Eat, Drink and Remarry

Marilyn York fights for men's rights in Nevada        

Published in 2008 Mountain States Super Lawyers — July 2008

When clients enter the law offices of Attorney Marilyn D. York, Inc., a 1926 bungalow-style building in Reno, they often encounter a standard poodle or dachshund. While they wait, they can peruse a binder with dating advice, or lean against a pillow that reads "Eat, Drink and Remarry."

"We're probably known for our unprofessionalism," jokes York, 32. "I walk around without shoes on half the time."

Despite the laid-back attitude, York and her eight female employees fight hard for their clients. Founded in 2001, the firm primarily represents men in divorce and child custody cases, an area of the law that York says is often "antiquated and pro-female."

"Marilyn is not for the faint of heart, and I mean that as a compliment," says Reno attorney Natalie Reed of Robison, Belaustegui, Sharp & Low, who met York about four years ago when they were on opposite sides of a divorce case. "She is aggressive, assertive, bright, a strong litigator and fierce advocate for her clients' rights."

York, who has been practicing law since she was 22, is a graduate of the accelerated two-year SCALE program at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. She discovered early on that she gravitated toward men's issues. "I kind of talk like a guy, think like a guy," she says. "I have a mouth like a truck driver. So I tend to befriend men more than women. I tend to relate to them better."

She says despite the stereotype, most men don't want to fight. As a result, they often make financial promises they can't afford during a divorce, because they're scared that otherwise they won't see their children.

"We have to tell them, ‘You're not going to make your mortgage. I mean, are you looking at the numbers here?'" says York. "What we end up calling our law firm often is ‘backbone training.' It's like we have to encourage our clients to stand up for themselves."

"She and her team are amazing," says Jerod Arreguini, who hired York in 2005 to handle his divorce. "I was scared and nervous. My only concept of attorneys was Law & Order. She worked with me through some of the most difficult times of my life."

York says some of her most challenging cases involve children born out of wedlock. Absent a court order, fathers in such cases have almost no rights under Nevada law. The most painful scenarios, she says, are when a father wants to force a mother into drug treatment for the welfare of the unborn child. Unless it's a criminal case, he can't.

York has also seen the turmoil caused when a woman, years after she's given birth, tells a man that he's the father. "I would like to see—in the absence of a safety issue—that it be illegal for a mother to have a child without telling the father immediately," she says. "That's not fair to the child."

Married three times herself, York says she has empathy for her clients, and understands the challenges of "blended families." With her own family comprising two biological children from different marriages, and a former stepchild to whom she is still close, "We are exactly the weird definition of a modern American family," she says.

Having her own children has made her job even more personal. "I try to imagine what it would be like to not have my child ... or to be in a court battle and have my own personal parenting style put under question," she says.

Ultimately, though, she says it's the child she's representing, not her client. "It's not our goal to take kids from either side," she says. "Our office-wide attitude is ‘The best interest of the child,' period. And I feel like that's why I sleep well at night, because ultimately if I don't think that's what's good for the kid, I don't do the case."

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