My Testimony In the Ohio Legislature
House Bill 461 *
House Judiciary and Ethics Committee
May 8, 2012
(*Note, House Bill 461 was passed unanimously by both the Ohio House and Ohio Senate in 2012 and is known as the Collaborative Family Law Act.)
My name is Nancy L. Sponseller, and I am here today on behalf of the Ohio State Bar Association to support House Bill 461. I am an attorney who has been in private practice in Ohio since 1977, and I am an OSBA Certified Family Law Specialist. I have been a member of the Central Ohio Academy of Collaborative Divorce Professionals since its inception (under a prior name). During most of these years, I have served on the Board of Trustees, and I have held the office of President. I currently serve as a Trustee and as Secretary of the Academy, and also as the Chair of its Protocols Committee. I am also a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. I have also served on the Board of Governors of the Columbus Bar Association and the Board of Trustees of the Columbus Bar Foundation.
Since I became an attorney, I have always been involved in working on what we, as lawyers, can do to better serve the public and what I individually can do to better serve my own clients. Simply stated, I became a lawyer because I was driven with a passion to help people in the best way I can as an attorney. This passion has driven me to be involved in the development of collaborative family practice. As one of my colleagues has expressed, I, too, was initially trained as a lawyer in only traditional litigation—because back when I commenced my career, litigation was the only viable means to resolve legal disputes including family issues in the domestic court. With my traditional litigation background, I used to hold to belief that the phrase “alternative dispute resolution methods,” when first used in the legal literature, was a fancy phrase that would be a passing fancy—My belief was that the only way to settle a case was to prepare the case for trial and be prepared to try the case. This included family matters involving the terminations of marriage and child custody issues. However, over time, and time and time again, I could see clear patterns develop in many of my cases—patterns that told me that despite my very best skills as a trial lawyer, I could see that there were substantial costs to my clients who were in the adversarial, litigation process that often damaged the family’s finances, to say nothing of the high emotional costs and the often irreparable damage done to children of parents who were litigating their conflicts in the courtroom. I had to ask myself, is there not a better way, or at least an alternative way to allow parties to terminate their marriages and resolve the issues, including the parenting issues. When I learned about the development of collaborative family law in other states, I knew an alternative process was available and could be available here to my clients here in Ohio. I also believed the public had a right to know about this collaborative process and a right to choose this alternative process.
This Committee has had the benefit of the testimony of other attorneys who are proponents of HB 461, as well as the testimony of several parties who have terminated their marriage in the collaborative process and who also voiced their support. While I have read these testimonies that are in the record now before this Committee and I agree wholeheartedly with what has been said, I do not want to merely repeat what has been given in testimony before this Committee. What I want do want to say to this Committee is that collaborative family practice has greatly benefited Ohio families and children and has achieved results that I, as a lawyer with over 30 years of practice, do not believe could have been achieved by my clients had I not engaged in collaborative practice and offered my clients this as an option which my clients then elected.
In preparing for this testimony and looking over the list of my clients who have elected to participate in a collaborative family practice, I am reminded of numerous people who came to me, often in very painful circumstances, but who left my office after successfully completing the collaborative process. For most of my clients, a successful end of the collaborative case meant the end of their marriage in the most positive way possible given their circumstances. However, for at least one client a successful end did not mean the termination of her marriage, but rather reconciliation with her husband that was made possible only because she and her husband were in a collaborative process where I and the other attorney involved a mental health professional to assist the parties with their communication skills, particularly communications relating to parenting their two young children. The parties had each elected the process believing they would end their marriage, and in fact they had purchased separate homes and had separated in the course of our case. However, at one point, while mid stream in the collaborative process, they called to cancel a four way meeting, announcing that they were reconciling and they no longer needed the attorneys’ services. This was 3 or 4 years ago when I closed my file. I heard nothing from my now former client until a few months ago when I ran into her in a busy vet hospital crowded with people and pets. I nodded my acknowledgment of who she was but did not approach her. But she made a point of approaching me, not to talk about our dogs or other chit chat, but to let me know that that she and her husband were still together and still working every day on their marriage and their communications skills. Then she added: “I want you to know, had it not been for the collaborative process, had we been in a contested divorce at the courthouse, it would not have been possible for my husband and me to reconcile our marriage. Only because my husband’s attorney and you both believed we could be served by the collaborative process, are we still living as husband and wife and raising our children as an intact family.” I will not forget her words. That morning I knew I had well served my client and, yes, her children, by practicing collaborative family law and giving this as an option to her. And, I also became even more passionate about collaborative practice. With the passage of HB 461, couples who are terminating their marriage will know about this option and they will have the assurance that there will be uniform standards that govern the process. I urge the passage of HB 461.
Nancy L. Sponseller
Ohio Supreme Court No. 0001927
Law Office of Nancy L. Sponseller
5890 Sawmill Road, Suite 110
Dublin, Ohio 43017
Phone: 614. 764.0423