocation of assets and debts. And the courtroom is a risky environment for anyone. What’s different in particular about Georgia is that we are the only state that continues to have jury trials in divorce cases.

Q: What are the pluses and minuses of that?

A: To me, jury trials are the great equalizers. Judges, just like any person, tend to have tendencies or biases. My experience with juries is they tend to be enormously fair, and that’s all you can ask for. [But] it can be a bad thing for people who watch too much television, because they believe the jury is going to stand up and say, “You were the wonderful spouse and the other spouse was the lousy one!” They may say that indirectly in how they allocate assets, but they don’t ever say it explicitly.

Q: What else distinguishes Georgia when it comes to divorce?

A: You can get divorced [here] in 30 days. In some states like New York, they have a 1-year waiting period. … Georgia ranks in the Top 5 states in terms of our divorce rates. Nevada, of course, is the leader, but the next four states are all Southern states. We’re the church-going region, according to what polls show, yet our divorce rates are higher than the rest of the country by far. In fact, the great irony is that the state that brought us Teddy Kennedy and legalized gay marriage has the lowest divorce rate in this country. And so we Georgians need to be careful about throwing stones at the rest of the country.

Q: Doesn’t divorce at least take a holiday this month along with the rest of us?

A: It’s actually the start of the season. People have these pent-up thoughts about relationships and careers and where they are with life. It’s just a very difficult time for people.

Q: Is it something in the eggnog?

A: Thanksgiving, Hannukah and Christmas, I believe, bring out the worst in many people — particularly people that are in troubled relationships. For some reason at this time of year, we use the holidays as a benchmark, and I think it’s extraordinarily unhealthy to do so. In December, for example, we have the highest number of suicides, divorce filings and bankruptcies of any month.

Q: Can the holiday season push some people to think about divorce when they might not have otherwise?

A: Absolutely. One of the biggest things that aggravates people during the holidays is the expenditure of family resources: Do we have to have a Christmas where little Johnny and Mary get every new electronic device out there? Are we going to borrow against our home in order to spend lavishly on our friends and relatives? What kind of holiday we’re going to have is sort of analogous to what kind of marriage we’re going to have. Christmas is becoming incredibly lavish for people, and social scientists will tell you that 90 percent of the root of marital trouble is money.

Q: What about people who wait to file for divorce so as “not to ruin the holidays?”

A: I think it is a good philosophy when it involves children. When you have children who are the victims of these cases and they’re thinking the wonderful thoughts we all thought of Christmas, Hannukah and New Year’s when we were young — it’s absolutely devastating to explain to a child during this time of year that not only is Santa not coming, but that Mommy and Daddy are divorcing. Yet there are some people that feel very justified in doing so. I’m not trying to be self-righteous or to criticize them. If they come in and say, ‘Look, I’m determined,’ what we say is at least go see a child psychologist and discuss how you will tell your children. And oftentimes that will persuade them that at least they should wait, or perhaps they shouldn’t do it at all.

Q: So if someone walks into your office in December talking divorce, one of your questions is “Why now?”

A: Always. Many people cannot be talked out of doing it now and that’s certainly their choice. But we do try to tell people that it probably is not the best time to add another level of stress to their lives. Often they will have very firm convictions as to “why now.”

Q: Which is?

A: It’s almost a prelude to the New Year’s resolution.

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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