Pro Bono Matters Category Detail

Family Law: Domestic Violence, Custody and Adoption

NY State Court of Appeals Expands Definition Of “Parent” To Recognize Co-Parents Unrelated by Biology or Adoption

Fried Frank represented Lawyers for Children and the Children’s Law Center as amici in Brooke B. v. Elizabeth A.C.C., a high-profile case where on August 30 2016, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that a co-parent who is not biologically or adoptively related to a child, but who can prove that “the parties entered into a pre-conception agreement to conceive and raise a child as co-parents” has standing to seek visitation and custody under Domestic Relations Law section 70. In addition, the Court left open the question of whether there are other fact circumstances that could give rise to standing under a similar theory. The decision explicitly and necessarily reversed In re Alison D., a 1991 Court of Appeals case that left the non-biological, non-adoptive parents with no standing to seek visitation or custody of their children under any circumstance. This landmark decision changes the landscape for children, in families primarily headed by unmarried same sex couples, who before Brooke B stood to lose completely one of their parents in a separation. The Court highlighted that the status quo of denying a non-biological parent the ability to seek visitation or custody of their children was not viable and that a rule denying in all circumstances a child her relationship with her non-biological parent causes significant harm to the child. The Fried Frank team consisted of Jennifer Colyer, Justin Santolli, Naz Wehrli and Shannon Doherty.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Jennifer L. Colyer

Pro Bono Client Granted Adoption

Fried Frank represented Ms. M in her successful efforts to adopt Isaiah, a child in her care since birth. As a baby, Isaiah's birth mother gave him to Ms. M and requested that she care for him, but never returned and for years could not be located. Ms. M raised and cared for Isaiah as if he were her own. He is now eleven years old and attends PS 146, with which Fried Frank has a pro bono partnership. After the filing of adoption papers, Fried Frank was able to locate Isaiah's birth mother, and she agreed to the adoption.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Jennifer L. Colyer and Janice Mac Avoy

Fried Frank Wins Landmark Gay Rights Case

Fried Frank achieved a significant victory for pro bono client M.R. in the New York Court of Appeals on May 4, 2010.  The Court handed down a groundbreaking decision in Debra H. v. Janice R., holding that the nonbiological parent of a child born to a same-sex couple who had entered into a civil union in Vermont is the legal parent of the child under New York law.  Janice R.. M.R.'s biological mother, claimed that her former partner Debra H. could not be considered the child's parent where the couple entered into a civil union in Vermont before he was born and raised him together for four-and-a-half years before litigation was commenced. The Court's lengthy opinion contains various concurrences but was unanimous in the result, which is that Debra H. is M.R.'s parent and therefore may seek custody and visitation with him. The majority held that it would accord comity to the couple's civil union for the purposes of parentage; Vermont law provides that the nonbiological parent of a child born to a couple in a civil union is deemed to be that child's parent for all purposes. The case is now remanded for a hearing as to whether custody and visitation is in M.R.'s best interests.

Lambda Legal represents Debra H.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Jennifer L. Colyer

PS 146 - Successful Adoption

Litigation associate Frederique Beky (NY) and corporate associate William Macholz (NY) successfully completed the adoption of  PS 146 student HG by her older sister. HG's biological mother suffers from a terminal disease, and wanted to ensure that HG would be properly cared for after she passes away. HG's father had not been part of the family for over 8 years, and had had no contact with HG since her birth. Consequently, HG's mother sought to finalize her divorce from him, and an order whereby her older daughter would be HG's standby guardian and ultimately have her older daughter adopt HG. Frederique Beky and William Macholz accomplished the divorce quickly, but the guardianship and adoption were trickier. After years of litigation, including a fruitless search for HG's father so that he could be notified of the situation, the adoption was finalized last week.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Janice Mac Avoy and John A. Borek


inMotion is an organization dedicated to making a real and lasting difference in the lives of low-income, underserved and abused women in the New York metropolitan area by providing otherwise unavailable legal and related services in order to promote equal access to justice and an empowered approach to life.  For serveral years Fried Frank has worked in partnership with this organization by providing legal services relating to matrimonial, family and immigration law.

Fried Frank associates and summer associates, working under the supervision of partner Janice Mac Avoy, have worked to help many inMotion clients to obtain divorces and orders of protection and resolve child custody disputes.  Through inMotion's annual Realizing Independence Through Empowerment (RITE) Workshop, Fried Frank legal assistants also have taken advantage of the opportunity to get involved.  The RITE Workshops and inMotion bring together legal assistants from prominent law firms around the city to work in-clinic to assist indigent women, many of whom are survivors of domestic violence, in their pro se divorce filings.

Firm partner Brad Scheler is honored to be a member of inMotion's Board of Directors.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Janice Mac Avoy and Brad Eric Scheler

Guardians ad litem  

Partners and associates of the Firm's Washington, DC office have been appointed to serve as guardians ad litem for children in abuse and neglect cases or other family law cases in the Washington, DC area. Working through referral by the Children's Law Center, Lawyers for Children of America and similar organizations, Firm appointees are currently representing children ranging in age from 4 to 20 in DC Superior Court's Family Division. 

The Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP)

The Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP) is a unique, long-term project that trains and recruits law students to provide direct advocacy, education and services to domestic violence victims in New York City's Family Courts.  Fried Frank is a sponsor of the project's summer associates program, and offers assistance to Sanctuary for the Family's Courtroom Advocates Project, which helps indigent women in abusive relationships gain access to the justice system, in the administration of its other programs by printing materials and hosting yearly training and informational sessions. In addition, the Firm hosts CAP's annual Recognition Ceremony, which last year honored the Hon. Ruth Levine Sussman, Acting Justice of the New York Supreme Court.

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