Attorneys

Sandra Joan Morris
Of Counsel

With a career of 49 years as a family law attorney, Ms. Morris has extensive experience in a broad range of family law issues both as a counselor and litigator, making it her goal to help each client through the process with dignity and ease. With extensive training and experience in mediation, collaborative law, arbitration and settlement negotiation, she serves as an advocate to family law clients who choose alternatives to traditional litigation in resolving their family law matters.

Ms. Morris has long been recognized as one of the preeminent family law attorneys in the United States.

Education

  • University of Arizona, Bachelor of Arts, Philosophy Scholarship Honors (1962-1965)
  • University of Arizona School of Law, Scholarship Honors (1966-1967)
  • California Western School of Law, Juris Doctor (1967-1969)

Employment Background

Ms. Morris founded her own law firm in 1970, which she ran until joining Seltzer Caplan in November 2014.

Representative Matters

Reported Appellate Cases:

Appellate and/or Trial Counsel

  • In re James M. (1976) 65 Cal.App.3d 254 Father’s conviction of murder of the children’s Mother did not necessarily constitute neglect nor deprive the children of a home for an extended period of time. Denial of Petition to free the children from Father’s custody and control, affirmed. Cited in multiple Appellate and Supreme Court decisions.
  • In re Nicole B. (1979) 93 Cal.App.3d 874 Court properly exercised jurisdiction over minor child where Mother’s boyfriend abused the child, even though Mother was not present at the time and boyfriend not permitted in the home. Test is welfare of child, not wrongdoing of parent.
  • In re Robert D. (1984) 151 Cal.App.3d 391 Order of trial court for ongoing grandparent visitation, affirmed.
  • In re Brendan P. (1986) 184 Cal.App.3d 910 Superior Court had exclusive jurisdiction over custody dispute involving abuse allegations because proceedings regarding it were filed there first and orders regarding custody and visitation had been entered in the matter.
  • In re Marriage of Harbach (1987) 195 Cal.App.3d 629 Stipulated modified decree providing support non-modifiable, properly extended when expectations of parties as expressed in the Stipulation were not met.
  • In re Marriage of Feldman (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 1470 Trial Court properly ordered sanctions for husband’s failure to disclose material facts and information about assets and income. Wife was not required to show harm, or to move to compel disclosure or to preclude evidence.

Professional Affiliations & Admissions

Admitted to Practice:

  • Supreme Court of the State of California (January 15, 1970)
  • United States District Court, Southern District of California (January 15, 1970)
  • United States Court of Claims (April 1, 1970)
  • United States Tax Court (April 28, 1970)
  • United States Supreme Court (March 24, 2004)

Legal Experience:

  • Pro Tem Judge of San Diego County Juvenile Court (1975-1980) and Superior Court (1977-1998)
  • Settlement Judge of San Diego Superior Court, Family Law Division (1980-2004)
  • Adjunct professor of Juvenile Law, California Western School of Law (1979)
  • California State Bar, Board Certified Family Law Specialist (1980-present)
  • Fellow, American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (1981-present)
  • Fellow, International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (1989-present)
  • Diplomate, American College of Family Trial Lawyers (1993-present)
  • Mediation Training, USD Law School and American Arbitration Association (1984); 40 hour Intensive Mediation Training, Center for Understanding in Conflict (2011)
  • Certified Arbitrator by American Arbitration Association and American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (1989-present); AAML Arbitration Training Faculty (1989-1993)
  • Negotiation Training, Harvard Negotiation Training Project and American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (2008)
  • Collaborative Law Training, American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (2010); Certified Collaborative Law Attorney (2010) 

San Diego County Bar Association Activities:

Certified Family Law Specialists’ Committee

  • Member (1981, year of formation -present)
  • Executive Committee (1993-1998)
  • Chair-Elect (1995)
  • Chair (1996)
  • Counsel (1998)
  • Chaired various committees, including: Summer Seminar, Annual Retreat, Family Court Services; Settlement Judges Seminar; Local Rules (1981-present)
  • Frequent lecturer/demonstrator for over thirty years on variety of Family Law topics, most recently cross-examination, direct-examination, post nuptial agreements, Elkins rules, child custody under Elkins, presenting yourself in court, and litigation skills (1981-present)
  • Lecturer and demonstrator of cross examination of a forensic expert, family law, College of Trial Advocacy (2012)

Inns of Court Domestic Clinical Program

  • Faculty (1979)

Legislation Committee

  • Chaired Juvenile Legislation Subcommittee (1977-1978)
  • Co-Chaired Family Legislation Committee (1979-1980)

