A shelter in a storm: Attorney helps families weather divorce trauma

 By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
Attorney Jessica Woll understands only too well how divorce affects children. Her parents divorced when she was 8, in the late 1970s, when divorce was not as prevalent and there was little in the way of help or resources. 
“As a product of divorce, I can definitely say that children are most affected by how their parents behave during and after the divorce process,” she says. “Parents that co-parent by always keeping their focus ‘child-centric’ will be the most effective at ensuring their children grow up to be happy, healthy adults.”
A family law specialist and managing partner at Woll & Woll in Birmingham, where she has worked with her mother Pauline since 1993, Woll always wanted to work with families and initially considered a career as a social worker. But instead she followed in the footsteps of her parents and became a lawyer, as did her brother and sister. 
“I’ve been serious about fighting for justice and winning arguments on issues I believe in, from a very young age,” she says. “What I enjoy most about family law is helping people during some of the worst times of their lives to weather the storm of divorce and make it through to the other side. It’s very rewarding to know my clients feel relieved to have someone in their corner, fighting, successfully, for their rights.”
Currently, Woll is working on a case that involves a discrepancy in international jurisdiction. A man filed for divorce from his pregnant wife in Wayne County but prior to the filing, the wife, Woll’s client, returned to her native Canada, and the child was born north of the border. 
“I coordinated efforts with a Canadian family law attorney to obtain custody of the baby for my client in Canada,” Woll says.
According to Woll, mediation can play a crucial role in family law. 
“It allows the parties to hear the views of a neutral third party, who has no stake in the outcome of the case,” she explains. 
Mediation allows the parties to control their settlement, as the process is non-binding.
“However, settling a case short of trial is certainly a much more cost-effective and often more dignified way of reaching a settlement than a trial,” she says. 
Woll tends to use arbitration, in place of trial, sparingly since it is binding and a client’s appellate rights are limited if he or she chooses to arbitrate rather than try their case. 
“Arbitration is extremely popular in family law when it comes to the division of personal property,” she notes. “If parties are unable to divide the contents of their homes for instance, an arbitrator will make a binding decision as to who gets what for them.”
Named one of Michigan’s 30 Leaders in the Law by Michigan Lawyers Weekly, Woll earned her undergrad degree in international relations and economic development degree from the University of Michigan. 
“Ann Arbor is a magical place to be an undergraduate student,” she says. “I was certainly taught that I could take on the world there.”
She earned her J.D. from Wayne State University in the ’90s, when the seeds of change were starting to occur in the Motor City.
“I really enjoyed the fact that communities in Detroit were taking a multiple-disciplinary, community-based approach to problem solving at a grass roots level,” she says. “I particularly enjoyed classes related to urban planning and property rights that employed real life practical solutions to the problems faced in Detroit.”
Married, with an 8-year-old daughter named India, and two rescue dogs, Woll enjoys travelling, reading, and kickboxing. She is also working with the Empowerment Plan of Detroit, an organization that employs homeless women from shelters and gives them a chance to build new lives.
“These women begin by learning to sew, and make warm coats that double as sleeping bags, which are then handed out to homeless people in Detroit,” she says.
Woll has spent time living in Thailand, Japan, and England. 
“Living in foreign countries allows you to view the world from a different perspective, especially in a country where English is not the primary language,” she says. 
Having to find creative ways to communicate while being respectful of people and beliefs that were, sometimes, vastly different from what she was used to, was an experience that played a large part in forming her understanding and practice of family law.
“There’s a constant struggle to find the most fair interpretation of the law for two sides who are often at odds with one another,” she notes. “The ability to forge some common ground and mutual respect is necessary.”
Her time in the Far East inspired her passion for Asian cooking; she spent a summer at a culinary school in Thailand, and enjoyed touring the country by motorcycle. 
“The experience was fascinating, especially trips to the local markets to learn about ingredients not found in the U.S. For instance, crickets are considered delicious by many Thai people,” she says. “I learned a great deal about Thai cooking, but wasn’t brave enough to master the art of cooking with insects.”

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