The Suffragist

Few have done more to advance the cause of women's rights in New Jersey than Bonnie Frost

Published in 2006 New Jersey Super Lawyers — April 2006

Bonnie Frost keeps a box of tissues handy in her Denville office. A divorce lawyer, she passes a handful across the desk to her clients as soon as tears begin to flow. "It's difficult," the happily married Frost admits. "I'm seeing these people at what is not the best time of their lives. Divorce is the second most traumatic event in a person's life, just after the death of a partner."

Frost has handed out a ton of tissues in her 20 years of practice. She handles divorce, custody, domestic violence and paternity cases. It is emotionally draining work, and not just for her clients.

"You have to establish emotional boundaries so that you can give appropriate advice," she says. "There are always clients who are very needy and will try to manipulate you into being more than a lawyer or into feeling guilty about something. This is not a healthy thing for a divorce attorney."

When this happens she knows to ask for help. "Sometimes it does happen when too many things are being demanded of me at once by clients or courts. That's when I turn to the other attorneys in my office or consult with my adversary."

Frost, the administrative partner at Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito, Frost & Ironson, is known for her pro bono work as well as her family law expertise. She lectures on divorce and family law, offers free counseling to displaced homemakers and chairs the family law section of the state bar, among many other endeavors.

A tall woman with a blond pageboy and a fair complexion, Frost has a welcoming smile and offers a warm greeting. She's direct and unassuming and has a down-to-earth demeanor. And she can be very funny.                       

"I can't believe we were working on three divorce cases at the same time that involved affairs with UPS men," she says with a look of disbelief. "And I thought those guys had to fill out time sheets."

 

Frost grew up in the shadow of Atlantic City. She ranked second in her class at Pleasantville High School in 1964 and was the first member of her family to attend college. Her mother made sure it happened. "She knew I was smart and she had to fight for me to go," she says. Reflecting the reality of the times, her mother laid out three career options for her: "She told me, ‘You can be a teacher, a secretary or a nurse.'" Frost chose the second option—a choice that indirectly led to her law career.

"I went to Douglass College at Rutgers, where I majored in Latin American studies. Why?" She shrugs. "I did it because I liked it and I knew I could get A's."

College diploma in hand, she married Jack Frost a week after she graduated. ("It is Jack. It might as well be," she says with a smile. "He'd get called that anyway.") She taught English and English as a Second Language at Raritan Valley Community College and pursued a master's in education at Rutgers while her husband, who was in the Air Force, served in Vietnam. When he returned, he was assigned a post in the Netherlands. The couple moved to Rotterdam in 1971 and she found a job teaching sixth-graders at an international school. "It worked out perfectly," she says.

In 1974 her husband left the service and they returned to New Jersey to start a family (they have two daughters). A couple of years later she rejoined the work force as an administrator at Parsippany Adult School. It was this experience that inspired her to enter law school at Seton Hall.

"We had 800 adults in the program," she says. "There was a boom in the early '70s in immigration, a great infusion of immigrants in this area of New Jersey. They were from Vietnam and Laos and Afghanistan. Some of these women were completely illiterate. That's when I decided to become a lawyer. I thought I should be able to help them with their legal problems too."

After graduating from law school, she spent a year as a judicial law clerk for Robert Muir Jr. before starting at Einhorn Harris. She has remained there ever since.

 

Frost's roots in community service, particularly in the service of women's rights, run deep. While she understands that men and women share the suffering in a divorce, she believes women take a harder hit. She has devoted much of her career to leveling this playing field. "A woman's standard of living goes down 30 percent after a divorce, and a man's goes up 10 percent," she says.

Elaine Muller, director of the Women's Center at the County College of Morris in Randolph and a longtime acquaintance, says, "There are a lot of women who are extremely grateful to Bonnie. She did a series of lectures here. Often, the women didn't want to ask personal questions in public, so she set up a legal clinic and met one-on-one with them in half-hour sessions to help them.

"She's warm but firm. She can be tough with the women when they have to wake up to reality."

Noting the award Frost received in 1997 from the Displaced Homemakers Network of New Jersey, Muller says, "She provides legal education and helps them get jobs. She's extremely caring."

Frost has also volunteered at the Northwest New Jersey Regional Women's Center at Centenary College in Hackettstown. Dr. Deborah Diamond Fisch, the center's director, says, "She helped write our legal rights booklet—she's a top-notch attorney."

Fortunately, conditions for women are improving, which is heartening to Frost. "Women have a higher level of education than when I started as a lawyer," she says. "Society has evolved. The old issues have become more complex and require more understanding." But she knows there is still much work to be done.

William A. Krais, president of the Morris County Bar Association and a partner in Porzio, Bromberg & Newman in Morristown, is astounded by her energy. And he still sees a trace of the academic in her. "The array of commitments that Bonnie takes on are impressive. She's organized—all those things you expect from a good teacher. She makes sure everybody knows what they have to do and she makes sure they do it."

 

When she's not rushing off to one board meeting or another, Frost does manage to squeeze in some unstructured time, during which she loves to read. "Just put me on the beach with a good book," she says. Just not Grisham. She doesn't like his devilish lawyers, who, she says, represent only a small percentage of attorneys in real life. She prefers another lawyer-turned-writer.

"Scott Turow doesn't portray his protagonists like that," she says, sounding a bit like the teacher she in many ways still is. "There are 70,000 lawyers in the state of New Jersey and the ones I know are for the most part wonderfully dedicated, hard-working and committed people."

It takes one to know one.

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