Delegate, State Bar Convention

  • 1977-1978, 1980-1981, 1984-1985

Youth & Law Committee

  • Chaired film production re: Juvenile Court process; Technical advisor to production company (1973‑1975)
  • Chaired Committee when merged with Juvenile Law and Education Committee (1975)

Juvenile Law & Education Committee

  • Chaired various subcommittees (1970-1973)
  • Chaired Committee (1974-1976)

California State Bar Association Activities:

Family Law Section

  • Member (1987 -present)
  • Executive Committee (1987-1988)
  • Moderator, Hot Tips from the Experts Annual State Bar Conference (1992)
  • Lecturer, State Bar Conference (1993)

Convention Calendar Coordinating Committee

  • Member (1980-1981)

California Continuing Education of the Bar

  • Panel member, Juvenile Justice Program (1977)
  • Panel member, Child Custody Program (1978)
  • Moderator, Child Custody Program (1981)
  • Panel member, Child Custody Program (1984)
  • Panel member, Fundamentals of Family Law Practice (1985)
  • Panel member, Child Custody Program (1986)
  • Panel member, Advanced Family Law Institute (1987)
  • Panel Member, Drafting Marital Settlement Agreements (1989)
  • Moderator, Ethics and Avoiding Malpractice (1990)
  • Moderator, Family Law Litigation (1991)
  • Moderator, Ethics and Avoiding Malpractice (1992)
  • Panel Member, Recent Developments in Family Law (1992)
  • Panel Member, Representing Clients in Spousal and Child Support Matters (1993)
  • Panel Member, Recent Developments in Family Law (1994)
  • Panel Member, Recent Developments in Family Law (1995)

Juvenile Justice Committee

  • Member (1976-1979)

Other Law-Related Activities:

Alternatives to Litigation

  • Family Law Arbitration/Mediation Panel Member (1973-1996)

American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

  • Fellow (1981-present)

Offices Held:

  • Vice-President, Southern California Chapter (1986, first year of Chapter’s existence to 1987)
  • President, Southern California Chapter (1987-1988)
  • National Board of Governors (1987-1989)
  • Co-Chair, Arbitration Committee, which conducted first arbitration training program with American Arbitration Association at Stanford Law Center (1988-1989); faculty member (November 1989-1993); Certificated Arbitrator (1989-present)
  • Parliamentarian (1989-1991)
  • Chair, Recertification Committee (1989-1991)
  • Chair, Long Range Planning Committee (1991-1992)
  • National Board of Governors (1993-1994)
  • Treasurer (1994-1997)
  • Vice President (1997-2000)
  • Chair, Focus on Forever Committee (1998-2006)
  • Representative, National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Family Law Joint Editorial Board (1998-2000)
  • First Vice President (2000-2001)
  • President-Elect (2001-2002)
  • President (2002-2003)
  • Family Law Person of the Year Award, Southern California Chapter (“Normy” Award) (2004)
  • Immediate Past President (2004-2005)
  • Parliamentarian (2007-2008)

Lectures Presented:

