Megan Murray was a child of divorce.
Her parents split when she was just a teenager, and it was devastating. It could have made her more than a little leery of building a career around dissolving marriages.
But she did, largely because one of the most positive memories of that time in her life was her mother's divorce attorney, a woman named Phyllis Bossin.
"I just remember her being such a strong woman and a kind woman," Murray said. "Phyllis was always the voice of reassurance for my mother."
So from a young age, Murray set her sights on matrimonial law, a field that has brought her a great deal of success. This month, she made partner in a Woodbridge and Red Bank divorce and family law firm that now bears her name, too: the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski, Brown & Murray.
"I wanted to practice family law. That was it," she said. "I wanted to pay it forward, I guess."
Originally from Cincinnati, Murray moved to New Jersey after getting her law degree from Wake Forest University in North Carolina. She got a job clerking for the presiding judge for the family law part of Monmouth County Superior Court and then parlayed the contacts she built there into an interview with John Paone Jr., one of the founding partners of her firm.
"It was one of the most fortuitous moments of my life," Murray said.
"We're sort of like an old married couple," she added. "We just work very well together."
Since joining the firm in 2006, Murray has been involved in a number of cases. But the one that stands out above the rest is a case involving a woman in her early 70s named Barbara Botis.
Botis had been involved with a man for more than 30 years, but they never married. He had promised she would always be taken care of, but when he died, he left her nothing.
When Murray took on her case, the law in New Jersey said their longtime courtship, and the unwritten promise of financial support, constituted a contractual relationship, even though there was never any paperwork to back it up. But while the case was pending, the state passed a new statute that said, unless you have an actual piece of writing binding someone to an agreement, you can't collect.
Before she took on this case, Murray would have sided easily with the new legislation. After all, why wouldn't a longtime couple just bite the bullet and get married?
But Botis' case made her think differently — that it comes down to a matter of trust.
"You're going about as a married couple," Murray said. "You're believing this person is going to take care of you."
When the statute passed, Murray's case was the first to go up against it on appeal, and she won. The case ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount.
"When I have clients who are depending on me, I very much feel like it's my responsibility to make sure I'm doing the very best I can for everybody," Murray said.
"Everything is completely emotional. I try to tell my clients to take the emotion out of it, but it's very hard," she added. "It is a job that follows you all the time."
E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @mjohns422