An excerpt from Alec Baldwin’s new book “A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce” can be found here at ABC.
…for a wonderful interview on 20/20 last night (click here for link to story).
I was particularly impressed by three aspects of the interview:
1) The way that Alec dodged traps (by explicitly stating that he does not support abusers or deadbeat dads for instance) and by calling out Diane Sawyer several times on her attitude “What, you don’t believe what I saying?” (about judges being corrupt and inefficient).
2) Alec also apparently took time outs when he began to get heated in the interview (and what was up with the hot room – was it premeditated to make him look flustered and “hot under the collar”?)
3) How he managed to slip sound bites into the interview (like judges in the divorce industry being like pit bosses at a Vegas casino keeping people at the tables). The latter point echoing many of the same observations I have made on this blog (here and here for instance).
I think he has also done great service in bringing the debate on parental alienation into the public spotlight. I am looking forward to purchasing a copy of Alec’s book when it is released on Tuesday.
Former 007 George Lazenby and tennis star Pam Shriver offer a near textbook case of the family law “industry” in action. Lazenby clearly wants to be in his children’s lives and act as a responsible parent but finds himself with a restraining order and 3 supervised visits a week instead. Remember none of the allegations against him were grounds to steal his children BEFORE he entered family court.
Both sides have been encouraged to dig up as much dirt on the other as possible and the lawyers are looking forward to a “big trial”. Exactly how is this in the children’s best interests? This is a system seriously out of control.
I just finished reading a wonderful piece over at Slate Magazine by Michael Newdow entitled “Family Feud: Family Courts Don’t Solve Conflict, They Create It”
All parents—absent a finding of true harm—should have an absolute right to 50 percent custody of their children. Such a system—stripped of incentives to battle for more—would largely eliminate the harms just noted. Sure, there will be some inconvenience to the children. But children are inconvenienced all the time in intact families, and they survive just fine without the State butting in. Some kids have to get up early to milk the cows. Some have to bicycle miles to high school. Some are put in daycare. We don’t make huge issues of those “difficulties” when the parents are together … why should we do so when the parents are apart? Life comes with good and bad times—that’s part of growing up. Most parents—treated fairly, and left with the equality the Constitution mandates—will always be far more capable of, and dedicated to, ensuring what’s “best” for their children than any combination of judges, attorneys, and “experts.” Until real evidence is provided that the benefits of the current approach outweigh its costs, we should simply value the diversity of parenting styles, respect parental rights, and stop causing conflict.
I highly recommend reading the entire article. Bravo, Michael!
Given my experience in the Family Courts in Nevada, here is a list of changes that I would make to the system that would make the process much more efficient and painless (I also expect lawyers and judges to oppose many of these changes because it reduces litigation and thus billable hours):
1) Presumption of shared parenting
Much time is wasted in court trying to win sole or primary custody and “prove” that the other parent is not worthy. A presumption of shared parenting awards 50% custody to each parent. Studies have shown that children do better with both parents in their lives. Any parent wanting to challenge the shared parenting must prove (beyond the balance of probabilities) that the other parent is unfit. This change would certainly reduce conflict and litigation but more importantly not cause the court to “choose” which parent is better.
2) Alimony formula
Unlike child support, the current system provides “factors” to determine alimony but no formula. A formula has been proposed (called the Tonopah formula) but it has not been adopted by the Supreme Court. Establishing a formula provides more certainty and reduces litigation over the relevant “factors” and how to weight them. Fighting over child support and alimony are the two greatest areas of litigation and cost in the family law system today.
3) Revised child support formula
The current child support formula is based solely on the non-custodial’s parent income with the opportunity for the judge to make adjustments or offsets for various circumstances. If a shared parenting model is adopted then the formula will need to be adjusted to take both parents incomes into account. Ideally, child support should be based on the actual cost of raising a child and a formula used to determine how that cost should be divided between the parents. Many jurisdictions adopt an income-share model where the cost is split in proportion to income. Child support should not be a hidden form of alimony or welfare for custodial parents.
Payments should also respond flexibly (and sympathetically) to a loss of job or income. You should not face jail time or punitive arrears because of factors beyond your control. Reductions should be automatic upon application (with supporting documents) and not require a court order. Reductions can be reviewed in a reasonable time period.
4) Make Temporary Support Orders Appealable
Temporary support orders (payments made for alimony/child support between filing for divorce and receiving a final decree) are currently not appealable in Nevada. This opens them up for abuse by judges who may order lengthy and onerous temporary support to force a settlement. In my case, I was ordered to pay up to 90% of my net income in temporary support with no way of appealing the ruling.
5) Penalties for false reports
The use of protection orders to exclude men from their homes on the basis of domestic violence (DV) has been seen as a legitimate “tactic” by many lawyers. There is also a presumption that you will lose custody if you have a proven DV incident on your record not to mention the possibility of jail time. The penalties for making a false report are rarely applied and many judges err on the side of caution in these cases by granting the protection order without additional evidence other than the petitioner’s testimony. To discourage false reports, the law should be changed to provide mandatory penalties for proven cases of false reporting. This would have a chilling effect on those using the tactics inappropriately.
6) End Community Property on Application
Community property ends in Nevada on the filing of the final decree. In some cases, this can be years after the initial petition for divorce. California, on the other hand, ends community property accumulation on the day of filing for divorce. Property, business, and pension accumulations thus end when at least one party signals they want the marriage over. The Nevada system allows a financial benefit for prolonging the case and should be changed. In fact, Nevada courts should allow a bifurcation – granting a divorce and ending community property – almost immediately if the grounds for divorce are met. There is no reason that ongoing litigation over financial and custody issues canot then be worked out later.
Interesting new column by Glenn Sacks on restraining orders.
So you do your homework on the divorce process, speak to a few lawyers, read a few websites, perhaps get the self-help documents. You think you understand the process. This post will let you in on a few secrets that I learned through bitter experience that are difficult to find through online research.
Myth: Divorce in Nevada is fast
Reality: It’s only fast if it is uncontested (see this post)
Myth: If you have a few unresolved issues your case will end quickly
Reality: My whole case was an alimony case. It could have been settled in five minutes. Instead, it took three years. Sometimes judges don’t want to make decisions. Remember all judges are lawyers, lawyers get paid for billable hours, and judges like to help their own kind. The old adage that the case settles when you run out of money is very true (and very sad). Voltaire allegedly said “I have been broke twice in my life – once when I lost a lawsuit, and once when I won a lawsuit”.
Myth: Judges are independent.
Reality: Nevada judges (including family court judges) receive the majority of their campaign funds from lawyers who will appear before them in court. The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled that this is not a basis for a conflict of interest!
Myth: A deal’s a deal – if I have a written agreement, the court will uphold it.
Reality: The judge can change the deal any time or even defer ruling on the validity of a written agreement
Myth: Judges must follow the law and court rules
Reality: A family court Judge has wide discretion (i.e. she can do whatever she likes) on issues like alimony (see here and here), custody/visitation, attorney fees, and temporary support orders.