01. Background & Biography
Michele has almost 40 years of experience as an attorney in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. She works very closely with her clients and is known for her creativity and passion when helping her clients solve problems. Clients have said she treats their cases as if they were her own, and many clients return to work with her over the entire course of their lives. She educates clients throughout her representation, teaching them how to address their legal issues in the way that works best for them. She does not offer cookie-cutter solutions to client problems; instead, she listens carefully to a client’s situation and works with the client to create a solution for that particular client.
Michele works primarily in the areas of adoption, parenting, assisted reproductive technology, estate planning, family formation, mediation, and probate matters. Her practice is particularly focused on developing legal protections for families, including families headed by same-sex couples. She has gone through many of the same family law issues that her clients face and relates to her clients on a personal level as well as a professional level.
Michele was counsel to Jessica Port in the landmark case, Port v. Cowan, which established that Maryland must recognize marriages between same-sex couples that were validly entered into in another jurisdiction. Clients have said that if Michele can’t find a way to help a client within the current legal system, she will create it! And she has done that by helping change laws in the District of Columbia to better protect LGBT families.
Michele was instrumental in changing the law in the District of Columbia so that adoptions can be granted solely based on the birth of a child in the District. She also helped amend the D.C. divorce law so that couples married in D.C. who are later unable to divorce in their home jurisdictions may return to D.C. to divorce. She suggested these changes to D.C. law for her clients who were unable to do second-parent adoptions in Virginia or to divorce in Virginia after marrying elsewhere.
She has successfully represented clients in close to 1,000 adoptions in Maryland and the District of Columbia and has worked with thousands of clients in her career. Michele was elected to the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys in the spring of 2005 and to the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys in 2010. She was named an “Angel in Adoption” by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton in 2009.
Michele is an active member of the Bars of the District of Columbia and Maryland. She received her J.D. from the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. in 1979 and her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1974, where she majored in history, minored in journalism, and wrote for the Daily Cardinal.
Michele served on the first Board of Directors for the Mautner Project, The National Lesbian Health Organization, and the Board of Directors for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force for three years. In 1982, she was one of the founders of the first “Maybe Baby” group for lesbians in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. She was appointed to the D.C. Taxicab Commission by Mayor Marion Barry in 1985 and the D.C. Commission on Child Support Guidelines by the D.C. City Council in the spring of 2010.
Michele was one of the first co-chairs of the Gay and Lesbian Subcommittee of the D.C. Bar, the precursor to GAYLAW, and is a founder of the National LGBT Bar Association. She served on the District of Columbia Federal Judicial Nominating Commission for more than eight years by appointment of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Michele served on the Adoption Rules Committee for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and supervised and edited the work on “Marriage Inequality in Maryland” for Equality Maryland, which was on a review of the Maryland Constitution and Code for discrimination against same-sex couples.
Michele volunteered regularly with the Lesbian Services Program at the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Michele’s work on behalf of LGBT families in the Washington metropolitan area was recognized in 2005 when she received the District of Columbia Capitol Pride Director’s Award for Family. She was recently named a Community Pioneer by the Rainbow History Project and voted the Best Lawyer in the Washington Blade’s Best of Gay DC contest.
For many years, Michele taught as an adjunct professor for the Women’s Studies Program at the George Washington University and the Washington College of Law at American University. The American University named her Outstanding Adjunct Professor in 1999. She is the author of many articles on AIDS and HIV and sexual orientation and the law. She has won numerous awards for community service from LGBT organizations in the Washington area, including the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club Jerome Heilman Award, the Community Service Award from the Whitman-Walker Lesbian Services Program, the Woman’s Monthly Community Service Award, the Wanda’s Warriors Award, and the D.C. Center’s Award for Outstanding Service to the LGBT Community of Washington, D.C.
In 2013, Michele was named Family Lawyer of the Year by the Family Law Section of the Bar Association of Montgomery County, Maryland. She and Eva N. Juncker were named two of the best 25 divorce lawyers in Maryland by Bethesda Magazine in 2014. Michele has been named a Best Lawyer by U.S. News and World Report every year since 2012.
Michele lives in Washington, D.C. with her partner of many years and her sixth collie, Charlie. Michele’s father was in the Air Force, so she grew up all over the world, living in Germany, Japan, and Switzerland before she was 18. Michele spends as much time as she can in Montmartre, Paris, where her heart is. She reads extensively about the Holocaust and the Second World War in Europe and its aftermath. She is trying to improve her French. Her daughter is 33 and a professional cook who specializes in sweet and savory baked goods and caramels.
AREAS OF PRACTICE
- Family Law
- Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)
- Child Custody & Visitation
- Child Support
- Collaborative Law & Mediation
- Divorce & Dissolution
- Egg/Sperm/Parentage Agreements
- Estate Planning
- LGBT Family Law
- Prenuptial & Postnuptial Agreements
- Wills & Powers of Attorney
- District of Columbia
- Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, Washington, D.C.
