This column by the Honorable A. Gail Prudenti first appeared in the Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2016, edition of Long Island Business News.
Two new programs designed to address divorce and family
A. Gail Prudenti
The financial cost of separation and divorce is staggering but pales in comparison to the emotional expense, the toll it takes on adults and children alike and its economic impact on business productivity.
Family ties are frayed, if not completely broken, children often suffer, adults lose work time and income running to and from court. Even when they are at work, they may well be distracted, resulting in less-than stellar job performance, impacting them, their families and their employers.
But while separation and divorce are inherently unsettling and disruptive, I strongly believe much can be done to make the process less adversarial, less time-consuming and less expensive — from both a financial and emotional perspective. And, what’s good for families is good for society is good for business. That holistic perspective is central to two new pilot programs we are launching at the Center for Children, Families and the Law: one on mediation and another on guardianships.
But more on that in a moment: First, an introduction to this new column.
Each month, we’ll explore a legal issue, such as one dear to my heart (and the main focus of this inaugural column), families in crisis. But we will also delve into related issues such as juvenile justice, as well as matters that may not directly involve families but do impact our society and our community. We’ll examine cutting-edge legal decisions, the legal system, legal education, court proceedings and determinations. And we’ll do so through several lenses: legal, humanitarian, business.
I hope to leverage my professional experience — law clerk, prosecutor, private practitioner, trial and appellate judge, chief administrative judge, executive director of the Center for Children, Families and the Law at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University, Special Advisor to the Dean, Senior Associate Dean for Operations, and chair of the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children — with my natural affinity for Islanders and understanding of their business environment.
Now, back to the present.
I am really excited about two new pilot programs at Hofstra which I think have tremendous potential to address family issues in an innovative and efficient manner: a mediation project and a guardianship project.
Separation and divorce are among the most disquieting experiences in the lives of both children and adults, and a trip (or several) to court often exacerbates the tension and stress. The Center is attempting to ease that process through the Mediation Program for Separating and Divorcing Parents.
Under this program, students specially trained in the art of mediation and under the watchful eye of clinical professors and pro bono attorneys will help mediate marital dissolutions and channel clients to appropriate services, including psychological counseling for the child or children and financial counseling for the family.
The second pilot involves guardianships.
Families caring for a developmentally disabled or delayed child often find themselves at traumatic crossroads when the infant reaches the age of 18 and must have a guardian appointed to make medical, legal and life decisions. Most times, the parent, who has provided for the child for 18 years, will remain in that role. However, sometimes the parent is in ill health or of an advanced age and unable to commit to that responsibility.
Under the pilot program at Hofstra, students trained and supervised by clinical faculty and assisted by pro bono counsel will establish the guardianships/stand-by guardianships and present the proposal to the Surrogate’s Court.
It is our hope that these initiatives will alleviate at least some of the stresses confronting families on Long Island and foster quicker, more efficient, more satisfying determinations. I firmly believe that creative and economical solutions can have an enormous impact on the lives of our neighbors and the fabric of our community.
The Honorable A. Gail Prudenti is the executive director of the Center for Children, Families and the Law and senior associate dean for operations at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University.