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Beware of Adversarial Divorce Lawyers: One Woman's Story

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I don't' remember when or how I found The Bunny Cage blog, but upon seeing the provocative photography of this self-styled Cindy Sherman of Wyoming, I started following Sara LeeAnn Banevedes. It was hard to believe someone so hip was living in a small town writing such interesting stories and taking such revealing photos of herself. She was a sexy and obviously talented mom with a young daughter who lived with a cowboy husband who seemed to be ignoring her. I made "friends" with her on Facebook so I could follow her more closely.

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This displaced Californian was a cancer survivor who, in her own words, "moved to Wyoming (with my now ex-husband) in order that my daughter might have a slower-paced life in the wide open spaces, near her paternal grandparents, where her daddy could prosper in business so her mommy could afford to stay home and care for every day."

From reading her blog, seeing her Facebook posts and looking at her photos it became obvious that something was wrong in her world. Never having talked to her, all I had to go on was the internet evidence but was not surprised when she revealed she was getting a divorce.

Today she dropped a cyber bomb that surprised all her friends. She confessed a secret that as a divorce attorney I am all too familiar with: She admitted that almost a year ago she foolishly signed papers given to her by her husband's divorce attorney, giving her husband sole custody of her daughter. She admitted, "I only see her four days a month. I see her every other weekend, and that's all."

When I read those words my heart dropped to my stomach. This child is the light of her mother's life. All the stories, photos and Facebook posts about this miraculous child and the obvious bond between mother and child had come to this. Some hired gun had helped the client trick the mother into signing over custody so that it would be very difficult for the mother to come back to court later to ask for custody.

This is the danger of our adversarial system. When one side has money to hire the biggest shark in town and the other side doesn't, the poor parent is going to get screwed.

I kept reading the story and sure enough, it was exactly what I had thought. Her own words tell the tale:

I've been living in a state of surrealist shock -- like an acid trip, minus the euphoria, all dancing clowns and skeletons in the closet -- since the day my ex-husband told me he 'changed his mind' and we won't be sharing custody of our only child after all.

Months before John and I sat down with a bottle of wine and agreed divorce was the best option. We weren't in love. In fact, he pretty much hated my free spirited, liberal attitude, my wanderlust, my tastes in music and art, the way I laugh with my head thrown back and cry when I watch the news. And I pretty much hated his conservatism, the way his cowboy boots sounded on my hardwood floor, his obsession with his pick-up truck, the way he wanted a bacon sandwich more than sex, and how he watched CNN from the breakfast table. We had become ill-suited for each other, had accepted it, and were ready to move on.

But, I'd been a cancer-survivor, stay-at-home mom on hiatus from any educational pursuits or work for 5 years, completely isolated out here in the middle nowhere with no family support and one friend. All the sudden I had to get myself a job, a place to live and an identity outside of him.

And I did. FAST. It took me six months to get myself together. He promised as soon as I secured a living environment that was comparable to his -- in a safe neighborhood where Beau had her own space -- that we would share custody of her week-to-week. He told me to sign the custody agreement his lawyer drew up (because it was just for financial purposes that he was named the sole custodian -- that way he would be responsible for the legal fees of the divorce and have to carry health insurance for Beau, etc.)

I did everything he asked. Then, I waited. And waited. And waited. And essentially, he told me, "Fake, just kidding. We're going to go ahead and follow that bogus legal agreement you signed, sucker. You get every other weekend and alternating holidays until she's 18."

Let's be real. I think he and his family were hoping I would pack my shit and go back home to California, or slit my wrists. Which, with no familial support, one friend, no money, lovely genetic makeup, gypsy spirit and history for dramatic exists weren't all that far fetched. N'cest pas?"

This is just another travesty of justice perpetrated by a shark divorce lawyer who saw the opportunity to get an advantage over the "adversary" instead of trying to help a young couple set up a fair parenting plan that took the child's best interest into consideration. This little girl has been taken care of by her mom for her entire life. To disrupt a child's sense of security by severely limiting contact with her primary physical custodian is monstrous. It is despicable that one parent would induce a parent to sign away custody with the promise that they would get 50/50 custody later and then snake out of the deal because their lawyer had conveniently omitted that part of the agreement in the court order. And this is a common situation.

Until couples protect their co-parenting relationship by avoiding these kinds of adversarial divorce attorneys, more children's lives will be ruined, more couples will end up broke and angry. It is time everyone got on the Peaceful Divorce bandwagon. By working together and keeping the focus on the child's best interest, couples can spend their money on their child and not their divorce attorney's child. It is high time we put these kinds of legal dinosaurs out to pasture and embraced a more humane attitude and procedures for divorcing couples.

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