My journey towards this award began on April 28, 1999, when I had a minor rear end collision on the Maine Turnpike. Unknown to me, lymphoma cells had some time before chosen my body for a safe harbor. The rear end collision sent me to my osteopath, who, while manipulating my neck, detected an enlarged lymph node, which was later diagnosed as Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I learned it was a slow growing malignancy. Meaning, there was time. I knew I wanted to leave a mark in this life, but I knew I would have to make some changes if I was going to be able to take advantage of the time I had. I needed to stop what I was doing (general trial practice) and figure out what to do with that time remaining.
Kids! I could apply my trial skills advocating for kids. Luckily, the State Courts of Maine were simultaneously professionalizing the practice of Guardians Ad Litem, so I took the first course offered to become a "rostered" guardian, confident in my knowledge having practiced domestic relations law in small practices for over 25 years. The first thing I learned was how much I still had to learn. I have completed five years of "on the job" training as a Guardian Ad Litem and I’ve never had a better job. I want to thank the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service for choosing me this year to receive the Ann Liechty Award. It somehow doesn’t seem right to receive and honor for something I love doing so much. I have done pro bono work in the past in the recognition that everyone deserves representation in Court. This is even truer of the children of poor families, whose resources are becoming scarcer and scarcer in this age of budget cutbacks and deficits. Now, more than ever they need an extra ear to bend, an extra voice in their corner.
Those who know me, know I relish a soapbox, and I figure I’ll never get a chance like this again. I want to challenge my professional colleagues in the Family Bar to take steps as lawyers within their power to reduce conflict between parents in child custody cases. I can almost hear a collective "riiiight…" As a guardian I have had a real opportunity to see how WE behave in custody battles very much effects the ability of parents to come to an agreement on how best to raise their children. We need to understand the long term effect of how we practice upon children. Kelly and Wallerstein have done an extensive longitudinal study of the effects of long-term parental conflict on children and have shown that children subject to this kind of conflict are at greater risk for juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, mental health issues, suicide, difficulty establishing trusting relationships, and later criminal behavior. Our behavior in litigation is making this worse, and we need to change. I will give some examples: