A Bad Law that will hurt good Fathers
Nevada - Family Law
Legal Abuse Syndrome® - YouTube Presentations
American Bar Association - Family Law
Family Law Organization
California Courts: Self-Help Center
American Coalition for Fathers and Children
How the Government Creates Child Abuse
Excerpt: 'A Promise to Ourselves'
Sept. 17, 2008—
The following excerpt of Alec Baldwin's book, "A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce," which was provided to ABC News by the publisher, St. Martin's Press.
Watch Diane Sawyer's interview with Alec Baldwin Friday on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET
I never wanted to write this book. Although my experiences with judges, lawyers and court ordered therapists during my own high conflict divorce proceedings left me outraged over the injustices I believe are endemic to the family law system in our society, I had no desire to revisit them.
The pain I suffered, the fear of and anger I felt toward nearly all of the principals involved and the inescapable sense of helplessness and isolation exhausted me. However, to live inside of the divorce matrix, to be engaged in that battle, ultimately means to be poised to tell your story, to make your point, to argue your side at a moment's notice. It is a fire that is constantly burning.
These feelings moved me to share my own experiences with nearly any kindred spirit who broached the subject. In restaurants, ticket lines, airplanes, men's locker rooms, wherever I might be, when that particular conversation started, the facts of my own case would spill out in a torrent. Other times I would sit and listen for hours, grateful for the opportunity to allow someone else to unburden themselves. I could never tell my story urgently enough, and I never tired of the subject of divorce's iniquities. I believed that a book on the subject would write itself.
Eventually, that would change. The passion I had for this issue dried up. The ideas and stories, once so fresh in my mind that I thought they would pour out of me and onto the page like a Pollock painting, began to fade. For three years I had told my story, each recitation as fresh as the first.
But, any normal human being has a limited capacity for ongoing conflict, and I believed I had reached mine. I have heard people use words like "spent" and "hollowed out" to describe the ultimate result of protracted divorce litigation. Sadly, I have learned that little of this is hyperbole. Divorce litigation becomes like the island of Dr. Moreau in H.G. Wells' novel. The abused and horrified litigants want to row their boat away from that island at any cost. I was no different.
I wanted nothing more than to put this entire experience behind me and get on with my life. I had grown weary of writing this book, until I would meet another man who had suffered the same way I had. Suddenly, the old passion to address these issues would return.
Divorce litigation is a unique phenomenon in our culture. When someone is sick, our society usually offers some means of care. Often, that care extends to their families, as well. The sick individual reaches out to professionals who arrive with their skills and training at the ready, prepared to solve the problem.
When illness afflicts a marriage however, the professionals who arrive on the scene often are there to prolong the bleeding, not stop it. To be pulled into the American family law system in most states is like being tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged down a gravel road late at night. No one can hear your cries and complaints, and it is not over until they say it is over.
Early in my own divorce proceedings I came upon men who told me that the corrosiveness and complexity of their divorces had forced them to give up. They "wrote off" not only their first marriages, but their children as well. Many went on to remarry. The chance to "make things right" meant starting another family. I could never, ever comprehend how a man could abandon his child in this way. However, as my own proceedings went on, and the recriminations became more severe, I began to appreciate these men, and some women as well, better than I imagined possible.
I have sat with men whose hearts are filled with love for their children. Before their divorce there had never been any doubt of that love or their abilities as parents. Then divorce lawyers entered the picture to do what many of them do best; to destroy an innocent parent's reputation and their bond with their children. Therefore, lawyers, along with ineffectual judges who do little to curb such destructive forces in American family law, are a principal focus of this book.
Family law in most states has become its own preserve, one in which litigants come and go, while the principal players remain the same. Those players, not the families whose fates are determined by this system, are the ones who profit from protecting the status quo. We have, I believe, a system designed to line the pockets of these principals.
Anything that results in effective conflict resolution, protection of both parents' rights and, most importantly, a healthy environment for the children of divorce is a happy accident. The problem lies not only with antagonistic lawyers who perpetuate conflict, but also with the judges who sit idly by and do nothing to rein them in.
However, this book is not a blanket indictment of all attorneys and the legal profession. I will cite by name some of the truly constructive and decent men and women I have encountered during my own proceedings, (Unfortunately, under the current system, decency and humanity often work against family law attorneys.) Nor do I mean to imply that a legal divorce is always an unsafe option when a relationship has degenerated beyond repair.
There are times when dissolving a marriage is the best decision a couple can make. American taxpayers, however, continue to fund a system that turns a sensitive and private decision into a destructive process that leaves few unscathed. If getting out of your marriage is good for both you and your estranged spouse, it ought to be easier to achieve. The truth is that we maintain a system in which destroying one's ex-spouse, not effectively resolving conflict, is the order of the day.