  • Panel member, “Transmutation of Property,” National Conference, Tucson, Arizona (1987)
  • Lecturer, “Sexual Abuse, The New Weapon,” National Conference, Maui, Hawaii (1988)
  • Lecturer, “The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act,” National Conference, Chicago, Illinois (1991-1992)
  • Lecturer, “Direct Testimony,” Regional Trial Institute, La Costa, California (1994)
  • Demonstrator, “Cross-Examination of a Psychological Expert,” National Conference, Chicago, Illinois (1994)
  • Demonstrator, “Direct and Cross-Examination of Witnesses,” Regional Trial Institute, Newport Beach, California (1995)
  • Moderator, “Advanced Application of Theories of Communication and More Effective Cross-Examination,” National Conference, Key West, Florida
  • Panel Member, “Strategies for Obtaining High Maintenance Awards,” National Conference, Chicago, Illinois (1996)
  • Panel Member, “Litigating Complex Tax Issues in the Family Law Arena,” Regional Trial Institute, La Costa, California (1997)
  • Panel Member, “Trial Preparation: Expert Witness Preparation, Lay Witness Preparation, Trial Aids and Practical Tips,” National Conference, Cancun, Mexico (1997)
  • Panel Member, “Advanced Motion Practice - Hot Tips and Practical Approaches to Difficult Problems,” Regional Trial Institute, Coronado, California (2000)
  • Panel Member, “Advanced Motion Practice - Hot Tips and Practical Approaches to Difficult Problems,” Regional Trial Institute, Santa Monica, California (2002)
  • Panel member “Direct and Cross-Examination of the Expert Business Valuator,” Regional Trial Institute, La Costa, California (2003)
  • Lecturer, “Ethics and the Bounds of Advocacy,” Kentucky Chapter Annual Conference, Louisville, Kentucky (2003)
  • Lecturer, “Spousal Support and Maintenance,” Mountain States Chapter Annual Seminar, La Jolla, California (2003)
  • Panel member, “Advanced Motion Practice - Hot Tips and Practical Approaches to Difficult Problems,” Regional Trial Institute, Costa Mesa, California (2004)
  • Panel Member “Direct and Cross-Examination of Forensics in Financial and Custody Issues,” Regional Trial Institute, Santa Monica, California; and Annual National Conference, Chicago, Illinois (2008)
  • Panel Member, “Initial Client Interview and Case Assessment,” Regional Trial Institute, San Diego, California (2012)
  • Lecturer, “You’ve come a Long Way Baby—Or Have Your? A 40 year Retrospective of Gender Bias in the Family Law Courts,” Southern California Chapter Annual Retreat, Santa Barbara, California (2014)
  • Lecturer, “Trial Preparation,” Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California (2015)
  • Lecturer, “Use of Proof Charts in Trial,” Regional Trial Institute, Los Angeles, California (2016)
  • Panel Leader and Lecturer, “Behind the Curtain of Jurisdictional Issues (Conflicts of Law, Same Sex Relationships, and Assisted Reproductive Technology),” Regional Trial Institute, Los Angeles, California (2017)

American Bar Association

  • Member (1973-present)
  • Vice-Chair, Juvenile Law Committee of Juvenile Law Committee of Family Law Section (1977-1982)
  • Executive Member, Juvenile Law Committee of Family Law Section (1982-1983)
  • Executive Member, Marital Property Committee of Family Law Section (1987-1993)
  • Lecturer, “Hot Tips from the Experts,” numerous National Conferences (1989-1996)
  • Lecturer, “Transmutation of Property,” National Conference, Chicago, Illinois (1990)
  • Lecturer, “The Ultimate Trial Notebook,” National Conference, Vail, Colorado (1991)
  • Lecturer, “Dissipation of Marital Property,” National Conference, San Francisco, California (1992)
  • Lecturer, “The Ultimate Trial Notebook,” National Conference, Palm Beach, Florida (1992)
  • Lecturer, “Preparation of Demonstrative Exhibits,” National Conference, San Diego, California (1993)
  • Demonstrator, “Comparative Cross-Examination,” National Conference, New Orleans, Louisiana (1994)
  • Permanent Faculty Member, Annual Family Law Trial Advocacy Institute, Houston Law Center, Houston, Texas (2001-2007)

American College of Family Trial Lawyers

  • Diplomate (1993-present)
  • Panel Member, Mock Supreme Court Argument re Same-Sex Marriages, Annual Retreat, Laguna Nigel, California (1997)
  • Panel Member, Ethics Problems (2001)

American Psychology-Law Society

  • Member, San Diego Chapter (1973, one of the founding members -1992)
  • Advisory Board (1979-1980)

Association of Certified Family Law Specialists

  • Member (1983-present)
  • Panel Member, “Here, There, But Not Everywhere: Unique Problems Involving Fiduciary Duties,” Annual Spring Seminar, Palm Springs, California (2014)

Attorney General’s Task Force on Juvenile Justice

  • Representative of the San Diego County Bar Association (1974-1975)

California State Senate Subcommittee on the Administration of Justice

  • Member, Advisory Commission on Family Law which drafted duly-enacted Domestic Violence Prevention Act, Conciliation Court Mediation laws, and joint custody legislation. Project completed and recommendations signed into law 1980 (1978-1979)

California Western School of Law

  • Adjunct Professor, Juvenile Law (1970’s)
  • Lecturer, “Ethical Issues in Family Law” (2006)

California Women Lawyers

  • Member (1974, inception -present)

Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego

  • Member (2012-present)
  • Member of By-Laws, Standard Forms and Retreat Committees (2013-present)

International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

  • Fellow (1989-present)
  • Board of Governors, U.S. Chapter (1997)
  • Panel Member, International Ethics Issues, U.S. (2002)

Judicial Council of California Administrative Office of the Courts’ Elkins Family Law Task Force

  • Member, Project completed and recommendations signed into law 2010 (2008-2010)

