April 2014

Family Law All About the Family

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Grandparents have interesting ways of teaching us about life and love and aging. Hilton Head Island attorney Bree Kennedy’s paternal grandparents did teach her a great deal about life and love and aging, and divorce; lessons that have served her and her clients well in her 13 year career in family law.

As a family law attorney, Kennedy frequently works with clients who are navigating one of life’s most difficult paths; divorce. Not only is a marriage ending, but division of property is negotiated, and more importantly, the couple must consider what will happen to the children. It is at this place in time in the life of a family that Kennedy becomes her client’s greatest asset. The foundation for her empathy is rooted in her own family’s history.

“I never had a period in my life where I did not know about divorce. I feel like I’ve always known about it because my grandmother, who is now 90, was divorced from my grandfather, which was unusual at that time,” says Kennedy. “My grandfather left my grandmother with four small children. She was uneducated and went back to school to get an education and support her children. He did not help her support them.”

What is unusual says Kennedy, it that, “I grew up hearing my grandmother talk about my grandfather without any animosity or bitterness. We attended family functions together and as a grandchild, I was totally unaware that there was any tension, if there was. I don’t think that there was.” Kennedy and her cousins felt allowed to love their grandfather and step-grandmother freely, without any guilt. Kennedy’s grandmother went on to remarry and remarry and remarry, outliving two husbands. She is currently married to Bernie #2, age 94. Her grandmother, Sylvia Newman Routman Shimberg Kravitz Ogron, taught her children and grandchildren, and now 13 great grandchildren by example, the benefits of putting the past in the past.

“That’s the framework that I grew up with,” says Kennedy. “My dad is a sociology professor and teaches marriage and the family. I feel like my interest in family law came from him, as well.” Handling a lot of custody cases, Kennedy is an advocate for her client, “I enjoy watching my client focus on what is really important, and in a case where children are involved, certainly the children are most important.”

Born and raised in Mississippi, Kennedy moved to the Lowcountry after graduating from the University of Mississippi. She moved to pre-Katrina Louisiana where her law practice continued and her focus on family law grew while working at an all female family law firm. As a wife and mother of three school-aged children, Kennedy’s life and experience greatly impacts the work she does for her clients and their families. “My parents are still married, and will be forever, and that was always comforting for me to know that; although that’s not the way that it is for almost one-half of our population.”

When Kennedy meets with prospective clients, “We talk about what the issues are and potentially could be. We discuss the importance of seeking counseling and education for emotional issues,” she says. Kennedy’s staff is an extension of her own connection with her clients, “Everyone here is sympathetic. We are all mothers, sisters and daughters.”

Once Kennedy and the client agree that they are a good fit for the difficult and sometime long journey ahead, she begins the intricate work of trying to reach the best outcome for her client. In the beginning, Kennedy says her greatest challenge is, “Helping a client see that there is light at the end of the tunnel; even if it’s not a light they were looking forward to seeing. But that one day, twelve months from now, when this is over, they are hopefully going to feel much better than the day that we first met.”

Recently, Judge Timothy H. Pogue of Florence, South Carolina was on the bench of the Family Court in Beaufort, South Carolina. Judge Pogue agreed to allow us to print what he calls “The Bill of Rights for a Child of Divorce.” While Judge Pogue did not write this Bill of Rights, he has adapted it and provides it to litigants with children in his courtroom.

The Bill of Rights of a Child of Divorce
1. To be told that my mother and father still love me and will never divorce me.
2. To be told that the divorce is not my fault and not be told about the adult problems that caused it.
3. To be considered as a human being and not be considered as another piece of property to be fought for, bargained over, or threatened.
4. To have decisions about me based on what is in my best interests, not on past wrongs, hurt feelings, or my parent’s needs.
5. To be allowed to love both my father and my mother without being forced to choose or feel guilty.
6. To know both my father and my mother through regular and frequent involvement in my life.
7. To have the financial support of both my father and my mother.
8. To be spared hearing bad or hurtful comments about either of my parents which have no useful purpose.
9. To be a child and not to be asked to tell a lie or act as a spy or messenger.
10. To be allowed to have affection for the people who may come into my life without being forced to choose or feel guilty.

Kennedy believes every parent entering a divorce or custody battle should read Judge Pogue’s Bill of Rights. “A success story is having a client call me sometime after their case had ended to say, I’m working with my ex-husband now very well. The kids are seeing their dad regularly. We follow our schedule most of the time, but we are able to adapt it to the children’s needs. We have stopped arguing in front of the children. That’s a success story,” says Kennedy. 

The Law Office of Bree R. Kennedy, LLC is located at 70 Arrow Road, Building 6, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. For directions or appointments, please call 843-341-5555 or email bree@breekennedylaw.com.

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