By Sue Sveum
Spotlight on: Natalie Gerloff of Hawks Quindel
As a family law attorney at Hawks Quindel, Natalie Gerloff represents clients on a variety of legal concerns — including divorce, prenuptial agreements, custody disputes and property divisions. She says family law was a natural choice because of her passion for helping people.
“I like that in family law, we’re helping people during one of the most challenging and stressful times of their lives,” she explains. “When they really need support, we can guide them.”
Her interest in the law began back in middle school, when she and a friend volunteered to join the local Teen Court program. As an alternative to monetary penalties for troubled youths, the court, composed of peers in the roles of prosecutor, defense attorney and jury, assigned “sentences” such as a written apology, exact reimbursement of a stolen or vandalized item or community service. And Gerloff loved it.
Her passion for law and helping others took off from there. As an undergrad at UW-Whitewater, and again while in law school at UW-Madison, Gerloff explored various aspects of family law through internships, volunteer programs and clerkships. These experiences set her up for working within all types of situations — including major life events, such as a divorce proceeding.
Gerloff says during a divorce proceeding, some women feel more comfortable working with a female attorney, who may better understand and can support them — especially in cases involving the custody of minor children or domestic violence.
“It’s only natural to be stressed and concerned for your family during a divorce,” says Gerloff. “And that’s why we’re here to help [clients] be level- headed when they may struggle to look beyond the immediate circumstances.”
She gives the example of someone who’s anxious to have divorce proceedings over with — and may agree to something just to be done with it. “As an attorney, one of the most rewarding parts is helping to set my client and their family up for success in the next part of their lives,” explains Gerloff, adding that she and family law colleague Naomi Swain often work together as a team, running ideas past each other to determine the best course of action for a client.
“One of the things women most want to know is whether they can get sole custody and placement of the children,” says Gerloff, adding that circumstances may differ, but generally, if the spouse is fit and wants some custody and placement, they are most likely to get it. Why?
“The courts like to do what’s in the best interest of the children,” she explains, “although there are some exceptions for domestic violence, the presumption is that it is in the children’s best interest to maximize time and maintain a relationship with both parents.”
Gerloff says many women don’t realize they have several options when it comes to divorce. These include:
- A one-time consultation to explain the process and advise clients of the next steps.
- Full representation from beginning to end.
- Or, clients can choose a limited-scope representation, where attorneys might handle more complicated aspects, such as completing the financial statement or a review of property division.
“The most common choices are the one-time flat fee consultation or full representation,” she says. “But the flexibility is nice since not everyone has the funds to pay for the whole process.”
Gerloff says women should know going in that divorce is going to be a difficult process. “Even if the divorce itself is for the best, it’s natural to feel stressed and concerned for the future,” she says. “And that’s OK. We’re here to help.”
NATALIE GERLOFF Email: [email protected] Phone: 608-512-1821
Spotlight on: Naomi Swain of Hawks Quindel
Attorney Naomi Swain has always sought to help people — it’s been a guiding principle throughout her career.
Now, as a family law attorney at Hawks Quindel, she puts that passion to work on a daily basis, helping clients navigate divorce and other aspects of family law.
“I really like that I’m able to help clients achieve a sense of control and autonomy,” she adds. “But at the same time, help them understand what can’t be changed within the constraints of the system.”
During her undergrad and law school education at UW-Madison, Swain gained experience in a variety of areas. After volunteering at the RCC Sexual Violence Resource Center (formerly known as the Rape Crisis Center, or RCC) in Madison, it affirmed her desire to either help people sort through the psychological effects of a traumatic situation — or through the law. And the law won out.
While in law school, Swain also worked at the Family Court Clinic and clerked for Hawks Quindel. Her fluent Spanish also enabled her to help asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border understand their rights and prepare for asylum interviews.
With these varied experiences, Swain is adept at working with clients and meeting them where they are at, especially during stressful life events, such as a divorce.
“I try to make clients feel comfortable from the beginning by discussing their goals,” Swain explains. “This can be a time of worry and concern — a time of uncertainty. So it helps to validate their experience and then explain what remedies are possible and what aren’t.”
When a woman initiates a divorce, she may feel like she’s taking control of her life — and it’s upsetting to find out that judges can make decisions related to custody or child support. “It can be traumatizing,” says Swain. “That’s why I always encourage [clients] to be involved in therapy during this process, as well.”
Once someone decides they’re ready to move forward with divorce proceedings, the first thing they often want to know is the timeline.
“Many don’t realize there’s a mandatory 120-day waiting period from initializing the divorce until it’s finalized,” Swain explains. “That can be frustrating when, understandably, they want the divorce to move forward right away. No one likes being in limbo.”
Of course, every divorce is different, with a lot of little details and moving parts. But here’s a look at some of the steps typical to a divorce timeline:
- Meet with attorney for consultation.
- File the petition with basic information to initiate the process.
- The other party is served.
- Submit necessary financial documents.
- If agreement is reached on property division and child custody and placement, a stipulated divorce hearing is scheduled, and the divorce is granted.
- If couples can’t reach full agreement, mediation is often used to determine property division and child custody.
- And when parties disagree on placement of minor children, a guardian ad litem is often assigned to advocate for the best interests of the children and make a recommendation regarding custody.
“We understand that divorce is a life- altering, incredibly stressful event,” says Swain. “I am there with my clients at every step to make sure their children and their financial interests are protected. I often remind my clients that the court generally wants to achieve a fair result for both parties.”
She adds that usually — hopefully — if you’re willing to compromise a little, then so will the other side.
“I work to allow my clients to move forward successfully,” she says.
NAOMI SWAIN Email: [email protected] Phone: 608-308-8238