A divorce case doesn't get much worse than this. When a judge revokes a mother's custody rights, suspends visitation, and completely denies her access to her children, as is now the case for poor pop wreck Britney Spears, the message is severe: Britney, in the eyes of the law, you are an unfit mother.
As an attorney and a mother, that label breaks my heart. And as a divorce coach and the author of a book which shows women how to take control of their divorce issues, He Had It Coming: How to Outsmart Your Husband and Win Your Divorce (Simon Spotlight), that label tells me that in Britney's case, despite all her money and high powered legal teams, there is an enormous amount of work to be done to reverse this devastating ruling and no one seems prepared to do it.
This kind of extreme judicial measure rarely happens. The legal system's number one concern has always been to consider the best interests of the children. And those interests are to receive the love and affection of both parents. The court commissioner who ordered a termination of maternal contact for Britney's kids confirmed what the rest of us surmised already: Britney's life has really hit rock bottom. So now the question remains: Where does she go from here?
At this time in her life, a young mother should be attending Mommy and Me sessions and pre-school interviews. Instead, Britney has been ordered to attend rehab, parenting classes, and drug testing. Sadly, the pop princess's life recently un-spiraled too far for any of these "remedies" to be effective. The closest to "rehab" she would get was an almost 72 hour stay in the psychiatric ward of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. How did Britney's life go so wrong? And who is to blame?
My hunch is Britney went into a meltdown with the disintegration of her marriage that she wasn't equipped to handle and which her family didn't recognize as being significant, but in addition to that factor, there was probably a much more devastating situation lurking beneath the surface. I am surprised that the media pundits, TV psychologists and celebrity journalists didn't focus on or recognize from the beginning what I believe is the obvious culprit of Britney's crackup: Post-Partum Depression. It is quite likely that Britney suffered from post-partum depression that remained undiagnosed and therefore, untreated, and had been the initial catalyst for her unraveling. Not enough has been made over this possible explanation for the starlet's increasingly irrational behavior. Where was Brooke Shields when we needed her? Another celebrity to mentor, empathize with and guide this lost former Mouseketeer may have made all the difference.
And then there's Britney's inner circle of advisors, agents, attorneys and professional 'what-evers'. Even if they couldn't lure Britney to a doctor for an official diagnosis, if just one person had come forward from her camp and spun her P.R.. to explain away her scary behavior as symptoms of post- partum depression--the head-shaving, the crotch flashing, the excessive drinking and passing out in nightclubs--the media, and subsequently the public, might have been a bit more sympathetic and lightened up on her.
Who else is partly responsible for the Britney saga? I put much of the responsibility for her misfortunes on the behavior of the paparazzi and the media. Shame on those of us who blame her for courting the media or thinking that she loves the attention and fosters it. This girl is just doing the best she can to cope with an unbearable situation. She is like a monkey in the zoo, living behind a glass wall with people staring at her private parts all day. She can't even enjoy a simple pleasure like a cup of Starbucks without being pushed and prodded and followed
No matter how serious or respectable the news outlet, it's all Britney, all day. Even Anderson Cooper, after apologizing that his show usually doesn't cover the pop tart in its line-up, talked about Britney's troubles. And just the other evening on the new Fox Business Network, (note "Business" in it's middle name), where I appeared to talk about the expense of celebrity divorces, the anchor introduced the breaking news of Britney's loss of custody during the broadcast. And we are taking about a business network that supposedly covers business news.
And so, I have to say that we, the public, are also to blame. Here's why I feel bold enough to level this accusation. There appears to be an unfortunate unwritten principle in our society: People who the media label "White Trash" shouldn't be allowed to become rich, famous and successful. There's a mean-spiritedness in our culture that surfaces when we witness those who start with less than we have and earn more than we ever will in a lifetime. Many of us seem to get particularly angry when these celebs get to the top without following the "rules'' or leading a conventional life. (Look at the criticism leveled at Anna Nicole Smith following her death, which confirmed her voracious appetite for prescription medications and other pharmaceuticals.) So instead of admiring them for making it big despite the odds against them, we secretly take a perverse pleasure in watching their downfall. We buy the tabloids to witness someone else's life go wrong, so we can feel a bit better about our own problems. I am not the first to make this observation, but I will be the first to suggest we add another New Year's resolution to our lists: Let's start this year anew with peace, love, charity and empathy for all our brothers and sisters, no matter how big their bank accounts... and perhaps for Britney most of all.
Stacy Schneider is the author of "He Had It Coming: How to Outsmart Your Husband and Win Your Divorce"