Heather Whiting, 44
Drummond & Drummond
1 Monument Way, Portland
After reflecting on her own experience as a wife and mother, Heather Whiting, a former corporate lawyer, decided to practice family law, realizing that she preferred to work one on one with her clients.
As a corporate lawyer, Whiting never had the opportunity to be in the courtroom and work with people in person, something that appeals to her as a professional.
“It’s a better fit for me,” Whiting said.
Whiting joined the Portland law firm Drummond & Drummond in 2013 as an attorney focusing on family law and divorce mediations, as well as elder law and probate matters.
After earning her law degree from American University, Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C., Whiting became a corporate lawyer in 1999. She continued to practice corporate law at one of Portland’s largest firms, Verrill Dana, after moving to Maine in 2001. Before joining Drummond & Drummond, she also practiced family law at a Cooper & Bull in Westbrook.
“I get an opportunity from the very first consultation to sit down with somebody and listen to them and to their needs,” said Whiting. “A lot of my clients have no idea what to expect when they’re divorcing. I enjoy helping them and guiding them through the process.”
Whiting is chairwoman of the Family Law Section of the Maine State Bar Association and is also a contributor/editor to “A Practical Guide to Divorce in Maine,” which will be published this summer. She also volunteers with the Volunteers Lawyers Project Domestic Panel and the Homeless Legal Aid Clinic and serves on the executive committees for Kids First Program and the Lawyer Referral Service.
Whiting, who lives in Falmouth with her husband and three children, spoke with Maine Women recently about how dating and marriage have evolved in the last two decades, and the advice she has for women going through divorce.
Q: What inspired you to become a divorce attorney?
A: I began my career as an associate in corporate law and I rarely saw a courtroom. I also rarely saw clients in person, as I was generally doing work for partners who had direct contact with their clients. I wanted to help real people with real problems. I became a guardian ad litem before I became a divorce attorney. This was a turning point for me, as I discovered family law would be a better fit for me personally and professionally. At the time, I was also starting my own family. My experience as a mom and a wife made family law appealing to me. I can empathize with my divorce clients, and this helps me listen and respond to individual needs and concerns. Attorneys are often referred to as “counselors,” and in divorce law, this is very fitting. I counsel my clients through the emotional aspects of a divorce, and I provide legal advice at all stages, continuously. Helping my divorce clients navigate all aspects of divorce is very rewarding to me.
Q: How has the dating/marriage scene changed over the last 20 years?
A: I think the biggest change is that the traditional ideas of what marriage is, what makes a family, and who is a parent have shifted over time, and our laws have not yet caught up to address the change. Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in Maine since 2012. This changed the landscape. Assisted reproduction and the use of gestational carriers also changed the landscape.
Many couples choose not to marry, which is a change, historically speaking. When they break up, they confront the same issues a divorcing couple confront – how to divide assets, debt, and if they have children, how to parent after the breakup. As a divorce attorney, this is an exciting time to be practicing family law. Currently, our Legislature is considering the Maine Parentage Act, which would provide a statutory framework for the complex issues arising in cases today.
Q: What relationship advice do you have for women?
A: My advice for women in relationships or in a marriage is to keep the lines of communication with your partner open and healthy. Recognize that this is oftentimes not easy and you will need to work at it. Many of my clients have been married under 15 years and have young children. I think it’s common to not feel connected to your partner during this child-rearing stage, especially if you are both working. Attention is devoted to your children instead of directed toward your partner. If you can, take time for “date night” either weekly or monthly, whatever you can fit in.
If there is a serious disconnect, do not ignore it, but work on it with the help of a counselor. My advice for women going through divorce is to not rush through a settlement in order to “get it over with.” Take the time to hire a divorce attorney or a financial planner to ensure that you are getting a fair settlement, and forecast finances into the future. It’s important to think long term, not short term.