- J.D. – 1979
- University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin
- B.A. – 1974
- Major: History and Journalism
PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS AND MEMBERSHIPS
- American Fertility Association
- Bar Association of Montgomery County, Maryland
- Gay and Lesbian Attorneys of Washington (GAYLAW)
- Maryland Association for Justice
- National LGBT Bar Association
- RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association
- Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia
- National Family Law Advisory Council, National Center for Lesbian Rights
02. Why Law
I went to law school because I wanted to work for social justice. Eventually, that desire turned into helping individual clients solve their family law problems. I began my legal career with Georgia Legal Services in Statesboro, Georgia, working in the Georgia countryside to assist poor clients. I loved hearing what my clients were going through and trying to figure out how I could help them address those issues. I take great satisfaction when my work results in a better life for my clients.
From Georgia, I went to Baltimore and worked for Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, Inc., representing clients in state prisons throughout Maryland. Then I clerked for Judge Gladys Kessler when she was a judge on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. While working for Judge Kessler, I learned how a court really works. After that clerkship, I became an Associate for a small firm, Garfinkle & Dranitzke, where I represented clients in divorce, estate, real estate, and LGBT matters. I also became a pro bono attorney for the Whitman-Walker Clinic in 1983, working with men with HIV and AIDS. By 1985, I decided I wanted to have my own law firm and I opened Dolkart & Zavos with my law partner, Jane Dolkart, who was my professor in law school.
I also gave birth to my daughter while we opened the practice. I worked with clients in their estate planning, divorce, real estate, and other matters affecting individuals, particularly those in the LGBT community. At that firm, I realized how much I enjoyed working with clients to solve the legal problems that arise in their everyday lives. I left the firm to care for my daughter when she was young and worked as a consultant with the American Bar Association on AIDS-related legal issues for six years, but I missed the interaction with clients. I went back into private practice over time and worked from my home so I could be with my daughter after school. I concentrated on estate planning and adoption work. When she went off to college, my practice seemed to double overnight.
I moved my practice into our office in Silver Spring in 2007. Eva N. Juncker and I became law partners in 2011. Now, the Zavos Juncker Law Group, PLLC has 10 full-time people on our team, serving clients in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Northern Virginia. I cannot imagine better work than helping clients figure out how to address their family law issues and go forward with their lives.
03. Speaking Engagements
- Adoptions Together, Inc.
- All Souls Church
- Anne Arundel County Bar Association
- Baltimore County Bar Association
- Bet Mishpachah
- Bingham McCutcheon
- Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church
- Columbia Fertility Associates, Inc.
- D.C. ACP Program
- D.C. Bar D.C. Affairs Section
- D.C. Bar Estate Section
- D.C. Bar LGBT CLB Seminar
- D.C. Capital Pride
- D.C. Center for the LGBT Community
- D.C. Superior Court Judges Training
- Equality Virginia
- Fairfax Bar Association
- Family Forward Surrogacy
- Federal Trade Commission
- Freddie Mac
- George Washington University Law School
- GLOBE – Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Employee Association (US Government)
- Hartford County Bar Association
- Howard County Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
- Howard University School of Law
- Human Rights Campaign
- LGBT Wedding Expo
- Marry Me in D.C.
- Maryland Fifth Judicial Circuit Training
- Maryland State Bar Association
- Mautner Project, The National Lesbian Health Organization
- Methodist Home
- Metropolitan Community Church – Boyds
- Montgomery County Cable Show – “Making it Last”
- Montgomery County Law Day
- National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
- National LGBT Law Association
- O’Melveny & Myers
- Rainbow Families D.C. Annual Conference
- Rainbow Families D.C. Maybe Baby Groups
- Say I Do
- School Equality Alliance and American Constitution Society Conference
- Sidwell Friends School
- Strafford Publications National Webinars
- State Farm Insurance
- SunTrust Bank Estate Planning Seminars
- Temple Shalom
- U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs
- Wanda’s Wills Project
- Washington College of Law, American University
- Whitman-Walker Clinic
- William & Mary Law School
- WPFW Inside Out Program
- Yours Truly
04. Appointments & Honors
- Member, Board of Rainbow Families D.C., 2010 to 2013
- Co-Chair, Gala, Mautner Project, The National Lesbian Health Organization, 2011
- Elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys, 2010
- Member, D.C. Commission on Child Support Guidelines, appointed by the D.C. City Council, 2010 to 2012
- Elected as a Member, Fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, 2005
- Selected as Member, National Family Law Advisory Council of the National Center of Lesbian Rights, 2004
- Member, Board of Advisors, Georgetown University Law Center Journal of Gender and the Law, November, 2005
- Member, District of Columbia Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, by appointment of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, served from 1993 to 2001
