There’s a new face but a familiar vibe and goal in the historic building at 88 Bradley Road. The building, formerly known as the Children’s Divorce Center, which has been in operation for 40 years, was recently acquired by Carolyn Wilkes Kaas, a Quinnipiac University law professor.
Kaas was approached by the building’s previous owner-occupant, Marcia Lebowitz, the founding director of the Children's Divorce Center 20 years ago. “She said, ‘I wish lawyers understood what children and families go through.’ Marcia has been teaching at the law school ever since. There’s been a move to change family law education and she was way ahead of the curve,” says Kaas. Now that Lebowitz is retiring, Kaas bought the building to preserve her legacy and will name the building The Marcia Lipman Lebowitz Building in her honor.
Kaas wants the building to be a place for lawyers and mental health professionals committed to practicing family law in a child-focused way. The building can house four professionals who will have their own offices and also share a common space. The common space is homey. There’s a fireplace and comfortable chairs organized around a coffee table. Kids’ toys, books and art are on the walls.
Attorney Brendan Holt is currently the building’s only tenant. Holt previously co-taught the class at the law school that Lebowitz and Kaas taught called Divorce and the Divorcing Family.
Before opening his own practice, Holt Law, LLC, Holt worked for the Connecticut Judicial Branch for seven years as a “Family Relations Counselor”. Family Relations Counselors act as neutrals for all disputed family cases and, he says, are the face of family court. They help to negotiate divorces and custody disputes and when necessary they make recommendations and evaluations regarding what’s best for the children.
He enjoyed the work but sometimes felt limited by his strictly defined job description and by the short amount of time he was able to spend with many families. And he worried the courthouse setting often made it worse. “People are already emotional and they’re in a high tension place where they’re not comfortable and they’re not familiar with the procedures,” he said. “Even with the best intentions and good attorneys it’s very hard on people."
He’s made it a personal mission to help educate people that there’s a different way to go through a divorce. There are ways to do the same work outside the system with a therapist, certified financial professionals and collaborative attorneys or a mediator. In this alternative method the day a divorcing couple goes to court to make their agreement official could be their only court date.
Holt is holding a workshop Tuesday, January 7 at 7:00 P.M. at the Woodbridge Town Library to explain the different ways couples can go through a divorce, including mediation and collaborative law.
Collaborative law is often a new concept to people and it’s what Holt specializes in. He is also a mediator. In collaborative law each party has an attorney and they pledge not to go to court until the matter is resolved. It’s a team approach and also often includes mental health and financial professionals who stay neutral and help keep the process efficient, productive and more peaceful. Keeping the conflict and discussion out of court also allows families to keep extremely personal, sensitive issues out of a very public forum.
“It’s an approach that helps keep the focus centered on the family,” he says.
Despite the misconception that it is only for “simple” cases, it quite often works even better for couples when there’s already anger or mistrust. Those situations can be inflamed by the court where there are high levels of stress and not enough time. “The goal is to find a better way for people having profound struggles,” he says.
As Kaas says, “We want to help parents cooperate to have the least negative impact on their children.”
Learn more about Holt Law at www.HoltLawCT.com. Professionals interested in learning more about the space can contact Kaas at 203-582-3234.