Attorney Jennifer “Jenny” Mihalovich fled the brutal winters of Chicago and Wisconsin, and headed straight for Arizona armed with her Juris Doctor and a thirst to represent families facing legal issues.
“I’ve lived in almost every Midwest state except North Dakota and Indiana,” she says. “I was done with snow!”
‘It Was Spring When I Fell for Arizona’
Like a few other Midwest transplants who now call Arizona home, Mihalovich followed family to the desert southwest and never looked back. Her grandparents broke the ice, becoming the family’s first official snowbirds. Right out of law school, Mihalovich began interviewing for clerkships in her top three warmer-weather jurisdictions, including Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Spring in Arizona won her over. She moved to Phoenix permanently in 2000.
Nine months later, her younger sister joined ASU’s graduate school and also stayed. When Mihalovich’s father retired, her parents relocated here from Illinois, too. Today, three generations are living an active Arizona lifestyle.
“My sister lives a few blocks from me. We both got married after school. We both have a boy and girl,” Mihalovich laughs. “The boys are two years apart and are as thick as thieves.”
Family matters more than anything to Mihalovich. When clients need legal representation for divorce or child custody, she truly empathizes with their personal struggles. She understands the emotional challenges as much as the legal ones clients face as they try to move forward with their lives.
Assistant Attorney General and Loving It
Mihalovich joined the State Bar of Arizona in 2000. In 2011, she took the oath and joined the U.S. Supreme Court bar. Justices Alito, Ginsburg and Kagan presided over the swearing-in ceremony.
“It was very exciting stuff for a young lawyer,” she says.
Mihalovich first dipped her toe in government waters by accepting a position as contract attorney in the adult probation department of the Arizona Supreme Court. At her second job, she jumped in with both feet as assistant attorney general, child support services section, Arizona Attorney General’s Office (AGO). Attorneys in the child support section stay because they love their work, as did Mihalovich. She embraced every opportunity to make a difference in peoples’ lives, spending 16 years with the AGO.
AGO Trained in Child Support Modifications
Mihalovich obtained expertise in child support modifications of existing orders and interstate cases. She could write a primer on best practices when registering and modifying child support orders, foreign and domestic. And she just may.
At the AGO, Mihalovich was a trainer who also balanced a caseload between 350 and 550 active cases. She attended an average of 23 hearings a week and was on hand to train new attorneys on paternity, modification and high-income earner calculations.
She created and implemented the AGO’s post-hearing processing form, training on that topic, too. In 2008, recognized for her outstanding contribution to the legal community, Mihalovich received the Arizona Family Support Council’s award for Attorney of the Year.
According to Mihalovich, the transient nature of people who cross state lines and travel to other countries, has markedly increased the government’s, as well as the court’s, interstate caseload.
A decade ago, interstate child support cases were still somewhat rare at the AGO. Many a parent incorrectly believed it impossible to enforce an order after an obligor had left the state of its issue. Parents would give up before they tried to enforce an order once the obligor had left the jurisdiction for another state. Today, according to Mihalovich, attorneys have electronic tracing, the Internet and other means of tracking people down and holding them to their obligations.
The military presence in Arizona has also increase the number of cases involving parties overseas. “You have custodial parents and children living in other countries,” says Mihalovich. Parents often apply for services from the AGO to have an order established or enforced here in the United States and there’s no residency requirement.”
“Registration of foreign orders is another area that I believe causes confusion,” warns Mihalovich. “Foreign orders must be properly registered before they can be modified. When registering foreign orders, a skipped step, getting it almost right, that’s not good enough. An order that didn’t precisely follow every step required for proper registration is void.”
Educating Inmates on Finances and Child Support
As an AGO community outreach effort, Mihalovich developed, implemented, and ran a program at the Maricopa County Jail for the Veterans Unity and the Alpha Group. Inmates comprise an identifiable population within AGO child support cases.
“I worked with two specific, finite groups at the jail who were under child support orders,” she explains. “Only military veterans and higher level inmates sentenced to more than six months in jail, but less than a year, could apply for the program. Most participants were convicted of drug and alcohol related, or fueled, crimes. These were people who, if given the right tools in the right circumstances, probably wouldn’t have been criminals.”
Alpha Group inmates received intensive schooling and practical life-skills training. A representative from the bank showed them how to balance a checkbook and decipher a credit report, for instance. “I would go to the jail once or twice a month and do a two-hour child support workshop for them,” she explains. “This jail program was my baby. I knew I’d really miss it when I left the AGO for private practice.”
From Government to Private Family Law Practice
After an amazing career in government with more trial experience than many attorneys see in their lifetimes, Mihalovich was ready for private family law practice. She joined the Stewart Law Group in 2016 as an associate attorney. She is located at the Chandler office. Co-workers know her to be outgoing, a perfectionist and a chatterbox.
“I’m reliable as the sunrise, always ready when needed,” she adds with a laugh.
All Around Arizonan
As a volunteer for Neighbors Who Care, Mihalovich has been delivering meals to home-bound elderly people in the community for years. Now that she has left government for private practice, restrictions on her volunteer activities have lifted. She is excited about taking on new challenges. Always enthusiastic, she’s ready to start doing important work for families desperately needing legal assistance right here in her home town.
After a decade on the job, while raising two great kids, Mihalovich started taking time to stop and smell the roses. She began exploring Arizona, hiking and trail running in the mountains, and traveling to any place where there are hidden beaches.
On one such hiking vacation to Portland, Oregon, she purchased a cuff bracelet inscribed with a quote that would become her mantra. From J.R.R. Tolkien, “Not all who wander are lost.”
“Far from it,” she says. “You don’t always have to know where you’re going. You can let things happen without necessarily having a plan.”
On any given day, though, Mihalovich is busy shuttling her kids to school, to softball and baseball practice, and to visit their grandparents in the family car she calls her “home on wheels.”