- Member, Board of Directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, January 1997 to September 2000
- Member, Adoption Rules Committee for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, 1995
- Faculty, Workshop for Judges on AIDS and Tuberculosis, sponsored by User Liaison Program, U.S. Public Health Service, April 15-17, 1993
- Member, Board of Directors for the Mautner Project, The National Lesbian Health Organization, 1990 to 1993
- Vice-Chair, D.C. Taxicab Commission, appointed by Mayor Marion Barry, 1985 to 1990
- Co-Chair, Gay and Lesbian Subcommittee of the D.C. Bar, precursor to GAYLAW, 1982
- Founder, First “Maybe Baby” group for lesbians in the Washington metropolitan area, 1982
- Named Community Pioneer by the Rainbow History Project
- Voted Best Lawyer by Gay D.C. XIV, through the Washington Blade
- Named one of the 25 Best Divorce Lawyers in Montgomery County, Bethesda Magazine, 2013
- Bar Association of Montgomery County Family Law Practitioner of the Year, 2013
- Named Best Lawyer, 2012 – 2018
- Honoree, D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, 2012
- Recipient, Wanda’s Warrior Award, Wanda’s Will Project, 2009
- Recipient, District of Columbia Capitol Pride Director’s Award for Family, 2005
- Recipient, Incredible Parent Award, And Baby Magazine, July/August 2003
- Recipient, Woman’s Monthly Community Service Award, 2000
- Recipient, American University Outstanding Adjunct Professor Award, 1999
- Recipient, Community Service Award, Whitman-Walker Lesbian Services Program, 1998
- Recipient, Jerome Heilman Award, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, 1987
05. Client Testimonials
“Michele Zavos is not only my attorney, but a guide who helped me navigate the most difficult time of my life. She has a way of making even the most complex legal situation seem manageable, even through the midst of a crisis when emotions are at their peak and it’s impossible to think clearly. For several years, I have entrusted many of my therapy clients into her care, knowing that she will provide them the most professional and compassionate assistance that she has given to me and my wife. In my opinion, there is absolutely no other attorney or legal group that any LGBT community member should see.” – Dr. Robyn Zeiger, LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in MD and D.C.)
“Thank you so much. As always, you are very helpful and professional.” – A
“I can’t thank you enough for all you have done. I also truly appreciate you working with me. I know you could have withheld services from me a long time ago. Thank you for your leniency. I want nothing more than to pay off what I owe, because you and your firm have been AMAZING.”
“My advice, if you have a legal issue that needs resolving: See Michele. You won’t regret it.” – J.
“We were very impressed by Michele’s accessibility. She offered to meet with us on a Saturday, which fit well with our work schedules, and she always returned calls and emails promptly. While we never felt rushed while we were there, her staff’s strong organizational skills meant that all visits were efficient and enabled us to complete the paperwork in a timely manner. When we hired Michele, we really felt like we had hired her whole team.”
“Michele is an attorney’s attorney. Her work is respected by judges, other attorneys and, of course, her clients. But more than being a good lawyer, she embodies the spirit of “counselor at law.” Her approach is holistic and she helps her clients with their legal needs in the context of the reality of their lives rather than simply addressing the legal issue in a vacuum. And, she gets the job done.” – Paula Rubin
“Michele Zavos – awesomely dynamic, informative speaker!” (Review of lecture “How Real Estate Law and Estate Planning Intersect with Family Law”, May 2014)
- Parentage, Parental Rights, and the LGBT Community, Maryland Bar Journal, September 2013. Read the article>>
- What the Court Didn’t Do in DOMA Case, Washington Blade, July 2013. Read the article >>
- New D.C. Divorce Statute Aids Gay Couples, Washington Blade, May 2012. Read the article >>
- MD Divorce Case Holds Broad Implications, Washington Blade, May 2012. Read the article >>
- Update of LGBT Family Law, Washington Blade, March 2013. Read the article >>
- Starting D.C.’s First ‘Maybe Baby’ Group, Washington Blade, March 2013. Read the article >>
- 13 Incredible Parents, And Baby, July 2003.
- Sexual Orientation Law in the 1990s, Trial, ATLA, Washington, D.C., August 1995.
- AIDS Benchbook Supplement, National Judicial College, Reno, Nevada, February 1995.
- Federal ADA Protections for People with HIV, Trial, ATLA, Washington, D.C., December 1994.
- AIDS and Health Care Reform, 27 J. Marshall L. Rev. 279, Winter 1994.
- AIDS and Insurance: No Guarantees, Human Rights, ABA, Chicago, Winter 1993.
- Legal Considerations, Until the Cure: Caring for Women with HIV, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, October 1993.
- Creating a Pro Bono Program for People with AIDS & HIV (training manual), ABA, Washington, D.C., September 1993.
- Right to Work: Job Protections for People with HIV, Trial, ATLA, Washington, D.C., July 1993.
- “Pro Bono in the AIDS Epidemic” (30 minute videotape), ABA, Washington, D.C., December 1992.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (brochure), Centers for Disease Control “Business Responds to AIDS” Program, Atlanta, Fall 1992.
- Women in the Shadow of AIDS, Human Rights, ABA, Chicago, Spring 1992.
- Directory of Legal Resources for People with AIDS & HIV (first edition), ABA, Washington, D.C., July 1991.
- AIDS Benchbook, National Judicial College, Reno, Nevada 1991.
- “United States v. Windsor and Its Aftermath: Same-Sex Marriage in Transition,” Trial Reporter: Journal of the Maryland Association for Justice, 2014