23rd Annual Family Law Conference draws crowd

Issue December 2013

The 23rd Annual Family Law Conference took place on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, at the Chatham Bars Inn. This year's conference was co-chaired by Family Law Section Chair Michael I. Flores and Vice Chair Jennifer R. Clapp, and was attended by more than 200 family law practitioners and judges. The conference featured a number of excellent panelists and the inaugural address on the state of the court by Probate and Family Court Chief Justice Angela M. Ordoñez.

On Nov. 1, Flores welcomed attendees to the conference and introduced the first group of panelists, who discussed e-discovery issues. Panelist Timothy J. Conlon noted the "new net" is more cloud-based and said technological advances lead to a tremendous amount of data that can be retrieved by either party in litigation. Tips for acquiring this information and effective client communication were provided. David Sun presented appropriate ways to select technological experts, and the differences between them, noting that if one's "case is a car wreck, [you] find a mechanic to put it back together - that's the type of expert you want to retrieve electronic information: the 'computer forensic.'" Other session highlights included a discussion of social media surveillance, forensic collection, chain of custody and privacy concerns.

Maureen C. McBrien began the second session by discussing the implications of the new alimony and child support statutes and updates to the law. The discussion included common household and co-habitation language, as well as types of relief that can be obtained. Additionally, Judge James V. Menno cautioned attendees on their use of the "percentage of parenting time" when conducting a child support proceeding.

The first day of the conference concluded with a welcome reception at The Beach House Grill on the edge of Aunt Lydia's Cove.

Ordoñez started day two of the family law conference with the traditional "State of the Probate and Family Court" address. Ordoñez thanked conference attendees for the countless number of volunteer hours family law practitioners give, saying, "There is no greater group who give back to the bar. Thank you.

"I feel fortunate to be Chief Justice at this point in time," said Ordoñez. "I have one mission: justice with dignity and speed."

Ordoñez's four goals for the court are to reduce delays, use technology to enhance access to the court, increase uniformity of process, and increase fathers' engagement in children's lives. She concluded her address by reminding participants to show civility and courtesy to one another, as there is no room for incivility when helping families.

An engaging panel discussion on inheritance and trust issues followed Ordoñez's keynote address, which was moderated by Susan Huettner. Joining Huettner was MBA President-elect Marsha V. Kazarosian, Patricia O'Connell and Judge Arthur C. Ryley. The panel reviewed the importance of dividing and identifying assets and factors in distributing those assets fairly and reasonably.

"Work with your brother or sister counsel to get a statement of undisputed facts in order to determine what trusts and what money went where," said Ryley. "This is helpful to the court and beneficial to both parties."

The day concluded with a nuts and bolts presentation on how to write effective findings. Joined by Judge Robert A. Scandurra, Judge David G. Sacks and Judge Katherine A. Field, Denise Fitzgerald led a substantive discussion on the kind of information practitioners should provide judges to help them make determinations regarding alimony, child support and the value of the marital estate.