Associate attorney Fred Ruotolo is a Certified Family Law Specialist who has been practicing law in Arizona for decades. He joined our legal team in 2017 and works from the firm’s Phoenix office location.
Having moved to Arizona as a teenager with his family from Long Island, New York, he’s been living and working in the Valley ever since.
Fred earned his bachelor’s degree from ASU in general business administration (1988). He started as an accounting major, but was so fascinated with his first business law class that he decided to become a lawyer and dedicate himself to guiding people through challenging situations. He obtained his juris doctorate from the University of Tulsa College of Law (1992) and, shortly thereafter, joined the State Bar of Arizona and Maricopa Bar Association.
Fred teaches and shares his knowledge and experience of family law as a mentor with the Arizona bar association and other mentor programs. He presents legal education seminars to other lawyers and is an attorney volunteer for Community Legal Services, Fresh Start, Paiute Neighborhood Center, and others.
As a former member of the Arizona Army National Guard, Fred is also grounded in military service. Of his proudest accomplishments, he earned his Parachutist Badge (Airborne Wings) at Fort Benning, Georgia. Many of Fred’s family law cases involve spouses who are service members or retired military.
Asked what direction his career path might have taken but for law practice, Fred enthusiastically answered, “History professor!” Fascination for history consumes much of his free time. As a member of the Civil War Round Table, Scottsdale Chapter, Fred has written many articles published in the Round Table’s monthly newsletter. Over the years, he has been a member of the Company of Military Historians, Council on America’s Military Past, and Arizona Historical Society.
Following his passion, Fred spends many hours touring battlefields and other military historic sites here in Arizona and throughout the United States. One check off his bucket list, he took a three day, personal one-on-one guided tour around the Monte Cassino, Italy, WWII battles. What next? A northern Italy cemetery where to pay respects to the great-great uncle who served in WWI. Learning the history of how so many sacrificed so much helps Fred guide his family law clients through what is often the greatest challenges of their lives.
An avid hiker and backpacker, he enjoys experiencing Arizona’s natural beauty and would like to get out more often. For Fred, a “weekend spent on concrete is a weekend wasted.”
Helping others overcome obstacles for a better, healthier, happier life gives Fred the greatest satisfaction.
Hi, this is Erica Merrell, and I’m the founder of Perfect Legal Video. I am very excited to have you with us today Fred Rotolo. He works for the Stewart Law Group. They are a family law firm out of Phoenix, Arizona, and they are actually all over Arizona. So you are coming to us today, I believe, from the Scottsdale office. I want to welcome you to the show today, Fred.
You are welcome. So today we’re going to talk just a little bit about you and a lot of interesting things to talk about. I was looking over the notes and well, let’s let’s get right down to it. Let’s talk about, you know, where you grew up. We’ll start simple.
OK, that’s easy enough. Well, I was born in New York, and apparently people out here could spot that because apparently I still have an accent. But I was born in the Bronx, actually, which I’m rather proud of. But I was only from the Bronx for six months. That’s because after that, my parents moved out to Long Island. So I grew up out on Long Island when I was 14 years old. My father got an offer from Motorola, and we all moved out here back then. And this would’ve been 1979. Back then, Motorola was the biggest employer. Pretty much for the Phoenix area, not for the whole state. So I’ve been here since 1979, and the only state I’d want to live in that is pretty impressive.
And actually it explains a lot, because you do seem a little more like a New Yorker than someone from Arizona. Just you think fast, you talk fast. And I could absolutely see you in that fast paced city. But I’m so happy that you are happy where you are, because it certainly gets some better weather.
That is for sure better. Better weather, but not as good as the food back east. It’s every year, every New York transplant out here gets asked where’s the food? You don’t have to go back to New York for that.
Well, you’ve got a few good places out there. I know that for sure.
Now. Now we do. Back in the 70s. Yes, 79, early 80s, there was a smaller population.
Oh, yeah. You know what? I didn’t think of that. I, I could absolutely imagine it. Nowadays, everything gets built up. And you’ve got the chain, some pretty good chains out there. And I’m sure you’ve got some nice independent restaurants as well.
So now you are in you do a lot of divorces. And I just wondered, do you have any personal experience with divorce, anyone in your family or you yourself?
