Chair’s Message

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Message From the Chair
– Chris Nickelson

As the long hot Texas summer comes to a close and we transition to fall I want to talk to you about change. Change is an inevitable part of life. Seasons change. We change as we progress from infancy into childhood into adulthood and into old age. Change is an inevitable part of life because the world we live in is not static, but is ever changing for better or worse. Change surrounds us and it transforms us as we respond to it. How you choose to deal with change defines who you are as a person and as a people.

We family lawyers are no strangers to change. We have a long history of rising to meet the challenges of our times. In the 1960s, the pioneers of family law took on and brought down the system of laws known as coverture which restricted a woman’s right to own, manage, and dispose of her own community and separate property. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the pioneers turned their attention to drafting and enacting a modern, comprehensive family code to bring stability and predictability to the practice of family law. Through the 1980s and 1990s the Family Law Section dedicated substantial resources to maintaining and reforming the family code in response to societal change, and it dedicated substantial resources to drafting the Texas Family Law Practice Manual which, through its forms and practice notes, brought much needed uniformity to the practice of family law as well as lower costs to clients. Through the 1990s and early 2000s the Family Law Section once again dedicated significant resources to maintaining and reforming the family code in response to societal change, and it created and implemented our award winning pro bono program in order to meet the needs of underserved Texans.

We family lawyers are a distinct people that have been molded over many decades through both challenge and change. We, as a people, have banded together under the banner of the Family Law Section in order to promote stability in the law and its practice, to represent the views of all parties to family law litigation, including spouses, parents, children, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and others who are similarly situated, to promote fellowship and professionalism, and to help underserved Texans find the representation they need. No one person is responsible for making the Section what it is. It has been a multi-generational effort by many people who care deeply about the law, its practice, and the friends they made while volunteering their time to the Section.

The mission of the Family Law Section is “to promote the highest degree of professionalism, education, fellowship, and excellence in the practice of family law.” Today, the Section attempts to fulfill its mission by publishing practical literature to educate and assist attorneys across the State in their daily practice of law, by generating legislation to keep the law predictable and steady across the State, by working with Texas Bar CLE to generate some of the best CLE in the nation, by sponsoring socials at our CLE events so attorneys from across the State can become better acquainted, and by promoting pro bono representation across the State through our pro bono seminars.

None of the foregoing things would happen without the help of the many people who volunteer their time, talent, and effort to help the Section accomplish its on-going mission. I want to take this opportunity to update you on what your Section has been doing, the challenges we face, and the changes we have made to address the challenges of our day. I also want to let you know about upcoming events and to recognize and thank a number of people who have recently volunteered their time, talent, and effort to the Section.

Advanced Family Law

First, I want to thank the Course Directors for this year’s Advanced Family Law Course, Lisa Hoppes and Charles Hardy, the Course Director for the 101 Course, Greg Beane, the Planning Committee for both courses, and Texas Bar CLE for their leadership and hard work in assembling both courses. Texas Bar CLE reported that over 2000 people attended the Advanced Family Law Course this year and several hundred attended the 101 Course. A number of people stopped me during the course to tell me what an outstanding job everyone did in planning and executing the courses. Make sure to tell Lisa, Charles, Greg, the members of the Planning Committee, and the Texas Bar CLE staff “thank you” for a job well done.


The Family Law Section produces some of the best and most helpful publications to aid its members in the practice of law. Publications include the Family Law Checklists, Predicates Manual, Family Law At Your Fingertips, the Family Lawyer’s Essential Toolkit, and the Client Handbook. The Section also sells DVDs that instruct and inform clients regarding depositions, trials, mediation, and social media presence. The foregoing publications and DVDs can be purchased now, by going to our website, or they can be purchased, in person, at Advanced Family Law this year. I want to thank our Publications Committee, headed by Christina Molitor and Jim Mueller, for their hard work and dedication to ensure the publications are up-to-date and a great product. I would also like to thank Heather King for producing the DVDs, Kathryn Murphy and Aimee Pingenot Key for their work on Family Law At Your Fingertips, Charla Bradshaw for her work on the Family Law Checklists, and Heather King and Jessica Janicek for their work on the Predicates Manual. Georganna Simpson and Norma Trusch along with the Formbook Committee have also volunteered hundreds of hours to update and revise the Texas Family Law Practice Manual and we all owe them a debt of gratitude for their efforts in bringing uniformity to the practice of family law in this State.

As a member of the Family Law Section, you also receive this quarterly Section Report, an annual Bibliography of recent CLE articles, and a bi-annual Legislative Update. Georganna Simpson works tirelessly to publish these materials on time and with an eye towards keeping us all informed about the law and current events. Thank you, Georganna.