Lawyers’ Club of San Diego

  • Member (One of the “Founding Mothers”) (1972-present)
  • Chaired various committees (1972)
  • Member, Board of Directors (1973)
  • Panel Member, Work/Life Balance in the Practice of Law (2013)
  • Member, Bradley Bunch (2008-present)

San Diego Family Law Bar Association (Formerly Certified Family Law Specialists Committee of the San Diego County Bar Association)

  • Member (2013, year of formation -present)
  • Member, Alternative Dispute Resolution Panel (2013)

Community Affiliations

San Diego Regional Criminal Justice Planning Board

  • Member, Committee on Rape, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse (1979)

Children’s Hospital & Health Center Human Research Committee/Institutional Review Board

  • Attorney member; patient/child advocate (1977-1992)

Rape Crisis Center of San Diego

  • Original consulting attorney (1973)

San Diego Community Child Abuse Coordinating Council

  • Representative of the San Diego County Bar Association; chaired various task forces (1972‑1985; one of the original members)
  • President of Council (1977)
  • Member, Board of Directors (1978)
  • Representative to California Consortium of Child Abuse Councils (1978)

Townhouse Foundation, Inc.

  • Member, Board of Directors of adolescent residential treatment center (1973-1974)

Publications & Speaking Engagements

  • “New Developments in Juvenile Law, “Dicta, San Diego County Bar, September, 1976
  • Book review, Criminal Justice Journal, Western State University Law Review, Spring 1978
  • “Rights of Putative and Natural Fathers,” Trial Bar News, San Diego Trial Lawyers Association, May 1984
  • “Sexual Molest - Which Court’s on First?” Trial Bar News, San Diego Trial Lawyers Association, August/September 1985
  • “Abuse Allegations - A Child’s Story, A Lawyer’s Nightmare,” The Complete Lawyer, American Bar Association Section of General Practice, Summer 1986
  • “Overview of Pension Law,” Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Volume 3, 1987
  • “Sexual Abuse Allegations in Divorce/Custody Cases,” Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Volume 5, 1989
  • “Grandparents, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Friends: How is the Court to Decide Which Relationships Will Continue?” Family Advocate, American Bar Association Family Law Section, Volume 12 No. 2, Fall 1989

Ms. Morris has lectured extensively, provided demonstrations of methods and techniques, and conducted workshops on subjects including family law, fiduciary duty, ethics, litigation, negotiation, valuation, asset division, support, gender bias, and child abuse at the local, state, national and international levels; and served as consulting legal expert to Urban and Rural Systems Associates, which was funded by HEW to provide training materials for medical and mental health experts in the field of child abuse.

Professional Awards & Honors

  • Best Lawyers in America, 1995 through current Edition
  • Who’s Who Among San Diego Women: The Power Source
  • Who’s Who in America, 50th Edition through current Edition
  • Who’s Who in American Law, 2nd through current Edition
  • Who’s Who of American Women
  • Who’s Who in California
  • Who’s Who in the West, 33rd Edition through current Edition
  • Who’s Who in the World, 23rd Edition through current Edition
  • “San Diego’s Sharpest Divorce Lawyers,” San Diego Magazine, April, 1983
  • “The Top Lawyers in San Diego,” San Diego Magazine, November 1996
  • “The Best Lawyers in San Diego,” San Diego Magazine, September 2001; April 2005 and each year to present
  • “Top 50 Lawyers” “Top 25 Women Lawyers” - May 2007; “Super Lawyers - Family Law” - each year 2007 to present; “Super Lawyers - Alternative Dispute Resolution” - 2014 (only San Diego family law attorney in this category), Super Lawyers - Southern California
  • “San Diego Family Law Attorney of the Year,” Best Lawyers, 2010
  • “Top Lawyers in San Diego,” Metropolitan Magazine 2010
  • “Best Lawyers - First Tier Law Firms,” US News & World Report, 2010 to present
  • “Best Matrimonial Firm of the Year, USA,” Finance Monthly, 2011
  • “Leading Family Law Lawyer of the Year,” Lawyer Monthly, Women in the Law, 2016
  • “Lawyer of the Year - Matrimonial Law-USA” Lawyer Monthly Legal Awards, 2016
  • “Top Lawyers in California,” The Legal Network, 2016
  • “The Most Influential Women in Business in San Diego,” San Diego Daily Transcript, February 2017

Ms. Morris has been AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell since 1984 and continues to be Preeminent Judicial/Attorney Peer Review rated. Recipient of 2016 and 2017 Judicial Award.

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