State of the Family 2013: The Divorcing Brain

Presented by the National Center for Family Law at the University of Richmond School of Law

Date: Sunday, September 15 & Monday, September 16, 2013
Location: Jepson Alumni Center, University of Richmond
Full Registration:
$375 Register Now
Part-Time Registration: Sunday only $140 + $40 for dinner reception or Monday only $195 - please contact Jessie Munn at (804) 289-8921 or
Scholarships available: limited amount of scholarship funding available to subsidize the registration of lawyers new to the practice of family law - please contact Jessie Munn at (804) 289-8921 or to inquire

Questions: If you have questions about the State of the Family Symposium or group registration options, please contact Jessie Munn at (804) 289-8921 or

Approved for 10.5 MCLE credits (including 1.0 MCLE ethics credit on Monday); Approved for 10.5 Continuing Education credits

Conference Schedule

Sunday, September 15, 2013

1–1:20 p.m.

Welcome and Introductions

Wendy Perdue, Dean and Professor of Law
Edward Barnes, Chair of the National Center for Family Law Board
Ron Tweel, Chair of the Symposium Committee

1:20–2:50 p.m.

Keynote: The Paradoxical Origins and Complicated Trade-offs of Modern Divorce Trends

Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families and Professor at The Evergreen State College

Participants in this session will learn about the historical and cross-cultural variability in the laws, customs, and values surrounding marriage relationships and divorce. We will explore the connection between the "love revolution" and the "divorce revolution," then trace the transition from fault-based divorce to unilateral divorce in the United States. We will assess the changing predictors and correlates of divorce over the past 50 years. The lecturer will explain the pitfalls of confusing correlation and cause in evaluating the consequences of divorce for children, adults, and society as a whole.

2:50–3:05 p.m.


3:05–3:35 p.m.

Bridging the Professions: Engaging in Interdisciplinary Conversations

Kimberly Fauss, New Growth Ventures, LLC

When individuals seek assistance from lawyers because their marriages are no longer working and one party is seeking to dissolve the marital bond, they are generally experiencing high levels of emotional stress. This presentation will introduce concepts that lawyers can borrow from other professions in order to appropriately serve the legal needs of their clients. Participants will recognize the importance of utilizing these concepts to communicate effectively with a client under stress and to assist the client in achieving competent decision-making.

3:35–5:30 p.m.

Divorce and the Brain: the Neuroscience Implications of Divorce

Dr. Angelo Bolea, Clinical Neuropsychologist and Neurofeedback Therapist

As researchers learn more about the structure and function of the brain, they are better able to understand behavior. This discussion will explain basic neurological functions that are implicated and how they affect decision-making. It will then illustrate how emotionality and stress alter and sometime hi-jack those functions. With a basic understanding of these concepts, participants will learn effective ways to communicate with their clients to understand their long-term goals despite the challenges posed by stress as well as strategies to assist their clients in reaching decisions that are consistent with these goals.

5:30 p.m.
Closing Announcements
6 p.m.

Monday, September 16, 2013

8:50–9 a.m.

Welcome and Announcements

9–10:30 a.m.

Avoiding Unintended Errors: The Consequences of Cognitive Shortcuts for Family Law Practice

Erik J. Girvan, Assistant Professor, University of Oregon School of Law

While most of us are aware of cognitive biases and shortcuts, we often fail to recognize them in ourselves and in the systems within which we work. This session will summarize basic cognitive shortcuts. It will discuss how the use of discretionary criteria within modern, flexible family law standards can exacerbate the effects of social bias in client relationships and decision-making. Participants will be challenged to understand their own use of cognitive shortcuts and to recognize how they can undermine effective client relationships and appropriate advocacy.

10:30–10:40 a.m.


10:40 a.m.–12:10 p.m.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: Family Clients and Self-Representation

Dr. Julie Macfarlane, University of Windsor Faculty of Law and Professor of the Practice at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies

A recently completed qualitative study of self-represented litigants (SRL's) and service providers in family and civil court shows that the primary motivation for self-representation is an inability to afford to retain, or to continue to retain, legal counsel. This reality is inconsistent with the stereotype of the SRL as unreasonable and angry in the face the court's authority. Participants will understand through research data (1) how SRL's make decisions about acting pro se and the factors they must balance in reaching that decision; and (2) the consistent critiques made by SRL's of their experience of family legal services. Participants will be challenged to consider how the family justice system can be oriented to the new reality of self-representation – substantively, structurally and culturally.

12:10–1 p.m.


1–2:30 p.m.

The Initial Client Interview: Exploring and Connecting to Your Client’s Internal World

Frank West Morrison, Partner, Phillips, Morrison, Johnson & Ferrell

Dr. Lisa Herrick, West Falls Psychotherapy Group and Co-Founder of the Collaborative Practice Center of Greater Washington

By demonstrating different approaches to client interviews, lawyer Frank Morrison and psychologist Lisa Herrick will show participants how interviews can build immediate connections between the professional and client, and avoid creating unintended barriers that make resolving conflicts more difficult. Presenters will highlight interview techniques that facilitate learning about, and understanding the internal worlds of our clients so that the work of reaching resolution goes more smoothly, and leads to more durable agreements.

2:30–2:40 p.m.
2:40–3:40 p.m.

When the Old Rules Don’t Work: Challenges for Ethical Advocacy
(Approved for 1.0 MCLE ethics credits)

Dr. Julie Macfarlane, University of Windsor Faculty of Law and Professor of the Practice at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies

Rule-based ethical practice for lawyers is increasingly disconnected from the real-life dilemmas faced by counsel as they attempt to settle disputes behind closed doors, and as they find themselves increasingly working with clients on very limited budgets. This presentation predicts how the Family Bar should look for new ethical paradigms in order to build an ethical culture of practice that meets the needs of 21st century clients. Participants will examine the utility, relevance and impact of traditional rule-based approaches to ethical legal practice; explore the new challenges that fall outside the existing Codes of Conduct for lawyers; and contemplate a new form and substance of ethical commitment for family lawyering that reflects client needs and goals.

3:40–3:50 p.m.


3:50–4:50 p.m.

Bias in Administering the Family

Cynthia Godsoe, Assistant Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School

Cognitive biases not only pervade private family law, but they also play a significant role in public family law, particularly the child protection system. This presentation will assess the concept of permanency in child protection and then trace the institutional design characteristics of child protection agencies that make them particularly susceptible to systemic cognitive bias and stasis. It will critique the assumptions underlying "permanency" which are at odds with empirical data and identify the cognitive biases and heuristics that are responsible.

The Impact of Secondary Traumatic Stress Among Family Attorneys Working with Trauma-Exposed Clients: Implication for Practice and Professional Responsibility

Jennifer Brobst, Director, Center for Child & Family Health

Research is now confirming the existence of secondary traumatic stress among attorneys and other professional service providers who work with trauma-exposed clients. This presentation will raise awareness of this issue and engage the participants in a discussion of a set of structured responses to common signs of secondary traumatic stress in family law. It will also identify well-developed assessment tools from current mental health research and applicable evidence based treatments.