A gathering to share ideas and experiences
Talking issues through has always been an elemental part of the
practice of family and probate law in Massachusetts. At the end of
this month, family law attorneys and judges from across the state
get an annual opportunity for such discussions, outside of the
daily pressures of the courtroom. The 22nd Annual Family Law
Conference will be held at Cranwell Resort Spa and Golf Club in
Lenox, beginning at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, and ending at 4 p.m.
on Saturday, Oct. 27.
Family law practitioners and judges will gather together to
share insight on substantive family law issues that they deal with
daily. They will also engage in the conference's hallmark collegial
social forum to acknowledge the importance of the societal role of
family law practitioners and judges.
"Laypeople ask family law attorneys why they chose this work,
because it is so wrought with emotion," says co-chair Michael I.
Flores of Michael I. Flores LLC in Orleans. "You are always dealing
with the disintegration of families. Most every family law
practitioner I've come across has a passion for the work and a
sense of empathy. They want to help people in times of duress and
Last year's conference in Chatham had an unprecedented number of
attendees, driven by the state's new alimony reform law, which went
into effect this past March. In response to attendee feedback, the
upcoming conference will have fewer programs but their coverage
will be more in-depth and will address various topics in a
pragmatic rather than academic way, giving registrants the ability
to immediately put their knowledge to use in court, Flores
Friday afternoon's session will address changes in Massachusetts
child support guidelines since the revisions of 2009, in two
components - one, an update from the Child Support Guidelines Task
Force and the feedback they have received to date. The second
component will address recent developments in Massachusetts child
support case law.
"We need to better define child care costs," says attorney Marc
Fitzgerald, partner in the Boston law firm Casner & Edwards,
LLP and conference co-chair. He says the current calculation favors
the non-custodial parent; in cases of shared physical custody
relationship, a key question is whether the calculation is fair to
the higher-earning parent. Currently, judges have discretion on
Also up for discussion is increasing the income cap from its
current $250,000 - and the tax implications of any adjustment - as
well as the cost of health insurance. Federal health care law now
in place has bumped the child emancipation age to 26, from the
previous 23 years.
Saturday morning's keynote address by Probate and Family Court
Chief Justice Paula M. Carey focuses on the larger issues of
probate and family court law. Justice Carey addresses where family
court is going, how to meet demands of the public seeking relief in
the courts; the societal problems that continue to drive parties to
the courts; the economy, which affects whether people can afford
legal representation; and how probate and family court administers
The Saturday session that follows Chief Justice Carey's keynote
address will highlight the state's Alimony Reform Act of 2011. This
program will assess the act's interpretation at the trial court
level, and will offer strategies on employing the new statute on
the part of clients.
A session on child custody guardians ad litem will include
discussion on preparing a client for a guardian ad litem
investigation; what a guardian ad litem is looking for from the
parties; how to cross-examine a guardian ad litem on the stand, and
how to limit the guardian ad litem's report with respect with
motions to strike. The panel, run by a retired judge, will feature
experienced family law practitioners as well as a highly-respected
guardian ad litem, Flores notes.
The final session will cover child custody parenting plans, and
their evolution over the years as the result of changing societal
norms regarding parenting. A wealth of child psychology research
data has produced empirical data to rely on in crafting plans,
Flores says. Each childhood age has different psychological and
emotional needs that are best addressed in parenting schedules, and
those are best when designed by the parents, rather than judges.
"Every family is different; there is no default schedule that works
for everyone," Flores says. "The more you do this type of work, the
more you see this."