New York-based Bob Arenstein occupies a unique and respected place in American divorce law. Now in his 60s, he is a well-known and skilled attorney handling complex and contentious divorce cases, not simply in New York City but in several U.S. jurisdictions. More significantly, Arenstein is perhaps the nation's best known authority on so-called Hague Convention cases - international custody cases bound by a 1980 Hague Convention agreement, known formally as the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction; 84 countries are signatories. His command of this unique legal field - he influenced and helped write several U.S. custody and divorce statutes - is widely known, and he's regularly called into cases as a consultant and expert witness. He represented Mary Beth Whitehead in the famous 1986 "Baby M" case, which set precedents on the rights of surrogate mothers. Further, he's served as a longtime officer of New York's chapter of The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. For all of that, Arenstein - creative, affable, with a quick intellect -- remains something of a free spirit; he lives during the week in New York City, and retreats to homes in Vermont and Florida.
Called into cases throughout the world, Arenstein maintains a professional pace that would wear out younger lawyers. While growing up in Kew Garden Hills, Queens, and later Great Neck, the son of a toy company executive ("Remember the Cootie Bug? That was my Dad's"Â), Arenstein excelled at math; he majored in accounting as an undergraduate, and later received a masters in taxation from NYU. He graduated third in his class from St. John's Law. A CPA, he did stints with Peat Marwick and Arthur Andersen; after law school he joined a small law firm that focused on real estate. When friends of the firm found themselves getting divorced, Arenstein stepped in - "there was no one else to do it," he recalls. In short order he was a divorce lawyer.
Over the next 37 years Arenstein built a respected practice - since the 1980s entirely on his own. Often by chance, he took on major legislative initiatives - he was married and living outside Washington, D.C, Arenstein served on the ABA Family Law section's legislative arm, testifying before Congress and helping draft new laws. Among them, division of military pensions on divorce, new prohibitions against bankruptcy nullifying divorce settlements, and interstate enforcement of child-support agreements. In 1993, it became a federal crime to spirit a child out of the country against the will of a parent, the International Parental Crime Act, a statute drafted by Arenstein. While state laws continue to govern divorce, it is Arenstein, more than perhaps any lawyer of his generation, who has helped make divorce laws fairer and more reflective of our age.
Today Arenstein, the father of one daughter who just graduated Jefferson Medical School, is still youthful in outlook ("I share how I feel; not everyone does that these days"), remains a lifelong Karaoke performer, singing the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John, even Dion and the Belmonts ("I Wonder Why" and "A Teenager in Love"). "You meet all kinds of people at Karaoke - some even become clients." Fridays through Sundays Arenstein lives in Delray Beach, Florida.