By Sarah Mansheim
Is there such thing as a good divorce? Yes, says Lewisburg attorney Christine Stump, but it is rare and requires two things that divorcing couples seldom have: mutual respect and communication. The family practice attorney who recently opened her own office, Stump and Associates, says that guiding her clients through the emotional upheaval of a divorce is as much part of her work as the legal end.
“I specialize in family law, because there is a need for an attorney to guide people through a dark time and counsel them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Stump, who adds, “I can do both. I can understand the emotional part and can also sue people.”
Divorce is a very traumatic thing, she says, and helping her clients cut through their feelings of betrayal, and their need for vengeance, can be difficult.
“Family law is really about client control and eliminating that human nature need for revenge,” she says. “I’m there to help them know that on the back end of this traumatic situation, they’re going to be okay.”
Stump says her early years as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. prepared her for the emotional intensity of family law. She joined the justice department in 1986 as an Attorney General Honor Graduate and immediately began practicing criminal law in the realm of the D.C. gang wars and the city’s crack cocaine epidemic. Dealing with people in the middle of crisis taught her how to “talk to people in a way that they can understand and to calm them down,” she says–tools she now uses as she helps people navigate their divorces, custody arrangements and other family-related legal issues.
People need to understand the financial ramifications of their emotions during divorce, and she is there to help them sort it out. But, she’s clear she is not a licensed psychologist.
“I send many people to counseling in order to help them move forward. But, I find, time is the great healer,” she says, even in custody agreements. Too often, she says, “children are tools of the revenge.”
Stump advises her clients that adult matters should not be discussed in front of kids. “Topics such as child support and visitation schedules are not for a child’s ears.” The bottom line, she says, is to “be kind; be respectful.
“You have to communicate if you have children together – school, teachers, religion, all those things still have to be discussed and worked out. You don’t have to like each other, but you have to talk to each other.”
Stump also works in the court system as a guardian ad litum, serving as an attorney for children in high-conflict parenting cases, leading investigations and making recommendations to the court when there are allegations of substance abuse, abuse, neglect and the like. Stump and Associates also takes grandparents’ rights cases, another area of law and custody that Stump says is particularly heartbreaking.
Stump’s passion for family law led her to leave the Lewisburg law offices of Barry L. Bruce and open her own firm. Stump has been practicing law in West Virginia since the nineties; in 1999 she decided to get out of the fast-paced, D.C. criminal business and move to Randolph County.
“When I moved out of D.C., I said, ‘I’m going to move to where I want to live,’” says Stump. West Virginia offered the kind of outdoor lifestyle she was attracted to, and she moved to Mingo, near Snowshoe, and began practicing criminal and family law. She renovated an old stagecoach inn and began to focus on real estate law as Snowshoe boomed. The market crash in 2007 brought that bit of her business to a close, and in 2008, she moved to Lewisburg to work with Bruce.
Now, she’s formed her own company and is following her passion for family law. Her passion for guiding families through divorce and custody issues is a personal one: Stump has been divorced three times. “I can’t say that I have had a ‘good divorce.’ I’ve survived them with a good attitude, and I think that’s the most important part. I can tell my clients, ‘I know where you’re coming from. I’ve walked in your shoes, and you’re going to be okay.’”
Stump and Associates is located at 126 N. Court Street in the gravel lot behind the Masonic Temple building. The phone number is 681-318-3509.