I recently “passed the gavel” to the new Family Law Section Chair, Maryann Foley of Alaska. It was a heartwarming ceremony and many of the leaders in family law were there. But perhaps more important than that ceremony, was our final Council meeting the day before. While it was the last one I will preside over, it was a meaningful one. We surveyed the status of our section’s efforts, including our great publications, CLE programs and other endeavors, but what was also nice, was that we reviewed and revised our Family Law Section’s Mission Statement. While the changes were not extreme, they did force us to again review our Mission Statement and to think about what we do and what we want to do and be, as a section. So with that, I say farewell as Chair, and leave you with this, the newly revised Mission Statement of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association:
Mission/Goals of American Bar Association’s Family Law Section.
The mission statement of the Family Law Section follows:
The mission of the American Bar Association Family Law Section is to serve as the national leader in the field of Family Law. To accomplish its mission, the Council has adopted the following seven goals for the Section:
I. To improve the family law system.
II. To be the pre-eminent voice on family issues.
III. To serve our members.
IV. To improve public and professional understanding of family law issues.
V. To increase the diversity and participation of our membership.
VI. To educate the public about family law and the professionals involved in family law.
VII To improve professionalism of all participants in the administration of family law.
On Wednesday January 18, 2012 I will be presenting a Webinar for the ABA. It is one that is interesting to me. The title? Handling the Media in a Family Law Matter. I am sure I don’t know all the answers, but preparing for it and thinking about it has been educational and enjoyable.
While there certainly is more than one way to work with the press, I have found that being forthcoming with the media, even if my answer is “I don’t know”, or “I know but cannot and will not say”, has been the best. The media have much power, but in the end, they, like we, are people making decisions and judgment calls so why make them second guess your honesty or integrity.
I am looking forward to the program. If you have any helpful tips, resources, insights or suggestions, please pass them along. It can only help improve the presentation.
“SoBe”…South Beach in the Spring, what could be better? Please consider joining us April 18-21, 2012. After a very successful CLE program in Vegas this past October, we are on a “CLE roll”. The programs scheduled for Miami include:“How to Impress Judges: Analytical Steps to a Well Organized, Concise, and Engaging Trial”, “Social Networking for the Family Lawyer..” and “If you love me, put it in writing.”
And one more time, the location…the Eden Roc Hotel in South Beach, in the heart of Miami Beach, is old style Miami art deco, but fully renovated and hip. It’s a great place to learn and to mingle with family law attorneys from across the country. There will be family law discussed not only indoors, but pool side and at the beach. Isn’t that better than your conference room? I hope you will consider joining us for this fun filled educational meeting. See you in the sun!. – Randall M. Kessler
I am so excited about the new Georgia Library of Family Law Forms. Last year I was asked to develop and edit this book and it has been a long process. The attorneys and staff at the firm have been wonderful and we have gone to great lengths to ensure that this book (and CD-ROM) of Family Law Forms will be beneficial to the Family Law Practitioner. There are over 200 forms and once we begin to receive feedback, I am sure we will add more forms and keep improving it each year with each new edition.
Family Law seems to affect everyone, and almost every practicing lawyer is asked once, if not many times during their career “Can you help me with my family law matter”. While this forms book does not answer every single question, it does provide a wonderful start to those who are just beginning to practice family law as well as to those who want to have a full library of forms for themselves or their younger associates, paralegals or staff. I am very proud of it and look forward to your feedback. The first printing is scheduled for Fall, 2011 and there is an early bird discount for those who “pre-order”. Let me know what you think (you can click here for more info).
A Georgia Public Broadcasting article suggests birth rates and divorce rates are down in this poor economy. But is this a good thing? We must remember that divorce, is a legal proceeding, not a determinative identification of which marriages are stable and which are not. Perhaps the economy is preventing some folks from filing legal papers or hiring lawyers, but does that really mean more people are staying together (and if so, happily?). I think not. From my perspective, many people who have struggled for years trying to maintain a marriage have had it. On top of years of marital or relationship troubles, the stress of a poor economy puts many couples over the top. The economy may be the proverbial “last straw”.
Couples who are in distress, especially those living in separate residences, often need the court’s assistance to decide how funds are shared between the parties and how time with the children is allotted. But in a poor economy, many cannot afford an attorney so they often ignore the legal process and engage in self help. This may work on an ad hoc basis, but troubles are inevitable. And if we do see a decrease in divorce, unfortunately, in my opinion, we will see a rise in other legal areas, such as child kidnapping, criminal claims of abandonment and even domestic violence as people take out their frustrations on each other (frustrations which a “good divorce” or “good divorce agreement” might have avoided).
So, the real issue is not whether divorce rates are down, but are marriages healthier? Are people now staying together and resolving their issues. Or are they simply not able to afford the safeties and resolution mechanisms divorce courts provide?
Last week in Baltimore, MD, the University of Baltimore Law School and the ABA Family Law Section co-hosted a very special event, The Families Matter Symposium. The “Families Matter” idea is a platform of three consecutive Chairs of the ABA Family Law Section with the goal of reducing the negative consequences of Family Law on families, and most importantly children. 65 experts from across the country convened, at their own cost, to explore and share ideas on how to achieve this goal. There were large working groups which broke into small working groups and then reported back to the whole group over the two full days of the Symposium. There were judges, psychologists, financial experts and lawyers, all working together. Former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Sears was a featured speaker as was Maryland Supreme Court Chief Judge Bell.
While the program was a great start, it was only that, a start. There were great ideas that will take a lot of effort and time to implement. There was a consensus that it is impossible to create a flow chart for a family law case that would work perfectly. Every case is different. But there was agreement on many needed changes to the family law system. The concept of “triage”, immediately figuring out what a case needs and prioritizing situations based on different priorities (violence, kids needs, foreclosure?) was considered. “Early case intervention” was another popular (and similar) thought. Another discussion focused on law school preparation (and encouragement) of students to practice in this area.
So what are the next steps? One step is a comprehensive CLE Program which will be worked into the ABA Family Law Section’s next Spring CLE seminar. Beyond that we must figure out how to assimilate these and other great ideas into the general practice of family law. Judge and lawyer training and specialization? More frank discussions between the bench and bar (and mental health experts)? Family law is becoming more, not less complex. Relocation issues, gay marriage issues, international custody issues are all on the rise. Without consistently taking the time to study and try to improve our family law system, we do a disservice to our community.
Kudos to all those (and there are so, so many) that take the time and effort to work to better our system. Our superior court judges and their staffs, the many governmental agencies that are overburdened, and the legal and mental health practitioners who see the problems daily are all doing their part. The question is what else can we do. Certainly we all agree more needs to be done. So let’s keep exploring what can be done, and of course, lets do as much as we all can.