You know, my parents been married till this day. Thank God both my parents are alive. Thank God. And they are still happily married. The first divorce in our family, our immediate family, like my brother, did get divorced. In fact, I did. They’re divorced and it was very friendly in twenty seventeen. My wife and I decided to divorce. So I’ve even done my own divorce. And that, too, is very friendly. That was finalized in twenty eighteen. And I like to say, we talk every day, pretty much every day. We still stay in touch. And so we still stayed best friends.
Wow. I mean, you should write a book on that and then you can give it to your clients how to how to still be best friends after divorce. I like that idea. And that’s inspirational, too, because I know a lot of people wish that they could have what you’re talking about right now. So that’s that’s fantastic. Tell me how it is you got involved in family law, because, you know, family law is a very interesting type of law.
I like to say you’re kind of a referee and you you really get people that is different than like a business lawyer. They come in and they you know, sometimes it can be emotional, but a lot of times it’s a business transaction. You know, in this case, you know, it’s not usually the friendliest and sometimes people are sad. So, I mean, you’re really dealing with a couple of different types of situations when you handle family law cases. So why don’t you tell me, why would you decide to do this?
And that’s a very funny question, because when I went into law school, I actually remember saying to myself, I’ll do pretty much anything but family law. And as it would be, I wound up doing only family law because I thought I was going to get into business law, commercial law, virtual law, you know, business representations and maybe do some criminal law. I was interested in personal injury law as well. And I did take a family law class in law school and that I started changing my mind because prior to that, I really didn’t have any experience with divorce because no one in my family was divorced at that time. I didn’t have friends who were divorced that I thought was basically an unknown to me at that time when I got into law school. I worked for a small general practice firm in Scottsdale, and they did a little bit of everything.
And this would have been in the early 90s and. I started doing a couple of divorce cases there, I was like, wow, this is interesting. This is different than what I thought it would be. And I just started feeling very uncomfortable, and that was a good experience because, like I said, they did general areas of law, so they also did business law and personal injury. So I noticed I didn’t enjoy those areas as much, and I was gravitating more and more to the family law. Then when I went out on my own, bankruptcy made up a huge part of my practice, sadly the economy was hurting in the early 90s. And so my phone rang for bankruptcy. I would say bankruptcy made up about 70 to 80 percent of my practice.
As the economy picked up less bankruptcy, those more calls for family law. I it’s finally doing more and more family. Just loved, still comfortable doing it. And then probably by the late 90s, I did nothing but limited my practice, the only family law. I’ve been doing only farmwork since since the late 90s. And I became a family law specialist as well six years ago. I know why I do it. I just enjoy and feel comfortable doing it. I like doing it.
Well, I mean, it’s going to be a little more interesting and you meet a lot of interesting people and it’s certainly not boring.
Now, can you tell us, I mean, people come in to see you all the time. What are a couple of the most frequently asked questions that people have?
You know, to some extent, that’s a tough question. I mean, right out of the gate, the obvious question is how much it was going to cost and how long will it take. But but other than that, the questions don’t see very many people’s questions very common. And the obvious, how are we going to divide the house, how we’re going to allocate time for the children?
And it’s rare to see something so, so specific on. The questions tend to be very general at first unless they have a specific issue, like if they own their own business or if these health issues or if there’s a large inheritance that’s happened or that’s come in.
You might get those specific questions. But as far as what’s the most common question?
Probably pretty much how are the assets going to be divided and children I, how are we going to divide our time with the children?
That makes a lot of sense. I you know, where am I going to live? Where are my kids going to live? And when I mean, those are some of the really big questions for sure.
I guess an even better question for me to ask, and I’m sure there’s a lot of these is what are some of the mistakes that people make?
So that’s a very good question. I think there are two types in the states. One specific with assets are children. But I’d like to take a bigger picture on that if I can. And the bigger picture is, is there their attitude on their approach to the case?
I think that’s the biggest mistake. You know, some people are just very angry. Maybe there was infidelity, maybe there was hyping of assets. So they have every right to be angry. But if they if they let that anger cloud their judgment, it’s going to greatly hurt them more in the long run.
And I think that’s the biggest mistake people would make is just going about this in the wrong way. Going about this for I hate to use the word revenge, but you’re going about this for revenge purposes or they want their pound of flesh, and rightly so.
