Battle Tested

Family law attorney goes to bat for the 'Underdogs'

Family law is a lens into our changing society, says Marian Faupel, an attorney who has looked through that viewfinder for three decades.

The view for the future of Faupel's fledgling law practice didn't look particularly bright back in the early 1990s when the red-haired Ann Arbor attorney took on the "Baby Jessica" case with her trademark legal gusto. The case, which gained national attention as it unfolded, pitted an Ann Arbor couple, Jan and Roberta DeBoer, in a bitter custody battle against Iowa residents Dan Schmidt and Cara Clausen, the biological parents of a baby girl that the DeBoers adopted as an infant and had raised for more than two years.

Faupel, a former teacher who later would serve 12 years on the Saline school board, represented Schmidt and Clausen in the custody case, which in greater Ann Arbor made her about as popular as someone wearing scarlet and gray at a maize and blue graduation party. Suffice to say, Faupel was akin to a legal Benedict Arnold, paying a heavy price in unfavorable publicity that nearly spelled doom to her solo practice.

It almost was of little matter, in the mind of Ann Arbor public opinion, that Faupel would prevail in the case, arguing successfully before various appellate courts in Michigan and Iowa that her clients should be granted full custody of their biological child. The case was one of three where she represented biological fathers asserting their rights during attempted adoptions.

"These cases illustrate potential problems with 'private adoptions,' especially when birth mothers and biological fathers don't have adequate counseling," Faupel says. "Michigan became a private adoption state soon after the Baby Jessica case concluded, and I have grave concerns about the law we presently have."

Each case was ultimately based on long-standing constitutional law that protects natural parents' rights over the rights of third parties, says Faupel, who owes her reverence for the Constitution to Wayne State constitutional law Professor Robert Sedler.

"We have to tolerate decisions we may not like to preserve our Constitution inviolate," she explains.

Faupel who feels there is often an inverse relationship between money, power, and good parenting relishes going to bat for underdogs.

"I love to represent the 'Davids' in our society, but only if they are committed to their children and are considered 'fit' to parent this is not just about 'winning' cases," she says.

Family law is "very dynamic" as society re-defines the "family unit," and immigration and mobility change traditional parameters, she notes. The 2010 U.S. Census showed many more adults cohabiting without marriage, more adults living alone, and more same sex couples raising children, according to Faupel.

"While the courts are reconsidering public policy issues around marriage, popular opinion seems to support our ability to 'choose' members of our family unit without regard to biology or gender, or marriage itself," she says.

Successful adoptions show a biological link is not necessary in order to parent a child lovingly and effectively; that children with same sex parents are shown to do as well as others in later life; and older couples marry beyond the fertile years.

"In short, the 'reasons' for preserving the notion that marriage must be between 'one man and one woman' or that the primary reason to preserve marriage is to preserve the human race are becoming indefensible," Faupel says.

Faupel shares her experience in family law as an adjunct professor at Wayne State Law School, her legal alma mater, where she says some students take new social standards for granted. She spends some time describing the "past" to students when women were basically their husband's chattel: could not own property, had no remedy for marital rape or domestic violence, no economic independence, and little access to formal education.

"We still have disparity between men and women, especially in terms of equal pay for equal work on the other hand, we have a new generation of fathers who are wonderful and who deserve equal parenting time and custodial rights," she says.

A native of Highland Park, Faupel remembers as a teen driving up Woodward Avenue in a 1958 Chevy.

"Motown music was everywhere, and every day you could go on a real 'dream cruise,'" she says. "The greatest gift from my childhood in the inner city was my early awareness that diversity in a community contributes to its cultural and social capital."

Her father came to Highland Park in 1918, earning $5 a day as a die maker at Ford.

"Opportunity was a magnet, and still is," she says. "I grew up believing hard work, vision, and opportunity were like passports. My father was one of the strongest influences in my life. From him, I got this notion that if you are 'comfortable,' you don't want to change and then you won't ever growand even a 200-year-old oak tree has to grow a little every day to stay alive."

A passionate supporter of the Motor City, Faupel has taken many people on tours of Detroit, which to shortsighted critics is bruised, battered, and now bankrupt.

"I've tried to explain the survivor instinct you have if you grew up in the Detroit area," she says. "Times are tough, but people are tough, too. I see signs of rebirth and shared sacrifice."

An avid seamstress, Faupel refers to her sewing hobby as her "free psychiatrist," adding that attorneys handling trial and/or family law work need a healthy outlet for stress.

"Those of us fortunate enough to have a 'creative outlet' are blessed because you can't think positive and negative at the same time. Creating things is a process of personal renewal, which is very important to me as I deal with conflict in my profession."

After learning on a treadle sewing machine at Ferris Elementary School in Highland Park, her first purchase was a used Featherweight machine, and she sewed some of her clothes while a student at the University of Michigan.

After marriage, she graduated to a new Singer, and in the mid-'90s got a top-of-the-line machine and new serger.

"That was when I discovered the wonderful textile art community in Ann Arbor and made a whole new network of friends," she says. "Now I take trips around the country for sewing classes and spend some time every week in my sewing studio."

That studio boasts 25 sewing machines, with her latest baby an industrial leather sewing machine for making purses and briefcases.

Faupel also enjoys writing, and is completing a book on Ann Arbor attorney and women's rights pioneer Jean King; and a 250-page memoir of her own early life in the Detroit area. She and her husband Kirk, a retired commercial airline pilot, have been married for 48 years. The couple enjoys time with their son Corey, daughter-in-law Tracie, and grandchildren Caden, almost 11, and Nina, nearly 9, as well as Kirk's mother and Faupel's half-brother, both aged 98.

"I wanted to share my early life with my family. It feels like a talking scrapbook and has really helped me to understand where I got my own value system."

By Sheila Pursglove and Tom Kirvan



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