Legal News Reporter
Published: November 15, 2016
Divorce and dignity—two words that are seldom used together. But Austintown attorney Melissa Rocci believes that with the right tools, it’s definitely possible to “divorce with dignity.”
It’s an idea she began embracing after going through her own divorce about 14 years ago. In 2002, Rocci split from her husband Amar Dasari, the father of her two daughters, Selena, 22 and Ava, 17.
“I know firsthand both the freedom and the struggles of raising children as a single parent,” she said.
“I now use the simple methods that I have learned to help my clients through the process,” said Rocci, who primarily handles divorce and custody matters. “Helping them to diffuse emotions and focus on the positive parts of their life while envisioning a peaceful happy future, they can settle their cases faster and preserve family relationships. A client with a positive attitude not only helps their case, but their children and their future.”
In 2014 Rocci published the book, “Courageous Wings Within: Growing Through Divorce to Live an Extraordinary Life,” in which she discusses overcoming some of her own challenges.
“In the book I talk about my personal journey through divorce and how I positively transformed my life,” said Rocci. “I want people to know that you are not alone and you are not a failure. Rather you are on a journey of self-discovery and happiness.”
Born and raised in Austintown, Rocci received her bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from Youngstown State University and her juris doctor from California Western School of Law in San Diego.
Rocci, who is licensed in California and Ohio, spent a year at a law firm in San Diego.
She moved back to Ohio when her oldest daughter was born, taking a job at Rural Legal Aid in Troy.
Prior to starting her own law practice in February 2005, she served as an assistant law director for the city of Newark and worked as an associate at the Engler-Vivo law firm.
A certified family law mediator, Rocci encourages all her clients to use mediation and negotiation to work out their divorce settlements, which she said reduces the stress and expense of a court battle. She is a court-appointed mediator for both the domestic relations courts in both Mahoning and Columbiana counties.
“I believe my clients want more than just legal help,” she said. “One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is helping a client who walks in the door scared and anxious to come out of this process uplifted and ready to begin the next chapter of his or her life.
“No one gets married to get divorced,” said Rocci. “And we can’t control what happens to us. But I believe very strongly that we can choose how we respond to what happens to us. There are simple tools that we can use to change our lives.”
Her legal assistant, Terrie Crogan, described Rocci as a “huge blessing in my life as well as in her clients’ lives. She puts her clients at ease because she has gone through the process herself and she fully understands their fears and emotions,” said Crogan.
Outside of her law practice, Rocci often speaks about divorce and other topics. Most recently she did so at an event for Empowering Women in the Mahoning Valley. She also posts inspirational messages on her Facebook page “Attorney Melissa Rocci.”
In addition, she volunteers at Community Legal Aid Services Inc.’s pro se divorce clinic on a regular basis. The clinic is located at Community Legal Aid’s offices in downtown Youngstown.
“My job at Rural Legal Aid shaped my philosophy about giving back,” said Rocci. “Pro bono work is really important. A lot of people can’t afford a lawyer, but they need access to the court justice system.”
Her efforts in the pro se clinic earned her Community Legal Aid’s Mahoning County Volunteer of the Year Award. The award was presented on Sept. 12 at The Mahoning County Bar Association Opening of Courts luncheon at Mount Carmel Hall in Youngstown.
“Melissa has been one of our volunteers since 2008,” said Steven McGarrity, associate director of Community Legal Aid. “She volunteers at our pro se divorce clinic once a month.
“She assists our clients at the clinic with simple divorces who need assistance filing,” said McGarrity. “We do not have the staff to do it. She walks them through the process of filling out the paperwork and explains how to represent themselves at court. I think her work in her private practice to help people ‘divorce with dignity’ really makes a difference in the lives of her clients who are going through some challenging times.”
In 2013, Rocci joined forces with Crogan and Robyn Podboy to found the Happiness Coalition. The organization features a variety of programs like women’s empowerment gatherings, tropical retreats/conferences, Infinite Possibilities workshops and divorce support groups, aimed at helping participants to lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
“We inspire people to change their perception, thoughts and practices and to tap into the magic of life and amp up their happiness,” said Podboy, a life coach and of owner of RP Life Consulting. “Everyone has the power to create the life they truly desire. Inspiring others to lead happier, more fulfilling lives is our true passion. It is very rewarding to see others rediscover themselves as they take this journey toward personal growth.
“Melissa is very passionate about the work that she does to help others become empowered,” said Podboy. “She believes and practices what she teaches in her own life. Melissa is always inspiring others to live an extraordinary life with more love, peace and joy.”
“We explain to our clients that happiness is a choice,” said Crogan. “Whatever type of energy a person puts out in the universe is what they get back.
“I’ve watched people walk through our doors for the very first time with their chins on the ground and ultimately leave completely turned around.”
Rocci is a member of The Mahoning County Bar Association, where she serves on the continuing legal education committee. She is also a member of the Austintown Rotary and the Mahoning Valley chapter of Polka Dot Powerhouse, which seeks to create “genuine connections of positive, drama-free, action-forward women.”
In the future Rocci said she would like to develop an online program or app so more people going through divorce could benefit from her legal experience and life tools. She would also like to create a continuing legal education course for divorce and custody attorneys that addresses how to meet the unique needs of their clients.
“I will continue to make the most of each one of my days and encourage all who come across my path to do the same,” said Rocci.
Rocci’s book can be purchased on Amazon.com. For more information on the Happiness Coalition go to (http://happinesscoalition.com/).