The student group Parents Attending Law School (PALS) held its first Family Law Panel at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law to discuss relationship issues that law students may face.
Megan Todd and Eleanor Chung, 3Ls and President and Vice-President of PALS, moderated the panel discussion. The panel included: Leigh Goodmark, Professor of Law and founder of the Gender Violence Clinic; Sarah Nesbitt ‘09, Managing Attorney of the Family Law Division of the Family Legal Advocacy Group, LLC; Craig Smith, Adjunct Professor and Of Counsel to the Law Offices of Kristine K. Howanski, LLC; and Rebecca Bowman-Rivas, Law & Social Work Service Program Manager.
The panel shed light on a number of family law issues facing law students in relationships. Topics ranged from the mundane, carving out enough time from your schedule to be with your partner or for household chores, to the exceptional, marital property and child custody.
A common theme throughout the panel was the importance of communication between partners. As Rebecca Bowman-Rivas summarized, “It’s important to talk about your expectations on a short term basis, on a longer term basis, and on a lifetime basis. Talk about what you both want, what you expect your roles to be. How are you going to split up the housework while one of you is in graduate school? Are you going to go to graduate school and then your partner will go? It’s important to keep an ongoing conversation, truly and honestly, about what your expectations are of the other person, and also what you feel like you need from the other person.“
Professor Goodmark echoed Bowman-Rivas’s advice, but advised students to take the process a step further and write down the agreements from these conversations. Her advice, “Don’t be afraid of co-habitation agreements and don’t be afraid of prenuptial agreements.”
Professor Smith took the time to remind the audience about a Maryland decision of particular relevance to law students. Archer v. Archer is a 1985 Maryland Court of Appeals decision that held that a graduate degree such as a medical or law degree was not marital property. Even though a spouse may put his or her ambitions on hold to support a spouse throughout graduate school, he or she is not entitled to any damages or award if the relationship ends.
Sarah Nesbitt apprised attendees about her work in the area of collaborative divorce as President of the Collaborative Project of Maryland. She explains, “The Collaborative Project offers collaborative teams: lawyers, mental health professionals, financial neutrals, child specialists, all of those specialists to help families resolve their disputes whether it’s divorce, custody, parenting plans, or whatever it may be that would normally have people filing something in the court for relief that’s family related.” The collaborative divorce process is a lower cost option for students seeking to end a marriage who may not have the financial resources to cover costly legal proceedings.
Despite the focus on the negative aspects of relationships in law school, Professor Goodmark reminds students of the light at the end of the law school tunnel, “It’s important to plan for what might go wrong during your time in law school. But the hope is that you’ll never need to put any of those plans into action, and that you will emerge from this experience with both a law degree and a healthy relationship.”
Students interested in PALS or Family Law can visit PALS’s website.