What follows will disappoint those who hoped to find a gossipy, salacious tale of a show business marriage gone bad. Tabloid publications have already put out enough such stories about my protracted divorce and ensuing custody battle. I do not feel compelled to set that record straight. Think what you will.
What stories someone's own imagination can come up with will be far more satisfying, in that regard, than the truth. Necessity demands that I include some of the particulars of my own case, but only those germane to the book's purpose. However, you will come away disappointed if you hope to find a bitter, angry attack against my ex-wife.
When I write of my own experience, I present my side of the story and interpretation of what occurred. As all divorce litigants should eventually realize, attacking the other party is not in anyone's interest, especially when children are involved. It does no good for a parent to bury their ex-spouse on the pages of a book, so I reserve my attacks for the family law system, specifically the Los Angeles county system where my own case was adjudicated.
Most importantly, this book is not an attempt to escape responsibility for my own actions. I do not ask anyone to believe that this is all someone else's fault. Much of the trouble I found myself in came about as the result of a series of mistakes and bad judgments I made throughout both my marriage and divorce.
Knowing what I do now about myself and my ex-wife, about our approaches to life, our personalities, what makes us happy, even something as simple as where we wanted to live, I am convinced that it might have been in everyone's best interest if we'd never married. But that kind of thinking is pointless. We did marry and in the process we, like so many others, ignored signs of what lay ahead. I made choices that led to the place where I am now. In the pages that follow I accept full responsibility for them.
Because of the scope of the problem this book explores, the issues raised could never be fully articulated through my own case alone. Therefore I have chosen three men to share their own stories and perspectives. All of them have changed their names and the specifics of their identities. One of the subjects is an amalgam of different individuals' stories, including my own.
Although I believe that to omit the particulars of my own case would be counterproductive to the book's purpose, it has never been my goal to embarrass anyone in the process. Adding some of my own experiences to those of my contributors proved to be the most effective way to explore key issues while leaving everyone's dignity largely intact.
Many readers, especially the attorneys and other professionals who play integral roles in the family law system, will automatically dismiss this book as nothing more than the grumblings of a bitter and angry man. Rather than falling prey to a corrupt system, they will say I am the victim of my own poor choices who brought all this on myself by marrying the wrong woman, hiring the wrong lawyer or through my own boorish behavior.
After all, I should have known I stood a good chance of ending up inside a divorce court. Half of all marriages end in divorce, and Hollywood marriages fare even worse. My time of being chained behind the pick-up truck of the legal system was my own bad luck. Everyone knows little good ever comes out of our legal system, only varying degrees of bad. I should have had the good sense to avoid it at all costs.
Besides, my situation is, in these critics' eyes, an anomaly. It is the exception, not the rule. I could have chosen a course that would have shortened the legal process and lessened my pain. I could have given up. Caved. Others have. I should have, as well. Instead, my persistence only made things worse for myself.
I agree that I did make things worse for myself. Foolishly, I walked into a courtroom with the expectation that I would be given some equitable rights regarding my daughter. I ignored the less than subtle message that tells non-custodial parents, especially fathers, to abandon such hopes and face the realities of this system. Walk away, we're told. Accept your fate as your penance for the poor choices you've made. Write off this failed family as the price of learning difficult lessons. The longer you hold out for what should be the right of every parent, the more expensive and painful the process becomes.
Indeed, I went through very bitter litigation. But I did not have a contentious divorce proceeding because I sought alimony or other financial concessions from my ex-wife. My litigation did not involve unreasonable personal demands about where my ex could live or whether she could move on with her life. Alternately, I did not seek to move my daughter to London or Paris.
I had a contentious divorce because I wanted a meaningful custody of my daughter. I refused to settle for becoming a "Disney Dad," one whose role is nothing more than outings to theme parks once or twice a month. Instead I wanted to share the joys and responsibilities of raising my daughter. I wanted to be a real father, and the system punished me for that. Ultimately, I refused to give in and, for a period, I prevailed.
If the circumstances of my case had been truly anomalous, I likely would have taken my lumps and got on with my life. I would not have written this book if I felt that my experiences were isolated. However, I have seen the other broken lives and destruction that this system leaves in its wake. I have even had attorneys, in a fleeting moment of candor, admit that the system is terribly flawed. I am not stating that every divorce proceeding is the same. Nor am I suggesting that most divorce lawyers and family law judges are at best inept or at worst corrupt.
There is, however, enough injustice, inefficiency and corruption within the system to compel us as a society to closely examine what is being perpetrated on innocent men and women, funded by our tax dollars. As you read my story and the stories of others that follow, I believe you will reach this same conclusion.
