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Family Law Litigation: The Gift That Keeps On Giving!

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On November 8, 2013, I read an article by Julia Marsh and Reuven Fenton titled "Dad 'unfit parent for refusing son McDonald's'" that was published in the New York Post on November 7, 2013. After reading the article, I shared it online with the following comment: "Isn't it nice to know that in divorce and post-divorce situations, if a child doesn't get what they want, the parent can be found to be unfit? Litigated divorce - the gift that keeps on giving!"

Before discussing my thoughts on this situation, I must disclose that I only know what the media has reported about this case. It is a mistake to take things out of context. Things are not always as they appear, especially if important facts are missing from the news reports.

Nevertheless, as Robert A. Simon, Ph.D. so aptly pointed out, "The issue here is not that the father refused to give the child McDonald's as the headline trumpets. The issue here is that the father refused to give the child dinner. That may or may not be an issue, depending on context. However, as Joan T. Daniels, Esq. commented, would the denial of dinner for the child be seen as problematic if there were not a contested custody battle?"

Ms. Daniels' actual comment was as follows: "Sometime ago, a male client flicked a towel at his sons who were horsing around in the shower during dad's custodial time. Mom was looking for an excuse for a moveaway to New York. The brats ratted out dad and it ended up being WWIII. The wise judge (sarcastically) said: 'You can get away with hitting your kids as long as you are not going through a custody battle.' That is apparently what happened here."

Since we don't know all of the facts, I think it is a serious mistake to agree or disagree with the ultimate decision in this case. However, it is very appropriate to discuss how litigation is a "game changer" with regard to parenting children from that point forward.

Jill Rhodes-Harvey commented as follows: "Unbelievable, but demonstrates how guilt about getting divorced, emphasizes how parents OVER compensate by giving in to children to make up for not being together. No wonder we have a society of 'spoilt' children who learn very quickly to work the situation to their own advantage. It is not their fault, but that of the parents." Jill went on to describe how divorce can change the co-parenting dynamics from supporting each others' decisions to defiance and revenge.

Rick Carter commented as follows: "As a divorce litigator, I must admit that the litigation system is fundamentally unsuited for divorce/family disputes! Litigation contemplates a final decision between 2 (sometimes more) litigants. Divorce (and paternity) cases involve parties - 2 parents & children - with competing interests who a) are antagonistic to one another and b) MUST stay in relationships with each other. The litigation model is destructive, not constructive, regardless of how many 'experts' they throw in the pot. I 100% endorse exploring new methods of addressing families that are breaking up or have broken up. This McDonald's thing just highlights all the problems: expert making snap judgment; mother using this to interfere with relationship to gain a litigation advantage; father suing expert instead of focusing on kid!"

As Terry Gaspard noted, "Sadly many children are indulged and used as pawns in a bad divorce. The tragic aspect of this case to me is the child could be getting the message that he can have whatever he wants - regardless of how unhealthy it is."

Everyone in the family law trenches knows that such overreactions are far from uncommon as a result of the exacerbation of conflict and increased distrust resulting from a litigated divorce. Does anyone know of a situation in which opposing parties in a lawsuit got along better once the action ended than they did before it began? It's not possible! Had these parents resolved their divorce issues by working with a professional to decrease their level of conflict and rebuild trust, the mother would most certainly not have acted in this manner. As I keep saying, outcomes are determined by the way in which the "game" is designed. According to Albert Einstein, "insanity" is defined as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Therefore, if you want a different outcome, I strongly advise that you consider taking a different approach to divorce and other family law matters, such as mediation or collaborative divorce.