A few months ago, I published a general announcement on Facebook. I am no longer accepting family law cases. 200 cases in, and a thousand or more I’ve had to turn down, I learned a hard lesson.
You can’t fix the breakdown of the family unit, by playing the breakdown game.
What do I mean by that? The more I participated in divorce and custody battles, the more helpless and powerless I felt. I could change little. Many times my clients actually lost ground in spite of my best efforts and in spite of the fact they often had a better case than the other parent.
Sure, there were victories. And some big ones. But most often, the game of mutually assured destruction determined that, well, both sides suffered more than they gained.
Here are some harsh truths, simple takeaways and reasons I don’t accept divorce, custody and paternity matters any more:
- You’re actually in this alone. TRUE – you are not alone; millions of other people are going through almost exactly what you are at the same time. So then, why does but then again, when you read the pleadings and motions and orders that come from the court, you actually are alone, in your case, as the only parent of your gender. YOU are the one parent with the one set of kids who cares about what happens in YOUR case. I understand the Facebook followers, the likes on your posts, etc. These are worth every dime the person who liked your post paid for it. In real space, real time, real life, you are in this alone. Candidly, the other person who cares the most about your situation, other than you, is your attorney. You’re paying him to care and his livelihood and reputation are based on the work he does for you. Your friends, your family, your new mate, etc. – they are there to pat you on the back, give you a hug when you need it, and share a meal or a beer. But they are not litigants and it is not a battle for their kids. In the end, you don’t have an army, or even a march, because this is your fight and no one else’s.
- There is another side to the story – and it is as compelling as yours. I’ve heard the wrong, the evil, the he-said-she-said, the horrible, the terrible, the awful and the “death is too good for…” of what the other parent did. And yep, you’re right, and it’s true, it’s horrible what they did. There is NO EXCUSE for alienating a child from either parent. I will shout that from the rooftops till the day I die. I believe with everything in my soul. But then…I hear the other side of the story. Blah, blah, blah, here’s what MY client did wrong, and it’s even worse! At least according to the storyteller, who happens to be the attorney for your ex. What I learn for sure from that conversation is that there is at least enough ammunition on the other side of the case to create a long term stalemate that will last until one side or the other runs out of money or ways to fight. Both of you did wrong and that’s why you’re here. Her wrongs might have grown worse than yours, but you are not in a court of compensation and the weight of her wrongs do not mean to the court that she had lose any ground in the struggle. That’s harsh, but it’s very real. Remember, for every guy out there with a story about how his ex kept the kids away from him with no justification, there’s a girl out there with a story about her ex blackened her eye and did it right in front of the kids. That guy is you. Is she lying? Maybe. Are you? How is the judge to know the answer to that? In truth, he can’t. That’s why I say there is NO EXCUSE for alienation. But that isn’t the standard, you, most other alienated parents, judges, lawyers, or society applies. The standard is “unless he abused…”. Do you know how many stories of abuse that standard has generated? True and false? Until the standard changes, alienation will not change.
- Injustice is an inherent part of the system. Get used to it. If you’re taller, play basketball. If you’re female, play the “who’s better for the kids” game. Again, true, there are many, MANY women alienated from their today as well. The majority via CPS, and plenty more by fathers who had more money, more control, etc. than the mother. But there are no juries in the system as of today, and so the only fact finder is a judge. The judge brings his own biases to the case, and he is likely to be in a permanent position of control over your case – what he says, goes. if he says you’re an abuser, as far as your case goes, you are. Ouch!! So unfair, but absolutely real. The vast majority of the time, the judge is on mom’s side in the case. But if he’s not, it’s really up to him – with no checks and no balances. The only way I know to remove a judge’s bias is either to make 50-50 parenting time literally automatic, or to involve juries in decisions about custody. Either of these will require major overhauls in the law.
- Anyone interested in the battle you’re fighting has HIS OWN battle to fight. This is a corollary to number one, but seriously, between working to pay support, their own parenting time, and their own overwhelming custody fight, how much time is left over to come march with you in protest over something they can’t change through a march, and doesn’t do anything to help them in their own case? I mean really, why do we bother to ask? I know your case is a really, REALLY bad one and if only people knew how bad it was…so I’ve been part of cases where my client continually raised the specter and level of terror they’ve experienced, and do you know what I learned? Other people, whether they are friends, family or have gone through something similar, every one of them, would rather be an idle spectator to the drama in your life than they would be a participant. They just aren’t coming – get used to it. I’ve been to marches – plenty of them. They all end the same. Nothing, NOT ONE THING changes. Kash Jackson? He was just the latest in a long line of would be heroes, but their marches will not change a thing.
So if a march is not the answer, then what can I do?
- Stay Involved! If things are going to change in a way that will make a difference for alienated children and parents, it will take time – likely more time than it will take for your kids to grow up. That means that people who drop out of the movement as their kids age out, have to stay involved. Right now, this rarely ever happens. It does – and kudos to those parents who keep the faith when their own kids are grown, but it’s rare.
- Fight for What Matters. 50-50 parenting should be more than a presumption, it should be guaranteed as long as it is even possible – for every parent. If you volunteer to give it up, move away, or are in prison and can’t exercise your time – those things are on you. Otherwise, it should be guaranteed under the law – GUARANTEED. Even for child molestors? Look, I’m so tired of the “child molestor” exception that turns every divorced father into a child molestor the minute Mom doesn’t like the time the kids spend with Dad. If someone has abused a child by molesting that child, is there any sensible person who does not think they should be charged and then convicted of the crime and sent away? If someone is a molestor, they are sent away – problem solved. If they are not charged and convicted, as I, as a lawyer, understand the law, they are not a molestor. What someone does should be addressed by the law in the proper way – not arbitrarily by a family court judge who wants a decision made easy for him or her. Mom accused Dad? Under the current system, my decision just got easy. It should not be. No one should have the stain of such a label on them without receiving due process of law – EVER. If they get that, and lose – the consequences should go far beyond the loss of relationship with their children – they should lose the potential for relationship with any children.
- Fight on Terms That Matter. Lobby the legislature. Elect people who will change the law. Mobilize a class action – not a march. If you want my help – I’m here. But I’m not free. I will fight where it matters. Not a custody case, not a divorce. A class action, a lobbying effort, electing a good candidate. If you’re willing to contribute, let’s talk about how much it will take and where it will come from. Otherwise, it’s your march my friend, and I wish you well.