The following is a letter that I recently received from a man in California:
Dear Alec Baldwin,
I am a divorced father living in (name of city) in the San Francisco Bay area. My ex-wife has primary custody of our 11 year-old daughter. I read your book (A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey through Fatherhood and Divorce; St. Martin's Press) and I also saw you speak during your book promotion at the Commonwealth Club here. Needless to say, I identified with your story and those of others depicted in your book to a great degree.
I have been the victim of parental alienation for five years now. Like you, I have had multiple judges preside over my case; first in mediation, then in court. Like you, one of those judges seemed to understand the principle that "all behavior is consistent" in marriages and on into divorce litigation. My ex-wife is a complicated and narcissistic woman. Subsequently, she and her lawyers have created every obstacle to my custody of my only child. They have succeeded at both denying my requests for time and blocking me from exercising time that I had been awarded by a judge. Much of this comes about as the result of convincing my daughter to speak against me to her court-appointed therapist. My daughter would attend sessions wherein she would describe her visits with me in ways that blatantly contradicted my sense of our time together (as well as what others plainly witnessed) and in language that I found unfamiliar to my daughter. It had sounded to me like the child had been coached to use hot button words like "unsafe" to describe how she felt if I reprimanded her. She described to the court that I never paid any real attention to her during our visits as I was "always on the phone and doing business." I wondered how I could be doing all of that business when we were on rides all day at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
Things in my case have turned even more unfair, inefficient and downright maddening since the court appointed a minor's counsel to represent my daughter. You briefly touch upon this in your book, but I want to share with you some of what I have encountered. During the period of my custody battle, I have not stood idly by while judges and lawyers suggested or demanded what I should do to better my chances of having a healthy relationship with my daughter. I have been proactive, in the extreme, on my own. I have contacted and had appointments with multiple family law related therapists and learned some interesting things from one or two, particularly those that do not rely on the judicial system for their clients.
Well-regarded therapists I have met with expressed grave reservations about ad litem attorneys in custody cases. Such lawyers too often function as ersatz therapists, probing, speculating about and shaping what their minor clients wish to say or not say to the court. These lawyers are untrained in any field of therapy, let alone the complex issues involving child therapy. And, like the overwhelming number of lawyers in the family law system in California, they cannot resist the opportunity to make hearings, ex partes and any other form of litigation drag on as long as possible in order to pad their fees.
You make certain proposals in your book. That custody evaluators should be selected without the involvement of attorneys. That there be default positions that courts assume for minimal custody for fathers where there are no valid arguments against such orders. That Special Masters serve indefinite terms. (My ex fired ours, too.)
I would add to this list the abolition of minor's counsel provisions in family law. As you said in your book, there are already enough avaricious, ineffectual lawyers in our lives.
Oddly enough, I am a lawyer practicing corporate litigation with a firm that enjoys a sterling reputation for advising our clients as how litigation should be avoided at all costs. We have saved clients untold amounts of money. However, the family law system in California is a disgrace and it is a prime example as to why Americans have little or no faith left in lawyers, judges and justice in our country.
Don (name withheld)
My book, A Promise to Ourselves, is now out in paperback.
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