Annual Family Law Conference to focus on children, alimony

Issue October 2014 By Michael I. Flores

The Annual Family Law Conference returns to Chatham on Oct. 17 and 18. Children are the focus of this year's two-day event, which attracts judges and lawyers from across the state to the Chatham Bars Inn. Now in its 24th year, the conference will feature a keynote address by Amy Lyn Blake, justice of  the Appeals Court; the Annual State of the Court by Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court Angela M. Ordoñez; a pre-conference roundtable on developments in alimony jurisprudence; and four child-focused substantive panels.

"Over the last several years, the Annual Family Law Conference has included panels on a variety of important topics without a unifying theme. However, this year the Conference Committee decided to focus all four substantive panels on the most important aspect of a family law case: the children involved and how the law addresses their protection and needs," said Jennifer R. Clapp, the conference and Family Law Section Council chairwoman.

While child-related programs will dominate the conference, the constantly evolving alimony landscape will be mapped as well. The conference commences at noon on Friday with an alimony roundtable. Moderator Kimberley J. Joyce, of Boston's Lee and Rivers, intends to steer the discussion through a thoughtful analysis of the evolving implementation of the Alimony Reform Act of 2011. The roundtable panelists include Alimony Task Force members, as well as attorneys who have taken the act up on appeal.

After the alimony roundtable, Blake will deliver a keynote address on the changes she has seen in family law practice during her tenure as a Probate and Family Court judge. Blake recently joined the Appeals Court after six years on the Probate and Family Court bench.

After lunch, the focus will turn to the representation of children in high-conflict cases. Joyce will moderate a panel discussion on representing children, including the responsibilities arising from an attorney's appointment as counsel for a child, how the attorney fulfills that role and how to engage with a client who is a child.

Friday's final panel explores the application of the Child Support Guidelines through the use of hypotheticals. Tom Barbar, of Deutsch Williams Brooks DeRensis & Holland, P.C., will lead a discussion between Edward G. Boyle III, first justice, Plymouth Probate and Family Court; Anne M. Geoffrion, first justice, Hampden Probate and Family Court; Anthony R. Nesi, first justice, Bristol Probate and Family Court; and Gregory V. Roach, associate justice, Worcester Probate and Family Court.

Capping off the day, the MBA will host a reception at the Chatham Bars Inn Beach Grill in honor of Blake. MBA President Marsha Kazarosian will give welcome remarks at this beach-side event.

The Annual Conference resumes early on Saturday morning when Angela M. Ordoñez, chief justice of the Probate and Family Court, delivers the perennial State of the Probate and Family Court address. Two substantive programs follow the chief justice's address.

First, attorney Lynn Isaman will moderate a panel entitled "Navigating a DCF Investigation." This session will review the organizational structure of DCF, the investigation and reporting of abuse and neglect, representing clients in an investigation and appeal, how the court obtains access to DCF records, and trial and evidentiary issues that may arise regarding DCF records.

Next, the conference concludes with "Is This Still Your Brain On Drugs? Substance Abuse and Parenting Plans," moderated by Clapp, the conference chair, of Grindle Robinson, LLP. This panel will include a presentation by Dr. Jennifer Michaels, medical director of the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, on the physiological impact of drugs and medications that battle opiate addiction, a discussion of substance abuse and its impact on parenting, substance abuse testing from the point of view of the Probation Department and the development of parenting plans when a parent suffers from a substance abuse issue.

"The Conference Committee worked very hard to assemble excellent panelists from across Massachusetts and to shape a conference that would provide a comprehensive learning experience for all attendees," said Clapp. "We hope this conference, in addition to being another sell out, will provide practitioners with an opportunity for thought provoking discussion and fellowship."