Kid-Friendly Divorce?

Moura A. J. Robertson's kinder, gentler family law practice        

Published in 2008 Oklahoma Super Lawyers — November 2008

Divorce might seem like the least likely time for a couple to work together, but when there are kids involved, Moura A. J. Robertson believes a joint effort can make the most sense for everyone involved. For the past two years, she has worked as part of the collaborative divorce movement, helping some of her clients opt out of the traditional litigation process for the kinder, gentler world of alternative dispute resolution.

Like many choices in her career, Robertson, a partner at Robertson Cornell in Tulsa, seems to have gravitated toward this specialty because of a desire to stand up for kids. "It's better for children because they're not witnessing and participating in an adversarial process," she says. "You're not airing your dirty laundry or making personal attacks in a public forum." Today about 20 percent of her cases take the collaborative route, and these efforts include a team of professionals, ranging from financial to mental health, to help clients navigate this difficult period.

This group-think approach tends to produce more family-friendly results than a courtroom. In one of Robertson's cases, for instance, the parents created a detailed parenting plan outlining how they would introduce new significant others to the children and even the process for making decisions about their offspring's health, education and welfare. Perhaps most important, this blueprint includes a contingent for resolving conflict: Seek advice from a child specialist, and if necessary, call in their collaborative counsel for a meeting. "In my collaborative practice, I have never come to an impasse that we have not been able to work through," Robertson says.

She loves the direct contact with people that's essential for family law, and in fact, a desire to make a difference led her to a law career in the first place. In high school, Robertson dreamed about becoming a lawyer, but she spent six years as a paralegal before making a final commitment to the profession. "I didn't want to always be the assistant," she says. "I wanted to be the one who would direct and handle the casework, to be at the forefront of the advocacy efforts." So she headed to the University of Tulsa College of Law, and worked in the public and private sectors following graduation.

After having her daughter, now 11, her career took another turn. Robertson made the jump to private practice with two goals in mind: Forging a more family-friendly schedule and creating a living around helping people. With just three clients under her arm, she knocked on the door of a firm run by a former mentor from law school and offered to work for them in exchange for office space as she built her practice. Six months later she was ready to pay her own way, and now her all-woman firm includes another partner, an associate and three staff members. It's also a mom-friendly environment, with the flexibility to work at home if a child is sick or take time off to attend a school play. Around the holidays, the firm works with a skeleton crew or even closes down the office.

This commitment to children and families extends to the entire community. As a volunteer for the Tulsa Lawyers for Children, Robertson has spent the past four years representing children in abuse and neglect cases, giving them a voice in a system where they otherwise wouldn't be heard. Plus, she takes her role as chair of the family law section of the Tulsa County Bar Association seriously, recently establishing a task force to improve the county's family court system. The group hopes to make the process more family- and child-friendly by streamlining both the bench and the bar.

She's also the only woman in Tulsa who is a certified fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. But despite all these accomplishments, Robertson says the most rewarding part of her job happens one-on-one. It's when a case is over and a client shakes her hand or gives her a hug and says, "Thank you for helping me through this difficult time."        

 

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