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VOL. 122 | NO. 164 | Thursday, August 30, 2007

ABA to Bring Family Law Conference

By Eric Smith

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American Bar Association's Family Law Conference
Oct. 10-13
The Peabody Hotel

More than 200 attorneys from across the country will descend on Memphis in October for the American Bar Association's Family Law Conference, which will serve as the organization's national Continuing Legal Education (CLE) fall program.

The event will be held Oct. 10 to 13 at The Peabody Hotel with a host of speakers lending their insights and expertise to the growing field of family law.

Amy J. Amundsen, a family law specialist and president-elect of the Memphis Bar Association (MBA), said law students, family lawyers and judges who attend will benefit from ample networking opportunities as well as the conference's numerous seminars.

"They will have the ability to network and meet lawyers and judges from across the country and benefit from hearing how other parts of the country handle domestic relations cases and what other states are doing in a particular area of family law," said Amundsen, a partner at the law firm of Rice Amundsen & Caperton PLLC.

Changing times

Family law has grown more complex recently because it is subject to international, federal and state laws and regulations, Amundsen said. That's what makes it a dynamic field.

"Over the past five years, there have been a significant amount of federal regulations and laws passed that affect domestic law," Amundsen said. "I find that family practice is never boring. Just when we thought we knew all there was to know about discovery, the Internet arrived, and people are now using their computers, cellular phones, BlackBerrys, etc., to store just about anything."

People are more mobile than ever, which has further muddied the practice of family law as litigation surrounding the moving of children out of state, or even to other countries, has increased.

Plus, "there are now more unmarried households than married households, and more cases are being filed in Juvenile Court for children born out of wedlock and there are more cases being litigated using non-divorce laws on dividing the property and determining legal rights to the partners," Amundsen said.

The past few years also have seen a rise in litigation by grandparents, step-parents and same-sex partners who are claiming a "de facto" parental relationship and therefore claiming visitation rights, she said. Immigration and how that affects divorce, domestic violence and custody also has become contentious in the field.

Family lawyers are concerned with "substance abuse and mental health issues relating to our clients, their children and the lawyers and judges," Amundsen said. "Family lawyers are finding more children on medication or having behavioral problems and more clients using a host of drugs. We, as lawyers, need to know how to handle difficult substance abuse and mental health issues when they get divorced."

Wide range of topics

Conference speakers will address those myriad topics and more. The event will include a host of local experts, including Robert L. Childers, a judge in the Circuit Court of Tennessee for the 30th Judicial District, as well as attorneys Larry Rice, Miles Mason, Margaret Chesney, Caren Nichol, Lynn Susser, Ellen Vergos and Dorothy Wells.

National speakers include Mark Sullivan, a military law and divorce expert who will present a seminar called "Hidden Assets in Military Divorce Cases."

Also, Jacqueline Valdespino will speak on electronic evidence in a seminar titled "It's Not Just About E-mail: What the Family Trial Lawyer Needs to Know about Electronic Evidence Prior to and During a Trial."

"She has written several articles on e-mail, ethical consideration on electronic discovery and has drafted federal legislation on electronic storage and electronic signatures," Amundsen said.

Other speakers include Patricia Apy, whose seminar is titled, "Child Custody Jurisdiction: Navigating the Statutory Maze"; and Lisae Jordan speaking on "The Details of a Domestic Violence Trial."

Other seminars include "Same-Sex Couples and Interstate Recognition: Family Today, Strangers Tomorrow"; and "Post-Divorce Instructions That Your Client Needs to Know - How to Shape Them Up and Ship Them Out."

The complete schedule is available at www.abanet.org/family/events/fall07.shtml.

Amundsen and Bernice Donald, judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, will co-chair the conference. This is the first time a section of the ABA has held a conference in Memphis, which means an obligatory tour of Graceland and even dinner at B.B. King's Blues Club probably will be in the cards for attendees.

"We are going all out to show off Memphis," Amundsen said.

Also, Donald will be presented with a special award honoring her dedication and commitment to the legal profession. Donald has just been named secretary of the ABA.

Anyone interested in attending should register by Sept. 7 to secure an early-bird discount rate. ABA Family Law Section members get a discount on registration, which ranges from $100 for students to $600 for non-ABA members.

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