That’s understandable. But that is really going to hurt how they strategize and think about this case, because I’m going going to this pound of flesh or is just, you know, revenge, I guess. Oh, it’s the Arizona family court is not like we all see on TV with the criminal courts, the criminal courts.
You have, you know, someone that the state trying to prove is guilty. And if they’re found guilty, the state punishes them. And I think a lot of people might step into their divorce thinking that same mentality works and order waxen case.
That person rear-ended my car and needs to pay the Arizona family what court is not like that. It’s not a court to punish. And of course, there are situations that of assets, of course. But generally speaking, the Arizona federal court is not going to punish one spouse for whatever they did in the marriage. So I think if people come in to see a client, they’re really banging on the table, I want you. I want my pound of flesh. They’re going to be disappointed because no matter how hard that lawyer fights the judge and the law isn’t set up to give that to assets and debts, divides 50/50 or equitably, I should say. Which turns out usually to be and children as well.
The court’s goal with children is to give both parents as equal time as possible. Of course, there’s always exceptions. If a parent has substance abuse issues or so on. So when people come in and they want vengeance. The system isn’t designed for that, so so that I would say I’ve been doing this since the early 90s, I’ve seen a lot. I have to say that is the biggest era is they’re coming into this angry and they come in angry. It’s going to cloud the way they think and it’s going to hurt them in the long run.
And I know that might sound Kumbaya, touchy-feely but, I understand that, but and I’m telling people at some points every day I’ve been doing this long enough and the angry client become the bulk. So you were once the victim, but now you have become the bully in this litigation. And the judge is more angry at you than the parent who did something wrong or the party did something wrong in the first place. And I’ve seen that time and time again. And I’m talking on and on about this because it’s a big soapbox issue with me.
So I guess in summary on that, the biggest mistake is just going about this wrong. And by that, I mean just too angry. Oh, and that’s easy for me to say, because I know I’m not that spouse who lived in that substance abuse environment or, God forbid, lived in that domestic violence environment or infidelity.
So I understand. But. They need to understand that going about this in a take the higher road approach is going to get them a better result. I mean, I think that’s very relevant advice.
And, you know, what I would say about that is that honestly, having an attorney be your voice of reason and listening to them when they say, hey, you know what, I understand you really wanted this particular thing to go this way. Can you live with it going the other way? Because it’s going to cost you a hundred thousand dollars in legal fees to fight over one extra day with your child a week or, you know, whatever the case is, everything in a divorce case has a price tag.
And sometimes it’s just really not worth fighting over unless they want to get vengeance, like you said. And then it’s like, well, is vengeance worth your child’s college fund? You got to be reasonable. And that’s why they have you right.
You hit the nail on the head. And, you know, the Maricopa County practice in Maricopa County in Arizona. And the lawyers and Maricopa County were pretty much all very friendly. And, you know, we talk to each other about our good cases and bad cases.
And I hear a lot of what you just said. Where were the attorneys say, oh, you know, I had this former client or the opposing party. They just fought it and fought and fought it and spent their children’s college fund fighting over something that in the end, the judge wasn’t even too interested in listening to, or the judge listened to and did what the lawyer had predicted the judge would do in the first place. So, yes, it’s sad to see people fight over issues that shouldn’t be fought over. You got to pick your battles wisely.
The term I heard a long time ago, I love that a lawyer said, I love what he said. He goes, this is not the hill to die on. And I said that is a great saying. And you’re trying to tell that to clients.
This is not where we should invest our energy and money and time. This is not the hill to die. I mean, that is so true, and I’m glad that you said that, because, I mean, in the end, you just want to be able to move on and for everything to be fair and unfortunately or fortunately, they the courts don’t care about if you were cheated on or, you know, they care about to a certain degree if they spent all the federal funding on cheating. But I mean, besides that, I mean, there’s there’s other issues people get really angry about.
But I’d say probably money and extramarital affairs and maybe gambling some sorts of addictions and abuse. Those can really topped the charts. And if children are involved, it’s very hard for people not to get super emotional.
So do you have any stories that you’d like to share with us or any special messages that we should know before we let you go today?
As far as stories, you would think I’d have a lot of juicy stories after doing this so long, but it’s all pretty, pretty boring stuff in the end.
What one positive story go. It goes to the aspect of what do you fight over?
