- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 22, 2006

Cheryl Lynn Hepfer has been through so many divorces, it comes as no surprise that she has a lot to say on the subject.

As the new president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), she will use her 30 years of experience to increase the flow of information among divorce lawyers nationwide.

The AAML comprises the nation’s top 1,600 matrimonial lawyers, who must have at least five years of experience practicing family law and be recognized by colleagues as experts. Mrs. Hepfer, who practices law in Rockville and Upper Marlboro, was first vice president, then president-elect, of the Chicago-based professional association.

One of the group’s most important functions is to ensure that couples who are going through divorce understand the process and know their options, Mrs. Hepfer said.

“Normally, people would prefer to go through it alone as a means of resolving this conflict rather than having their lawyers talk it out,” she said. “So what we’re trying to do is convey information that will assist people as individuals who know their children the best … to have significant input into what the post-separation access and communication level will be.”

Several years ago, she said, the AAML produced a video called “Voices of the Children,” featuring comments from children who have been through divorce.

“Quite frequently, the courts require that parents watch that tape before their case starts, and it has impacted parents as it has the court,” Mrs. Hepfer said. “It’s just heart-wrenching.”

To alleviate the stress of divorce on children, the AAML encourages parents not to involve the youngsters in their anger, she said.

“It’s so obvious to someone who’s not going through the trauma of separation, but those who are in the midst of it get so caught up in the pressure of the anger and they do things not realizing that it’s having an effect on their children,” she said.

Gaetano Ferro, AAML president-elect and a lawyer in New Canaan, Conn., said Mrs. Hepfer does not fit the conventional image of a divorce lawyer.

“The more unusual aspect about Cheryl is she may very well be the only person in the academy that everybody likes,” Mr. Ferro said. “She’s a wonderful resource. She genuinely cares about people, and that’s a tremendous asset for a divorce lawyer and an organization like ours.”

Mrs. Hepfer said most cases are resolved amicably.

“To what degree depends on what the people’s needs are and who their attorneys are,” she said. “If you’re aware of what your options are and you understand the nuances, it’s easier to deal with the anger issues, the emotional issues and the psychological issues than if you have no idea what your rights are.”

The AAML provides couples with materials stressing the importance of communication in hopes of avoiding divorce.

“It affects families. It’s not just the two people that are affected,” she said. “It’s very expensive and very time-consuming, so it should not be something that’s done on a whim. It should be something that’s done after giving significant thought to what someone’s needs are at the time and the potential of things improving or not.

“Sometimes it’s pretty clear, and sometimes it’s not.”

Mrs. Hepfer, 59, lives in Rockville with her husband.

— Kara Rowland

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