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April 01, 2018

Consider Us Family

By: Roberta S. Batley

In early February, I was fortunate enough to help represent the Family Law Section at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia. During the small window of free time I had  before my flight, I took a tour of Stanley Park with Chair-Elect Melissa Avery and Delegate Anita Ventrelli. The tour driver showed us several western red cedars that were more than 700 years old, which was  absolutely  awe  inspiring.  But  even  more  interesting  to me were the several “nurse stumps” he also pointed out. The driver explained   that even though it appeared that these old trees were dead or dying, the tree trunks were hosting seedlings that had either sprouted up on top of the trunks or beside them. The root systems of the nurse stumps were still active, and they were nourishing the seedlings as they grew. Once the roots of the seedlings become established, the seedlings will eventually overtake the nurse trees. In fact, after a massive storm in which the Park lost over 10,000 trees and needed to rebuild, a number of the old western red cedars were chopped in half to serve as nurse trees for seedlings.

This to me is the perfect, natural metaphor for a family. A person or village nurtures you as your roots grow. We as family law attorneys know all too well that not everyone is blessed with a healthy biological family. We see firsthand how the love that a family is supposed to share can turn into hatred and distrust. We see our clients, their children, and their extended families inexorably shaken by a break in the family unit that may never be repaired. Those broken branches must find other places to root and be nurtured. And indeed, for many people, families are created mainly from friends and community, as their genetic families did not provide that safety and security.

Our Family Law Section has been instrumental in helping to define the family in all shapes and sizes. To me, it is truly the best thing we do as individuals and as a Section. We have served the needs of children, helped define the rights of nonmarried and same-sex couples, and have been at the forefront of the scientific and legal developments in the field of assisted reproductive technology. Family law lawyers dedicate their lives to the needs of the family as those grow and change.

In our little microcosm of the Family Law Section, we also have developed a family. I am the blessed recipient of deep and lasting friendships with members of our Section that have become my family by nurture, not by nature. I love to look around at our events and just marvel at the warmth between our members. Of course, like a family, we also have our differences, but for the most part, we are all working for the same thing—we just might go about it in different ways.

I recently reached out to one of our members for advice for my oldest daughter. The member responded almost immediately and wrote to my daughter saying, “Consider us family.” There is story after story of members helping each other or their loved ones through tough times and of opening up their homes and law offices for another member. It is hard to say what makes these relationships so special, except that perhaps the magic element is found in the words, “Consider us family”—not by blood, but by connection. I look forward to celebrating that connection with you all at our spring meeting in Nashville, May 9–12, 2018, with a special day dedicated to international family law and assisted reproductive technology issues. fa

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Roberta S. Batley

Chair, Section of Family Law

Roberta S. “Bobbie” Batley ([email protected]) of Little, Gilman-Tepper & Batley P.A. in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the 2017–18 chair of the ABA Section of Family Law. She is a board-recognized specialist in divorce and family law in New Mexico, a Fellow of the American

Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and a trained collaborative family law attorney. She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Institute of Advancement for the American Legal System.