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Cynthia L. Greene: Never a Dull Moment

After practicing marital and family law for more than 35 years, Cynthia L. Greene relishes the challenge of every new case. “This is an interesting and exciting field because you have to know about many other kinds of law,” says Greene, founder and managing partner of Greene Smith & Associates, P.A., in Coral Gables. “You need to know about civil procedures, torts, real estate, financial assets and different kinds of business. There’s never a dull moment because every case involves different people in different situations. I really enjoy what I do.”

Known for her sharp wit and extensive knowledge of the law, Greene is board-certified in marital and family law, handling appellate as well as trial matters. This spring, she relocated the four-attorney firm from South Miami to a new office in Coral Gables.

A founder at Baptist Hospital and a leader in her practice area, Greene is a former chair of the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, and a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). Greene traditionally delivers the final lecture at the annual two-day Family Law Certification Review Course co-sponsored by The Family Law Section of The Florida Bar and the Florida Chapter of the AAML. Judging from comments from attendees, she is the reason the 1200-plus attorneys in attendance stay to the end. She has also written many books and articles on marital law topics, including The Family Law Trial Notebook and Family Law Case Summaries: 1989-1999.

Greene enjoys caring for her three dogs and five cats, and spends much of her free time reading. Her favorites? Mysteries and biographies of historical leaders like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Greene is also a big fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and has watched every episode of the series. For kicks she attends the annual “Star Trek” convention in Las Vegas and enjoys talking to fellow fans and attending science lectures. She adds, “I also try to take one vacation a year in places far from Florida, like western Canada, anywhere in Europe and even Tahiti.”

Growing up in Miami Beach

A native of South Florida, Greene and her sister and brother grew up in Miami Beach with a father who was an entrepreneur with an engineering background and a mother who was an renowned hair stylist. She attended Miami Beach Senior High in the same class as family law attorney Gerald Kornreich. She went off to study at the University of Maryland but hated the winters and transferred back home to the University of Miami. “I was a journalism major who liked to write,” she recalls. “The career aptitude tests I took in college indicated that I would be well suited to a career in law, and they were right. I love being an attorney.”

After earning her juris doctorate at the University of Miami in 1979, Greene took the Bar exam and started looking for work. “They had just posted new job offerings on index cards on the bulletin board,” she says. “I wrote down three names of firms that were looking for law clerks, and went off to work.”

With her interest in litigation and family law, Greene joined Melvyn B. Frumkes, a veteran Miami divorce lawyer, as a law clerk and soon became an associate. “He was the best lawyer I have ever seen,” she says. “He was totally prepared for every case and very thorough with his fact checking. He could read a page of a deposition and ask, ‘Why did she say this and not that?’ His recent death in April was a real loss to our Bar.”

As a new attorney, Greene found that she enjoyed the research aspects of marital cases, as well as applying her trial skills in the courtroom. “I learned about things like handwriting analysis, accounting procedures and psychological tests and how to apply them to a divorce case,” she says. After ten years with Frumkes, she opened her own firm in 1989.

Trial and Appellate Work

Today, Greene handles all aspects of marital law including divorces, modifications, prenuptials and postnuptials. She strives to stay on top of ongoing trends in family law, and religiously reads each week’s new appellate decisions. About a third of Greene’s practice involves appellate work, where she applies her research and writing talents to handling marital law appeals.

Through the years, she has been involved in more than 400 reported appellate decisions. Recently, Greene handled a significant case in the state’s Second District Court of Appeal. Shortly before their wedding, the husband insisted that the wife sign a prenuptial agreement. His attorney prepared the document and the wife met — one time — with an attorney before flying to Las Vegas for the wedding preparations. The husband made some minor changes to the agreement, signed it and then brought the agreement to the wife who signed it at 1 a.m. the morning of the wedding.

After learning about the signing, her attorney sent a letter stating the prenuptial agreement was not in her best interests because it included a waiver of alimony and had other restrictive provisions. The wife put the letter in a drawer and promptly forgot about it. “When the couple divorced eight years later, the trial judge barred the wife from challenging the agreement because she had received a letter from her lawyer, but did nothing about it,” Greene says. “ We argued that she didn’t have to sue her spouse during an intact marriage in order to preserve her rights just in case the marriage eventually ended in divorce, and the appellate court agreed with our argument.”

Prenuptial and postnuptials can be very helpful in protecting a spouse’s rights, particularly in the short term, Greene says. “If you get divorced in a year, they can be very helpful in resolving things, but if the marriage lasts 20 years, things may have changed significantly. For example, how do you sort out assets that have grown significantly through the years. What if one spouse gets sick during the marriage and can’t work? That can affect the alimony situation. As I tell my clients, I can prepare an appropriate agreement for you now, but I don’t know what it will cost you to litigate it in 20 years. No one can predict the future.”

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