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Roberta G. Stanley: Managing the Business of Divorce

Roberta G. Stanley enjoys untangling the complex business and financial aspects of divorce cases.  “A divorce involving professionals, executives or business owners can involve different types of financial assets and structures,” she said. “So, many of my cases that go to court could be characterized as commercial litigation with a family twist.”

As a partner at Brinkley Morgan for the past 20 years, Stanley has steadily expanded the firm’s family law department and became managing partner of the Fort Lauderdale office last January. Nationally recognized for her legal skills, Stanley frequently lectures and publishes on a variety of family law subjects.

Board certified in marital and family law, Stanley helps her clients work through the emotional as well as the financial side of divorce.  “To be a good family law attorney, you have to like people and care about them,” she said. “You have to try to understand what they are going through today. But a good lawyer also needs to think ahead and consider the impact of the divorce on someone’s life ten years from now.”

For example, Stanley says tax issues can be important consideration in structuring a marital settlement involving high-income or high-net-worth individuals. Estate planning issues can also come into play, especially if divorcing spouses have children from a prior marriage or a significant inheritance from a deceased parent. “I’ve seen a wife inherit $500,000, then add her husband’s name to that bank account,” she said. “That may be fine for estate planning, but if that couple splits up, she has just gifted $250,000 of her inheritance to her soon-to-be ex-spouse.”

In her practice, Stanley makes it a priority to keep clients informed of their legal options, as well as the potential costs. “They can fight their issues out in court, but it usually makes more financial sense to reach a settlement,” she said.  “It’s an emotionally draining time, so I try to help my clients focus on the future.”  

Chuck Lichtman, a business litigation partner with Berger Singerman in Fort Lauderdale, has worked with Stanley as co-counsel on a dozen complex cases. “I view her as a first-rate litigator who thinks like a business lawyer,” he said. “She has great courtroom skills and is always trying to resolve matters as efficiently as possible. I have also referred countless divorce cases to her and everyone has been satisfied with the outcomes.”

Professional and Community Leadership

As a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers™, Stanley frequently advises on out-of-state cases involving Florida family law issues. She is a former president of the AAML’s Florida Chapter, and an active member of the Palm Beach and Broward County Bar Associations, and the Women’s Executive Club of Fort Lauderdale.

As an attorney, wife and mother, Stanley believes in the importance of balancing work and family. “I hope that flexible hours and technology will make it easier for female attorneys to raise their children, while continuing their professional careers,” she said. “Even if a new mother takes a break from the law for a couple of years, she now has a greater opportunity to return full-time when her child is in school.”

But Stanley adds that female attorneys are treated more fairly today than when she started her career in the early 1980s. “I had thick skin and ignored it when the men would call me ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie,’” she said. “I would just earn their respect by winning in the courtroom.”

In addition to her professional involvement with the law – including coaching younger attorneys – Stanley has been a leader in several community organizations, including The Lord’s Place, St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Boca Raton, and the Broward Partnership for the Homeless.

“I have had a passion for helping the homeless for a long time,” she said. “Most people don’t realize that the average age of a homeless person is 9 years old or that professionals like teachers or nurses with no safety net can go to work every morning while living out of their car. The homeless are truly the forgotten members of our society.”

On the personal side, her husband, James Welzien is a retired CPA, and their daughters have continued that family tradition. Alexa Miller is an attorney in New Jersey who focuses on employment law and is married to an accountant, and daughter, Kendra Bowers, also married to a CPA, is an attorney in Park City, Utah, where the family has had a second home for more than 25 years. “We enjoy winter and summer sports in the mountains and especially spending time with the grandchildren,” Stanley said.

From Acting to the Law

Born in Pittsburgh, Stanley moved with her family to Fort Lauderdale when she was in high school.  She had thought about acting as a career, but after hearing a talk from a U.S. senator, decided she wanted to go into politics.  At the University of Pittsburgh, she took classes in political science, history and modern English, earning her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude.

After her parents divorced, Stanley returned to South Florida and worked with her father in real estate for several years. “He told me he would pay for law school if I moved back to south Florida and so I returned,” said Stanley, who earned her juris doctor, cum laude, at Nova Southeastern University in 1983.

During law school she clerked for now sitting U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Raymond Ray before joining the Fort Lauderdale firm, Dingwall Morgan and Olsen, handling creditors work, real estate, commercial litigation and litigating business “breakups” in law firms and physician groups. After the firm split up in the mid-1980s, she worked for several years with Broward attorney Bruno DiGiulian, who became a mentor and teacher, before opening her own family law firm.

Stanley joined Brinkley Morgan in 1996. “At that time it was just a paralegal and me doing family law,” she said. “Now the firm has 10 lawyers in our family law department serving clients from three offices.”

While Stanley primarily handles complex divorces and prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, other attorneys in the firm focus on paternity, adoption, custody, parental responsibility and other family law matters.  “In a divorce, you want to create a solution that ideally will work for both parties,” she said. “If the clients are willing to compromise, the two attorneys can work together to reach a reasonable resolution.”

Stanley is glad that the legal protections of marriage have been extended to same-sex couples.  “That’s a big improvement from the days when partners would live together without the support of a marital structure,” she said.  Now they have the all the rights afforded married couples including acquiring joint assets, right of support in long term marriages and the ability  to make medical decisions.”

As Stanley looks to the future of Brinkley Morgan in her role as managing partner, she expects the firm to continue its steady growth. “One of my priorities is making sure we have a successful leadership transition from one generation to the next,” she said. “We value our young associates, as well as our senior partners, and have a great team in place to meet the legal needs of our clients.”

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