How The Soviet Union Helped Make a Great Family Law Attorney

After Marjan Shansab’s harrowing escape from Afghanistan, nothing seemed impossible

Published in 2010 Texas Rising Stars magazine

By James Walsh on March 17, 2010


When Russian tanks rolled into Kabul in 1979, Marjan Shansab’s parents knew they would be watched. Her father was a professor at the police academy, her mother directed an accounting firm. A grandfather had been a general in the Afghan army.

But their lives changed more drastically—and quickly—than they had imagined.

First there were the 4 a.m. visits to her Kabul home by Soviet authorities. They pushed her father and mother to “choose” to support the Communist puppet government of Afghanistan.

Then, in 1980, the Soviets imprisoned her uncle—he sat in a cell for five years.

His arrest—and the repeated nighttime searches of their home—convinced the family that they had to leave the country. In 1984, they finally fled, but they could not leave together. The Shansabs decided that Marjan’s mother would leave first, with their three daughters, and her father would follow a week later.

“We left everything,” Shansab said. “We left our home and friends. We left our culture.”

But just as Shansab’s father tried to cross into Pakistan, the Soviets captured and jailed him. His wife and daughters had no way of knowing if they would ever see him again.

They lived in India for a time, surviving with the help of the United Nations and a family that took them in. Later, they moved to Germany, where they were reunited with Shansab’s father. They had no money and didn’t know the language. But they knew they must get an education. The girls started school. Shansab lived in Germany from kindergarten through the fourth grade.

It was all these things that convinced Shansab, now 31, to turn to the law as a vocation. She understood only too well the value of the rule of law.

In 1989, her family came to the United States, sponsored by an aunt who lived here. At first, they moved a lot—to New York, then California and, finally, to Texas. But, once in Texas, life began with new normalcy—and new vigor, Shansab says. Her parents owned a restaurant. The children were expected to dig into their studies. Anything less than an A was unthinkable, Shansab says. So she excelled.

And Shansab, whose father, grandfather, uncle and aunt had studied law, began thinking about a career where rights were respected and protected, and children would be shielded from chaos and fear.

Shansab graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2001, with a major in political science and a minor in criminal justice studies. She earned her J.D. from Michigan State University College of Law. She runs her own shop now—the Shansab Law Firm—after taking over from a veteran family law attorney who retired in June 2006.

Her practice consists of about 70 percent family law, and criminal, immigration and civil law. It focuses on the need to protect children and to convince parents that, even after divorce, both of them are critical to the well-being of their kids.

“In divorce, we often don’t think of the children,” she says. “We don’t realize that they need both parents and that it’s not just about getting back at the other person. My goal is to create these two households as quietly—and with as little interruption—as possible.”

“In a divorce, nobody wins,” she says. “It’s not about winning. It’s not about going to court and throwing mud at each other. It’s about doing what is best for families.”

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