Clerkships, Family Law, Job Searches, Kids, Law Schools

Recent Law Grad Loses Custody Of Child After Taking Only Job She Was Offered

For the past few years, members of the mass media have been continuously harping on how difficult it is for law school graduates to secure jobs after graduation. After all, only a little more than half of the class of 2012 managed to find jobs as lawyers, and the class of 2011 didn’t fare much better.

Joblessness can have real life consequences other than the inability to repay law school debts owed to the government or private lenders, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not just graduates of lower ranked schools that have faced significant hurdles in the job market.

Today, we bring you the story of a young mother, a 2011 Ivy League law school graduate, who just lost custody of her son because she moved to another state to take the only job she was able to find. We’re afraid that this is the “new normal” for law school graduates…

Meet Michelle V. She graduated from Cornell Law School in 2011, and likely hoped to find the same successes in life as those who graduated from the elite school in the past. Unfortunately, Michelle graduated into a post-recession world, and the entry-level law jobs that once were had disappeared.

Having gotten divorced during her third year of law school, her life was already pretty rough. Little did she know that she would be forced to apply for clerkships, and not the kind lusted after by T14 graduates. Michelle didn’t receive her first job offer — from a trial judge in New Jersey — until more than nine months had passed since she graduated from law school. And that’s when all the trouble started.

You see, Michelle had entered into a joint custody arrangement with her ex-husband, an Ithaca, New York resident, barring the relocation of their child without parental consent or permission of the court. The divorce was finalized in January 2012, and one month later, Michelle accepted the clerkship offer at a courthouse located nowhere near her ex-husband’s home. A child custody battle obviously ensued:

After the father denied his consent to allow the mother to relocate with the child from the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County to New Jersey, [Michelle] commenced this proceeding requesting permission to relocate, to which the father cross-petitioned, objecting to the relocation and seeking sole custody. Family Court permitted the mother to relocate with the then-18-month-old child on a temporary basis pending disposition of the proceeding, and she moved to East Windsor, New Jersey, approximately 230 miles (4½ hours) from Ithaca in March 2012. However, following a two-day fact-finding hearing in May 2012 at which the mother — then a recent law school graduate — appeared pro se, the court dismissed the mother’s application and granted sole custody to the father.

Michelle appealed the decision, and her job search became the focus of the court’s review:

While the mother testified that she took the only employment offer extended to her and, thus, she had no choice but to relocate, there is little evidence in the record regarding her job search in the area surrounding the parties’ former marital home in Ithaca, either before her clerkship or upon its anticipated completion. She submitted evidence of her email account, which showed various correspondence relating to her search for employment. However, these records did not indicate that any of the jobs she applied for were in the Ithaca area and, furthermore, she could not specifically remember any positions that she had applied for locally.

Sure, one of Michelle’s goals was to “move out of NY,” but perhaps the judges forgot that getting a job fresh out of law school is ridiculously hard right now. Trying to get a job in Ithaca, a town where the market has been flooded by other graduates of the same law school who are in the same situation, would have been akin to Michelle offering herself as tribute in a real life version of the Hunger Games.

In the end, the appeals court decided that the father retaining sole custody was in the child’s best interests. Poor Michelle has been left with nothing but a law degree and the debt that came with it, all for want of a job that would’ve been otherwise impossible to get had she not moved to another state.

This story may sound unique, but given the precarious circumstances surrounding employment after law school graduation, we think there may be other stories just like this that we’ve not yet heard about. So we’ll ask you this question: with results like these, do you still want to go to law school?

Opinion: Michelle V. v. Brandon V. [New York Appellate Divison, Third Department]
Mother Loses Custody After Moving to Take Job [New York Law Journal]

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