One of the most important decisions a person going through a divorce, child custody case, paternity case or any other family court case will have to make is choosing the right attorney to represent them in their case. Picking the wrong attorney can have catastrophic consequences for the outcome of your case. While it is possible to switch attorneys in the midst of litigation, it will require significant cost to do so and the damage that has been done by your previous counsel may be irreversible. Perhaps the best indicator of whether an attorney you are considering is the attorney you should hire is if the attorney is, in addition to being board certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in Family Law, a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers was founded in 1962, by highly regarded domestic relations attorneys “To provide leadership that promotes the highest degree of professionalism and excellence in the practice of family law.”
The Academy Fellows are highly skilled negotiators and litigators who represent individuals in all facets of family law. These areas include divorce, annulment, prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements, marital settlement agreements, child custody and visitation, business valuations, property valuations and division, alimony, child support and other family law issues.
To be represented by a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers is to be represented by a leading practitioner in the field of family law. The 1600 AAML Fellows across the United States are generally recognized by judges and attorneys as preeminent family law practitioners with a high level of knowledge, skill and integrity. Academy Fellows enjoy a reputation for professionalism, competence and integrity.
The following are requirements for fellowship:
- Each applicant shall be a practicing attorney, who has been admitted to the bar for a minimum of ten years if, for a period of five years immediately preceding the date of the application, 75% of the applicant’s practice has been in the area of matrimonial law. This 75% practice requirement shall be an average percentage provided that in each of the last three years, the applicant shall have at least 75% of their practice in the area of matrimonial law. Each Chartered Chapter’s Board of Examiners or the National Board of Examiners for each state with no Chartered Chapter shall determine if an applicant practices in a geographical area where the 75% requirement would be impossible or impractical. If this is determined, the applicant shall have had 50% of his or her practice devoted to the field of matrimonial law during the five years immediately preceding the date of the application. This 50% practice requirement shall be an average percentage so long as during each of the last three years the applicant’s practice in the area of matrimonial law is 50%.
- Each applicant must demonstrate substantial involvement in the matrimonial field and have endeavored to encourage the study, improve the practice and elevate the standards of matrimonial law as evidenced by the following:
- Member in good standing of the applicant’s local and state bar, or National bar association, and the family law section of each association.
- Faculty member on a family law CLE program.
- Service as a family law pro temor trial judge or settlement judge, or master, guardian ad litem, attorney ad litem, attorney for minor child, mediator, arbitrator, or similar equivalent in the applicant’s jurisdiction.
- Service on a standing committee or executive committee of the family law section of the applicant’s state or local bar association or the family law section of a National bar association.
- Service on a judicially appointed statewide committee, task force, commission and the like, related to the subject of matrimonial law.
- Service as an officer or director of any bar association.
- Authorship of published articles on matrimonial law.
- Participation as amicus curiaein matrimonial law matter presented to any appellate court.
- Professor or instructor of law school courses in the area of matrimonial law.
- Editor or publisher of any matrimonial law newsletter, journal or similar publication.
- Authorship of a major treatise on marital law.
- The applicant must be able to competently handle complex matrimonial law litigation as the lead counsel. Each applicant must have substantial trial experience as lead counsel including trial of custody matters, child support, division of property, alimony or spousal support.
- The applicant must be willing to and capable of settling cases in appropriate circumstances.
- The applicant must be a practicing attorney and not a sitting judge, unless the judge meets all the other standards: i.e., is in the active practice of law while being a sitting judge, and has had substantial involvement in the matrimonial law field, as defined above.
- If the state in which the applicant practices has family law certification, the applicant must be certified prior to the applicant’s admission as a Fellow. If an applicant is required to take the National exam, the Applicant must pass the national exam in order to be offered admission to the AAML. Notwithstanding the foregoing, if the state in which the applicant practices has family law certification, the applicant must be certified prior to the applicant’s admission as a Fellow. An applicant may take the National Exam up to two (2) times in the current application process. If an applicant fails the exam the first time taken, and the Chapter Board of Examiners or National Board of Examiners authorizes the applicant to take the exam a second time, the applicant must take the exam within one year of the notification of his or her failure to pass the exam. If an applicant does not pass the national exam after two (2) attempts, additional testing shall only be granted at the discretion of the Executive Committee, and subject to whatever conditions the Executive Committee deems appropriate, including a waiting period or requiring that the applicant repeat the full application process. If rejected for reasons other than failing the national exam, the applicant may not reapply for admission for a period of one year from the date of rejection.
- A Chapter may administer a test to applicants. That test shall be in addition to the National Exam and state board certification in family law, as applicable. That test shall be in writing and may be true / false, multiple choice, short answer, essay, or some combination thereof. Chapters that administer written tests may also administer oral tests that further inquire into the subject matter of the written test. Chapters that do not administer written tests may not administer oral tests. Chapters shall consider the results of those tests in determining whether to recommend fellowship. Upon request by National, the Chapter shall provide a copy of the test, model answers, and the applicant’s responses. Any Chapter may, in addition, interview applicants.
- The applicant must be recognized by the bench and bar in his or her jurisdiction as one who practices with honesty, integrity, and professionalism. Prior incidents of professional discipline shall be considered.
- The applicant must have completed 12 hours of continuing legal education in the area of matrimonial law during each of the five years immediately preceding the date of application.
- Each applicant must aspire to the Bounds of Advocacy as promulgated by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the applicant’s state’s rules of professional conduct or equivalent ethical standards and must currently be in good standing with the disciplinary body which governs them.
Stephen R. Smith is a partner in the Phoenix law firm of FROMM SMITH & GADOW, P.C. where his practice is limited to complex family law litigation, mediation, and appellate matters. He has been a Certified Specialist in Family Law since 2000 and a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers since 2011.
Jennifer G. Gadow is a partner in the Phoenix law firm of FROMM SMITH & GADOW, P.C. where her practice is limited to complex family law litigation and mediation. She has been a Certified Specialist in Family Law since 2002 and a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers since 2014.