Family Law Conference draws record crowd

Issue December 2011 By Tricia M.Olivia

Nearly 200 family law practitioners and members of the Probate and Family bench settled into Chatham Bars Inn on the Cape Oct. 28 and 29 for the 21st Annual Family Law Conference.

"This was a record crowd," MBA Director of Membership and Programs Lisa A. Ferrara said. She attributed the high interest level to alimony reform, but also to the comprehensive nature of the conference's content. Ferrara explained that programming was thoughtfully pulled together by conference co-chairs Marc E. Fitzgerald and Michael I. Flores.

The Friday, Oct. 28, program featured a panel that highlighted recent developments in family law over the last year, as well as a welcome reception.

"We are delighted to bring our popular Family Law Conference to the Cape, not only for the destination, but to be closer to the loyal members in Southeastern Massachusetts," MBA President Richard P. Campbell said at the evening reception, which was sponsored by the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Saturday's programming opened with an update on the Trial Court delivered by Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey.

The first portion of the chief's remarks centered on the challenges resulting from the compounded budget cuts. "Security and other staffing is at a crisis level," 
she said.

Carey also spoke of the success of many programs available thanks to outside resources attained from the Probate and Family Court Grant Committee. Two programs include an innovative parent-education program for non-married parents and a client-centered project that enlists youth mental health professionals and attorneys.

In addition, Carey spoke about carefully tracking the impact of shortening hours in select Probate and Family courts. As a result of courts closing early to accommodate better administrative follow-through, "significantly more cases are docketed and scanned," she said. In one week, 11,000 documents were scanned.

She also spoke of the issues and challenges associated with nearly 254,000 pro se litigants that appeared last year in the Probate and Family Court. She concluded her remarks on a high note, referencing the "awesome responsibilities" placed upon the Probate and Family Court staff, bench and bar.

The highly anticipated alimony panel, "What Alimony Reform Will Mean for Your Clients and Your Practice," featured Carey, MBA Past President Denise Squillante, the Hon. Peter C. DiGangi and Fern Frolin, past chair of the MBA Family Law Section. It was moderated by Bryna Klevan of Klevan & Klevan.

The panelists walked conference attendees through how attorneys should prepare for the March 2012 enactment, often referring to conference materials and other tools that explain the differences between the old and new law.

According to DiGangi, judges are already accepting agreements that reference the new alimony law. "No sense in drafting something that will be obsolete in four months," he said. In addition to adding general guidance and predictability, the reform provides "invaluable 
tools for us in pre-trial conference," DiGangi said.

"This is a huge policy change," said Frolin, who explained that the new law encourages alimony recipients to think more about financial independence.

"I think it will help settle cases, I really do," said Carey, who reminded participants that although the new law's language adds more predictability, there is still room for argument.

"If you are not getting calls about alimony reform, you will," Squillante said.

Other panels presented on Saturday covered defining income in support cases, removal and parent alienation.