Wednesday, January 07, 2009

From the New York Times Style Section to Essex County Divorce Court in 10 Years

As a divorce lawyer, I often read the wedding announcements. Marriage is the cornerstone of our society. Even though my job involves the end of marriages, I like to peruse the Wedding Announcements section in The New York Times as the blurbs about the betrothed couples are so full of hope and often a great deal of hubris. People are not shy about listing their degrees, jobs and social status. The New York Times often writes a followup to stories to couples that they had featured in their wedding announcement pages, highlighting their togetherness years later. However, I have never seen a follow up story involving a divorce.

Recently, in Essex County, New Jersey, a divorcing couple engaged in a 29 day custody trial over their children. As the court only works on weekdays, a 29 day trial indicates at least 6 weeks of court time. This length of time is extraordinary and rarely heard of in custody cases, or any other type of family law matter.

The husband and wife in this particular case announced their marriage back in September of 1993 in The New York Times Style Section. At the time, the wife was a dermatology resident and the husband had recently received a medical degree. They both graduated from prestigious schools with excellent grades and came from families with very successful parents. See their wedding announcement here.

This husband and wife had two children, a son born in 1996, and a daughter born in 1998. The divorce was initiated in 2003 and worked its way through the court system for 5 years. Wife alleged domestic violence on the part of the husband. Both parties sought sole custody of the children, to the complete exclusion of the other parent. However, the husband later changed his request to shared custody.

Apparently, wife made many allegations about her estranged husband. Additionally, the children continue to make allegations about the husband and his treatment of them. This eventually resulted in a court supervisor watching over husband when he had the children with him. However, the various experts involved in the case began to come to the conclusion that the children were "generating stories" and making "false allegations." Eventually, all involved came to the conclusion that wife was behind children’s alienation from husband. However, for a great length of time, husband’s custody time with his children remained supervised, only to protect him from false allegations from the children and not because he presented a danger to the children. Significantly, the court and the experts found that as the years went by, and husband spent more time with the children, his relationship with them continued to improve. However, when they had time with the wife, they went back to being hostile and accusatory, to the point where the children were not permitted to call wife when they were in the custody of husband so as to avoid the inevitable negative changes in their behavior.

Wife attempted to present the testimony of 35 separate witnesses. However, the court asked for a written proffer (a document stating the expected testimony of each witness) before he would allow such extensive testimony. Eventually, he accepted their written statements, but did not allow each to come into court. The judge’s reasoning was that the testimony would have been duplicative and unnecessary. Considering the trial was 29 days without these witnesses, the judge made a sound decision.

Eventually, after the lengthy trial, the court ordered that husband and wife should essentially share custody of the children. This was despite wife’s continued objections to that result. Wife even appealed the judge’s verdict to the Appellate Court of New Jersey, but was turned down there.

A review of the Opinion shows behavior of parents at their worst. Undoubtedly, the children will be scarred by being involved in such long term and bitter litigation that has spanned most of their childhood. Considering the length of the trial and the acrimonious litigation, the attorneys fees must have been hundreds of thousands of dollars for both parties.

If both parents want custody time with their children, courts usually accommodate it to the extent possible, as long as both parents are fit. Parents should frame their expectations reasonably and always refrain from speaking negatively about the other parent. Commencing a case with the request that the other parent be completely excluded from the children, absent significant and compelling circumstances, will only damage credibility in the eyes of the court. There are no winners in this type of litigation. Even if money is no object, the emotional cost on all involved, including the children, begs the question: If this level of feuding in the best interests of the children?

1 comment:

The Real News said...

While the problems have well been identified on the solution, public empowerment over judicial transparency, has not.

But now it has. See and make a report. Enough reports and Eventually judges who shouldn't be in office will be voted out.