What should you fight over? What should you invest your energy on in? I had a client and I didn’t do their original divorce. He came to me to address post-divorce issues. So after the decree was entered, they were divorced for many years. And he was very well-to-do. He had a lot of assets, complex assets, and the decree had a loose end that the wife was entitled to some equity assets of stock. Um, later, you know, several years after the divorce and she contacted the husband, said, I think I’m entitled to this money now.
And he said, we’ve already paid you out. And so there was a dispute. So I got involved and we went back and forth, back and forth. We spent hours looking over records, account statements, everything. And this is the good part. He then came to me and said, you know what, Fred? I had dinner with her the other night. We talked about it and we said, if I keep the money when I pass away, it just goes to our son.
If I give you the money when you pass away, it’s going to go to our son. So basically, they felt they were just custodians of the money until they passed away for the benefit of their son. So he said just pay her just call her lawyer, tell her I’ll pay her and we’ll end this. That was that that was a beautiful story. And I said, you know what? That is a brilliant approach. It was you know, it wasn’t worth it to to fight it. And in the end, he realized, wait a minute, what am I fighting over?
You know, we’re just holding this money. So at the end now, granted, he had substantial wealth. So it was easy for him to make that. And I and I understand people who didn’t who don’t have that wealth, hey, that that sum of money, I need that to pay my mortgage.
I need that to live on. So I understand. But that’s the point. This was not the hill for him to die on. For other people, it might be the hill to die on, but it wasn’t for him. And he made a very smart decision. He saved tens of thousands, tens and thousands of dollars of attorney’s fees and aggravation and time. And they and they lived peacefully after that. So that’s prob again, maybe that’s another Kumbaya story, but that’s probably one of the happier stories I have.
Well, I mean, hey, you know, this is an inspiration and it’s good to hear stories where things are going right, because certainly everyone’s heard the bad stories and those are the ones that make the movies about.
Right. And so I think that this is is really good.
And I think it’s something for people to work toward. I mean, I know it’s not always possible, but I think one of the most important things, too, is that they do have an attorney that is going to really show people what the options are.
And, you know, tell them, like you said, which things are worth fighting over and which aren’t. I mean, I even saw I saw some of these divorce decree ones. I won’t say whose, but it was a family members. They were fighting over the lawnmower. I was like, what? They’d probably spend enough money to buy five lawn mowers. But they’re you know, it’s crazy in law. And again, going back to what I said earlier, how about you?
The attorneys in Maricopa County pretty much friendly with each other. And though those are the the talks we have in the hallway, you know, out in the ears earshot of the client is we scratch your head and say, why? Why are they fighting over the water? Why, why are they doing that? And it’s a shame and it’s not, you know, and the lawyers get the bad rap in society of of of making cases expensive is litigious.
But if the public really knew that there’s a lot of ethical lawyers out there and they are telling their clients, you know, should you be fighting over this? You know, of. So and again, some sometimes yes. Sometimes we need to go to war.
Yes, we are lawyers. We know that. But also there’s times that the best legal advice is let us reach out and try to settle this.
I mean, I think that’s great. And that’s what the judges want to see anyway, right?
I mean, they don’t really want to see you fighting over things. They want to see it throw you back out in the hallway.
Right. And they make you try to come up with a settlement or get as close as possible because they don’t want to make these decisions.
Correct. And in most judges will say that at the, you know, usually a divorce case, there’ll be a conference with the judge before it goes to trial for the judge to get a lay of the land on the case. And many judges give that speech. They say, you do not want me deciding how your assets are divided. You do not want me, the judge deciding how to raise your kids. That’s something you guys should be doing on your own. They encourage settlement in Arizona. There’s many platforms to do settlement conferences, mediations, and most divorces are settled. It’s a minority of divorces that actually go to litigation. And as you said, the judges don’t want to see parties fighting it.
Oh, you guys, about stories. If we have time on this, this is a great story. And this didn’t happen too long ago. And it goes to what you’re saying about about the judges don’t want to fight.