Some people will, no doubt, criticize me for tilting this book so much toward my own dilemma as opposed to that of my daughter. However, due to restrictions set by court orders, as well as a desire not to expose my child to any further unnecessary scrutiny, an open and frank discussion of my observations of my daughter's experiences is, to an extent, better left alone.
My relationship with my daughter is a casualty of parental alienation, aided and abetted by the Los Angeles family law system. As I have suffered, so has she, in my opinion. I have attempted to inlay as much of my daughter's reality as I saw fit.
I have seen the psychological toll that divorce litigation takes on people. These are not an isolated few, hidden away from the rest of society, as was often the case some generations ago. Today, more than half of marriages end in divorce, and the damages are not limited to the couples themselves.
The aftereffects of divorce seep into all of society. This phenomenon of acrimonious divorce litigation exacts an incalculable psychological and emotional toll not only on the litigants but on innocent bystanders as well. Like any social issue, there is a cost we all bear, spiritually as well as financially.
Among the several topics that my contributors and I will examine in this book are: Prenuptial agreements and how couples can attempt to preemptively protect themselves, their respective extended families and, of course, their children from the unnecessary pain of divorce litigation.
How to approach the ultimate decision to file for divorce, specifically in both high and low conflict divorces. We explore the question of when, as well as how, to file.
Divorce strategies and assessments for couples with above average, average, and below average assets.
Selecting an attorney. Is word of mouth all its cracked up to be?
Private mediation versus going to trial.
Observations on judges, forensic accountants, custody evaluations and evaluators, collateral witnesses, child psychologists and other court appointed therapists.
An examination of actual custody/ visitation strategies. What should your time with your child be like? How does the inevitable passage of time affect you and your growing child?
The newly divorced parent's life and the hopeful prayer of constructive co-parenting. The political influences on current family law. How the political apparatus of lawyers, judges and feminist groups assault fatherhood and impact custody.
I have been through some of the worst of contentious divorce litigation. I have lost some proceedings that seemed important at the time, but I prevailed in many others. Wisdom has urged me to walk away from this experience and count my blessings. But I have chosen to return to it, to examine it again and share with you not only my thoughts, but those of others, as well. A book is not a Pollock painting; its web of facts and feelings must be arranged in an ordered way. To that end, I have enlisted the aid of Mark Tabb, who helped me with the research, organization, and writing of what follows.
This book is entitled "A Promise to Ourselves." And it is in fulfillment of that promise that I offer to all divorced fathers, to all parents, the dreams and nightmares, the insights and ultimate lessons of my own story.
Chapter One Even the Deepest Feelings
On a Sunday morning in January of 2001, I stood on a cold Manhattan street with a movie crew as we prepared to shoot the first scenes of a film I was directing. For me, this was a dream come true, not only because I was directing for the first time, but also because of the incredible cast we had assembled for the project, including Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Dan Aykroyd, Kim Catrall and Barry Miller. Pete Dexter wrote the script and Bill Condon did the rewrite, just prior to winning the Oscar for "Gods and Monsters."
And as if all of that weren't enough, we were going to make the film during my favorite season in my favorite place. Later that winter, heavy snow fell on New York during our shooting schedule, like the winters of my childhood. I was elated by the possibilities.
Yet the joy of the moment was mitigated by a painful uncertainty hanging over my personal life. My wife of seven years had packed her things from our New York home and had moved back to Los Angeles a few weeks earlier. We talked in the ensuing weeks with words that vacillated between animosity and a seemingly perfunctory hope of reconciliation.
Even as I faced the reality that we had grown apart, I also believed that our relationship might be salvaged. Less than a month before our separation I found my wife distressed over a minor health problem. Instinctively, I put my arms around her and tried to assure her that everything would be all right. No matter what she faced, I would be there for her. My desire to care for her was reflexive and immediate. I had been with this woman for over ten years. She was my wife, my friend and the mother of my only child and I wanted to make her troubles go away. Four weeks later she was gone.
Even though all of these thoughts swirled in my head as I stood on East 53rd Street, preparing to roll the camera for our first shot of the day, I tried to focus on the job at hand. Suddenly, a man I assumed was an extra walked up to me, smiling, and asked if I was Alec Baldwin. I smiled back and said yes.
His whole demeanor then changed as he pressed an envelope against my chest. "This is for you," he said. "Oh, yeah," he added as he walked away, "I'm a big fan of your work."
I opened the envelope filled with legal documents. Although I had asked my wife to delay any legal action until after the film shoot was over, she had served me with formal separation papers right there on the set of the movie. Our marriage was officially over.
