It is hard to believe that a year ago today, I set out on a journey to meet my family in Miami– a family torn apart for decades due to an erroneous court decision that found insufficent evidence to support a paternity claim. Tomorrow, I get to share the story at my alma mater, GW University Law School. The story made local headlines in December last year, and has become part of my inspirational lectures around the DC Area. In honor of the one year anniversary of my fateful trip, I am re-posting the blog about how I finally pieced together the family I was denied for decades:

A Puzzle That Took 38 Years to Solve

In 1971, a woman met a Spaniard while on a cruise. Nine months later, I was born. A nasty court case ensued, and without the admission of any medical evidence, the court found insufficient grounds to make a determination of paternity.

My mother was publicly humiliated and felt betrayed by the judicial system. As a result, I was told as a child that my father was dead, and my mother insisted that I become a lawyer and learn my rights. As fate would have it, I got a scholarship to go to a boarding school in Andover, MA when I was 14. I moved to Washington, DC when I was 17 to attend Georgetown University, and by age 25 I completed law school at The George Washington University Law School. By pure coincidence, I began my legal career as a family law attorney, and ever since that is all I have ever done.

In law school, and my first six years as a litigator, I was taught to hear my client’s story, then to advocate his/her position as zealously as possible. Five years ago, however, following my own divorce, I underwent a complete transformation in my legal training. I pursued courses in mediation and Collaborative Law. Through these studies, I was transformed. I learned to hear both parties’ version of events, as well as their goals and concerns. I was taught to view success as the best possible solution for the family as a whole, not just from one party’s perspective. The results in my cases these past few years have been far more rewarding than I ever imagined.

Now I have taken my whole new skill set and applied it to my personal life. After all these years, I sought out my alleged father. Looking at him is like looking in a mirror, and his whole family agrees that the resemblance is just uncanny. With the help of my aunt, uncle and cousins, I have been able to learn all about the past, and of course through my own father I was able to hear his side of the story, and why he fought the court case so vehemently back in the ’70s. I now understand what happened back then, and I am not angry. It is just immensely sad that we have lost so many years together. But, we cannot focus on the past. We need to be grateful for the opportunity presented here and focus on the future — the memories we have yet to create.

After 38 years, we finally took a DNA test a few days ago and the results are pending. I could never have gotten this through a court order. No law suit at this point would ever have required these people to talk to me or let me into their lives. The moral of this story is that not everything can be achieved in a court of law, which can be very unforgiving. We all make mistakes, and so do the courts. Sometimes, those errors have severe consequences that can last a lifetime. I am living proof of that reality. Yet here I am, trying to minimize the damage done and prove that the best solutions are most often achieved outside a courtroom.