At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Davis Polk & Wardwell attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Fiona,” a survivor of domestic violence whose abusive ex-husband owed thousands of dollars in child support arrears. The Davis Polk team of partner Joel Cohen and associates Daniel Spitzer, Nick DiMarino, and Rachelle Navarro, working hand in hand with Sanctuary lawyers, not only won a court order compelling the husband to pay $20,000 in overdue support, but also doubled the amount of child support that the children would receive going forward.
When Fiona came to Sanctuary for Families several years ago, a pro bono team of Davis Polk attorneys helped her obtain a divorce judgment with a stipulation for child support.
In the divorce judgment, Fiona’s ex-husband stipulated to biweekly child support payments and the annual exchange of financial information so the child support order could be updated accordingly. After discovering that her ex-husband had secured a job making significantly more income than he had at the time of the divorce judgment, Fiona returned to Sanctuary for assistance in enforcing the judgment and increasing the child support payments. Once again, Sanctuary turned to Davis Polk for pro bono assistance, and once again, Davis Polk delivered. Partner Joel Cohen and associates Daniel Spitzer, Nick DiMarino and Rachelle Navarro deftly navigated complex procedural questions and obtained a huge financial victory for Fiona and her children.
Procedurally, this case presented “quite a thicket” said Joel Cohen, a litigation partner at Davis Polk. But “the great thing about working with Sanctuary,” he continued, “is that you’re working with experts.” He credited Sanctuary attorneys Dara Sheinfeld and Amanda Norejko with providing excellent guidance and advocacy as the Davis Polk team strategized how to get Fiona the best possible result. Rachelle, a litigation associate at the firm, concurred, adding that “it was wonderful and challenging to constantly be in discussions about the correct procedural path.”
The first filing in Family Court was a petition for enforcement of the divorce judgment, which was supplemented by a petition for modification a few months later. The Family Court granted the team’s request for modification of the amount of child support going forward but denied the petition to enforce and collect past arrears because it believed it lacked jurisdiction to do so. The pro bono team then prepared an enforcement action in Supreme Court, where they ultimately negotiated an extremely advantageous settlement for Fiona and her children. As a result of their diligent efforts in two separate courts, Fiona now receives twice as much in biweekly child support payments as she did previously, and she was awarded $20,000 in child support arrears.
This was the first Sanctuary for Families case for these Davis Polk litigators, but it certainly won’t be the last. “The work [Sanctuary] does for its clients is broad-ranging and essential,” says Daniel, “and goes far beyond just providing legal services.”Fiona was a particularly engaging client, and the team agrees that the relationship they were able to develop with the client was the most rewarding part of working on her case. As for Fiona, she says she will be forever thankful to her wonderful attorneys:
“Thank you and please continue with your selfless help to other families such as ours. You have left such an indelible mark in our lives forever. We are truly grateful.”
Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Davis Polk’s outstanding pro bono work.
Emily Suran is a Project, Energy and Infrastructure Finance associate at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP and currently represents a Sanctuary client seeking asylum. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.