The 86th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature has been a high-wire act! It was a session marked by having several high profile bills walk a fine line, with the high suspense, as to whether they would fall or make it through. A big thank-you goes to the leaders of the Legislative Committee, Jack Marr and Diana Friedman, as well as its members, who volunteered many hours to develop the Section’s legislative package and to serve as a resource for bills introduced by others. Although this legislative session is wrapping up, the Legislative Committee will soon go to work preparing the package for the next legislative session. Thanks also goes to the Section members who gave a week of their time to be in Austin to meet with legislators, testify before legislative committees, and to be an expert on whichever bill was in front of them at the time.

The members of the Texas Family Law Foundation also deserve our gratitude. They worked tirelessly on trying to get the Section’s legislative package passed, but they worked equally as hard, if not harder, on trying to stop bad law from becoming a reality. Steve and Amy Bresnen and Bresnen & Associates worked tirelessly on behalf of the Foundation in this regard.

For more information on the new legislation, please plan to attend the Family Law Section’s Legislative Update CLE events in Dallas on June 26, Houston on June 28, and Auston on July 10. See for more information.

Pro Bono

I am proud of the pro bono efforts on behalf of the Section. We have an active Pro Bono Committee that puts together live seminars across the state and via webcast. The seminar is free with the commitment that the attendee will take two pro bono cases in a 12-month period. The volunteers who speak at these seminars travel on their own time and their own dime with no reimbursement. Thank you to the Pro Bono Committee, the Committee’s leaders, Lisa Hoppes and Leigh de la Reza, and the Section Members who volunteered their time, for all of your hard work.


As many of you know, our website went down some time ago and had to be painstakingly rebuilt. I want to thank Kristal Thomson, Leigh de la Reza, Christi Lankford, and the Website Committee for all the work they put into the new website. In addition, I want to thank them for helping us reach a new milestone this year—the ability to engage in e-commerce! Check out the products for sale on our website, and if so inclined, submit an order and have one of our publications or DVDs shipped to your home or office.


This past year, the Appellate Committee reviewed several requests for amicus support and submitted briefing in two different cases on behalf of the Family Law Section. I want to thank the Chair of the Appellate Committee, Anna McKim, the Members of the Committee, and all who helped with the briefing.

Upcoming CLE

Annual Meeting will be June 13-14, 2019, at the JW Marriott in Austin. The Family Law Section is providing CLE on Thursday June 13, 2019, from 1:25 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The Advanced Family Law Course (directed by Charles Hardy and Lisa Hoppes) is scheduled in San Antonio August 12-15, 2019, at the Marriott Rivercenter. Charles and Lisa have crafted a unique, entertaining, and informative seminar. For those of you who are new to family law, or just looking for an update on the basics, make sure and attend Family Law 101 (aka “Bootcamp”) on August 11, directed by Greg Beane.

In October, New Frontiers in Marital Property Law (directed by Susan McLerran and Jim Mueller) will be in Savannah, Georgia, on October 24-25, 2019, at The Desoto. As usual, New Frontiers is a program that is designed to “think outside the box” and to stimulate discussion regarding complex marital property matters.

Advanced Family Law Drafting (directed by Lon Loveless) is scheduled in Dallas on December 12-13, 2019, at the Westin Galleria. Lon is planning an informative course with a plethora of documents that you will be able to take to your office and start using on a daily basis.

The American Academy of Family Law Specialist’s Annual Innovations in Child Custody Litigation Seminar (directed by Leigh De la Reza and Tammy Moon) will be in Houston, January 23-24, 2020, at the JW Marriott.

The Texas Academy of Family Law Specialist’s Annual Trial Institute (directed by Jim Mueller and Sara Valentine) will take place in Annapolis, Maryland, February 28-29, 2020 at the Westin. See in the coming weeks for more information.

The course directors and planning committees, along with the State Bar staff, have spent countless hours crafting great CLE programs. Please check out all of the upcoming State Bar of Texas CLE seminars at

In closing, I want to thank the Executive Committee, Council Members, Committee Chairs and Members, Council Liaisons, and volunteer paralegals, attorneys, accountants and other professionals in the family law community for all of your hard work and commitment to the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas. No one person is responsible for making the Section what it is. It has been a multi-generational effort by many people who care deeply about the law, its practice, and the friends they made while volunteering their time to the Section. I look forward to working with all you to continue our collective efforts “to promote the highest degree of professionalism, education, fellowship, and excellence in the practice of family law.”

Chris Nickelson
Chair, Family Law Section