Oswald Roam & Rew
As a mother of three, Jennifer Oswald Brown knows that families come in all shapes and sizes. As a family law attorney, mediator and court-appointed guardian ad litem in Jackson County, she’s also well aware of the limits of even that relatively broad lens.
“It is imperative to look beyond any implicit bias that we may have and that our legal community may have in order to diligently work towards achieving what truly is in the best interest of that individual child,” she says.
“The stereotypical nuclear family of 1950s America in [white] suburbia is not a value that must be forced upon every family and every child,” adds Oswald Brown, who in 2019 received a Women’s Justice Award from Missouri Lawyers Media.
After two years as a law clerk for now-retired Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners, where she handled the domestic docket, the Blue Springs native and University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law graduate joined the hometown firm (and her dad, attorney Julius Oswald) in 2004.
What motivates you most in your work as an attorney and as an advocate for diversity and inclusion?
My primary source of motivation is what surrounds me every day, my family and my work. As a mother to three young children, I know the differences between my children can be staggering at times. And as a guardian ad litem to hundreds of children in my tenure, I see the differences in every child’s situation. To be sure, there are many similarities between children: the need for stability, love, understanding and a voice are universal. My practice as a guardian ad litem in high-conflict divorce matters or in respect to allegations of abuse and neglect compels me to investigate each individual child’s needs and best interests.
While Missouri has a guiding statute in considering the best interest of the child, RSMo 452.375, it is important to note that the factors laid out will vary with each individual child. It’s not until we examine what each different child’s home, school and community are that we can arrive at their true best interests.
How do you give back to your community?
In any of my actions, it’s important for me to convey that we must take an inclusive approach to providing services for families and children. My work has afforded an expansive view, understanding and appreciation of the rich diversity of the Kansas City metropolitan area, as well as outlying agricultural communities. Many guardian ad litem services that I provide are pro bono or at a deep discount to families and children who would be underrepresented or marginalized by our current legal system, if nothing else, through a lack of access and understanding with the court system.
What must Missouri’s legal community do to promote meaningful and long-term diversity within its legal/justice system?
The legal community must strive to consider everyone’s social, political and cultural norms rather than try to fit individuals into a preconceived mold.
When considering the best interest of the child, we may find ourselves with parties who have opposing views or starkly different cultural norms. It is important to consider those differences not as barriers to be overcome in many cases, but we must superimpose those considerations upon the statutory factors. When we turn to consider the best interest of children, we must contemplate the particular child’s socio-economic, cultural and racial norms in the application of the statute.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I am fanatical about the weather and watching weather forecasts and would like to consider myself an amateurish meteorologist.