I had a case it wasn’t too long ago, and it was going on and on forever and on a day of trial. So we were playing I had a husband, we were playing we’re going first. I asked my plaintiff husband client the required foundational questions of establishing jurisdiction. How long have you lived here when you married so-and-so? In the middle of that, he started crying. And I said maybe, maybe he’s just kind of getting out a little, but he wouldn’t stop crying. And then I said to the judge, can we have five, five minutes. And she said, yes. So we come back in five minutes and the judge said, you know what, I’ve read all the paperwork in this file, I’m familiar with your case. I don’t want to do the trial. She says this is not healthy for this family to do the trial because what was going to happen, we were going to put my guy on to bad mouth mom and mom was going to go on the stand and bad mouth dad. And the judge knew that from the documents we’d file. And she said, I’m not going to do this. We were all stunned. And I guess you could be cynical and said had the judge had a golf game to go to instead. No, but no, absolutely not. She was very sincere about this and very serious about it.
And she said, I want you to try to settle this case. And we did. She vacated the trial. She sent us to a settlement conference and we settled. And it was so much more emotionally and mentally healthy for the parents to settle and have it have part of making their own final orders without screaming and yelling and bad-mouthing each other in the courtroom and then leaving it to the stranger, the judge making it. So, you know, kudos to that judge who saw that this was better for the family not to litigate. And again, maybe that’s a touchy-feely story.
That’s not what people expect. But that goes back to what I said earlier about how they enter into this with the wrong frame of mind. But when when you have a judge saying she is not going to do the trial because she doesn’t think it’s healthy for the family and she wants them to go and settle. You could see why I advise clients it go, you’re not going to get your day in court if you think you think bad mouthing the other parent is going to work. That’s not what the judges want to hear.
And there’s a classic example, although, again, there’s exceptions. Yes. You have a parent whose substance abuse or God forbid, domestic violence. Yes, those are serious issues, but. Generally, the settlement approach is a better approach. I mean, it sounds like it, and then that is absolutely true.
The sooner you can get through the divorce, as long as it’s fair, the better it is emotionally for everyone, because that’s something people don’t talk about is. Yeah, they know it’s emotional, but it takes the emotional part of it. And the stress of it really does affect your body. And you do if you talk to people, you hear about people getting sick and go to the hospital and having all these issues that they never had before. And it’s because they’re under a lot of stress, even if they don’t outwardly show it all the time.
So, I mean, it’s definitely better for everyone involved, I would think, if you can take the stress off the table as soon as possible and start the process of healing. You’re so, so correct. Yes. And even with my divorce, which we were friendly and I’ve been doing this for 30 years, so so I knew what to expect. But even with my divorce, it did affect me. It just threw me off a little. I was just, you know, irritable, for lack of better words. It does. It affects you emotionally even. You might not know it, but it is you just literally become a different person.
It’s very sad. And going through the process is very sad, even when it’s even when the parties are friendly. It’s so true. And, you know, and sometimes things change, too. You think it’s going well and then all of a sudden somebody gets engaged or you’re dating someone else and then you didn’t you thought you were over it and all of a sudden you go crazy again. But and so it’s good that you understand all of it. You’ve seen it all. And that is why it’s important to use an attorney like yourself if you have, you know, any issues that need to go through family court because you want the experience, you want people that are going to lawyers that are going to keep up on what’s going on today with the law, because, you know, there are changes. And even if there aren’t changes in the law, sometimes there’s just changes in what’s going on in the economy.
And you really have to have a handle on the lay of the land. And, you know, really what are some of the strategies you can use it if something’s not working, let’s go with the next best thing. And, you know, that’s really where you come into play and really appreciate the work that you do.
I would absolutely encourage anyone to call the steward law group if they have any questions. And I think that it’s amazing what you guys are able to accomplish.
Thank you. You’re welcome, and I want to thank you again for coming on here, I so enjoy our talks and I hope that you’ll come back again soon because, you know, I find everything that you talk about interesting. I didn’t know about the dogs. That’s fantastic. I have a big love of animals as well, so I can absolutely relate to all the excitement. And those were a stretch?
Yes. That was the stressor in the marriage. Yes. Having all those dogs. Yeah. What was like children, aren’t they? I mean, it’s not exactly the same. Of course we can leave them alone a lot longer, but they’re children.
Well, thank you so much again for coming on. And thanks everybody out there for listening. We really appreciate any comments you have to make on this video or podcast. Just let it know. Let us know. And also, you know, share this.
If you get a chance to if you think that this will help anyone that you know. So thanks again, everyone. And thank you so much for coming on, Fred. I look forward to talking to you again soon.
Thank you, Erica.