I can honestly say that a part of me never saw it coming. Although I knew I was unhappy and I was certain that my wife was as well, talking about divorce is one thing, actually carrying it out is quite another. Even when I had contemplated the dissolution of my marriage over the past several months, I still believed we had something worth fighting for.
I found it hard to believe that this was the end. I also found it equally hard to believe that my ex-wife would choose to dive back into the civil court system that only a few short years earlier had nearly destroyed her. The deep feelings of love that swept you into a marriage don't die overnight. The process is often slow and, typically, painful. Understanding how these feelings died can be as painful as the loss itself. When relationships end, some people naturally reflect upon what led them to that point. Others seek to affix blame. Therefore, some find it necessary to renounce their feelings and therefore nullify everything that came before.
That is when you hear people say, "I never loved her." Or, "I never really cared for him." This nullification is nothing but a lie some people tell themselves. Litigants will say in open court that "My husband was Saddam Hussein," to which I once heard a judge reply, "Well then, why did you marry Saddam Hussein?"
These litigants and their attorneys find it convenient to burn the couple's past down to the ground and seek to paint a picture of their ex-spouse that is wildly distorted. Hopefully, a judge will see through this. I was incapable of denying what I had once felt. Therefore, I looked back in an attempt to understand what attracted me to my ex-wife in the beginning and how our relationship failed.
We have all heard the many angles on how one should choose a spouse and, thus, increase the chances of a happy marriage. Some say a woman marries a man hoping to change him while a man marries a woman hoping she will never change. Others say men should look to their girlfriend's mother, a woman to her husband's father, because that is what your spouse will become in 25 years. They say never marry a woman who is close with her father, or a man who is close with his mother, as you are unlikely to ever measure up to that figure in their life.
I suppose that I had some prejudices, fantasies and hang-ups of my own going into my marriage. To a degree, I wanted a wife who was, in some ways, like my mother and not at all like her in others. Oddly enough, however, it was my father, and the role he had played in my life, that had more of an impact on my marriage than anyone or anything else.
My father taught school for twenty-eight years in Massapequa, Long Island. He'd dropped out of Syracuse law school to take an entry level teaching position in a newly formed school district. His uncle told him that a respectable career as a school administrator would be his, with a little effort. But my father never left the classroom. Not only did he not become an administrator, he never even became a department head.
It wasn't that my father was a bad teacher; quite the opposite. The students adored him. Twice the student body dedicated their yearbook to him while he was still living and active, an honor normally given to those retired or dead.
My father refused to play the political games necessary to advance. One man in particular could have made my dad's life unimaginably easier if my father had just played ball. But my father refused. He didn't think it was right. Self-respect and integrity were always front and center with my dad, a former Marine. "Judge me by my merits," was his attitude. And he never attained the level of success he might have because of it.
My relationship with my father evolved in the years after I left home. He became a more essential advisor and mentor to me, someone whose judgment I trusted almost implicitly. He supported my decision to pursue a career in acting in New York after leaving George Washington University. I found his advice invaluable as I moved further into the entertainment industry where men like my father were few and far between. Just as I was making the transition from New York to Los Angeles, my father died suddenly, of cancer, at the age of 55. His passing left a huge void in my life.
Over the next few years I began to actively, even unconsciously, search for someone who could fill his role, not as a parent, but as a trusted ally in a cutthroat business. Little did I know that I would find just that in a beauty-queen-turned-movie-star from Athens, Georgia.
Kim made a quick ascent up the Hollywood ladder in the late 1970's and early 1980's. She went from modeling and commercials to television and feature films in a relatively short time. When we met on the set of a film in 1990, she'd already established herself as a major star. Although she'd achieved a great deal of success in a difficult business, she did not allow the industry to consume her.
She loved movies but was rarely a part of that world on a social basis. Like my father, she refused to play the games necessary to gain any advantage in her career. Kim could have married the head of the studio, network or talent agency, the Oscar winning star or producer. Instead she chose to allow her body of work to speak for itself. She felt she should be judged by her merits, nothing more. It was this quality, more than any other, that most attracted me to her.
Prior to meeting my ex-wife, I had often walked away from intimate relationships after about eighteen months. That is not to say that I would not return out of some combination of love, pity, and/or loneliness. After about a year and a half, however, I was ready to move on. My relationship with my ex-wife was no different.
We met in April of 1990 and by November of the following year, almost like clockwork, I once again felt lingering incompatibility issues rising up. I noticed major differences in our attitudes toward family and friends, our careers and acting itself, our places in the community and the public eye. For all of her image as a go-it-alone iconoclast, I discovered Kim rarely did anything without the advice of a team of people. The more powerful her agents, publicists and business managers were, the more she believed their advice should be heeded. Kim did not necessarily wish to socialize with important Hollywood figures, yet she rarely made a move without consulting one.
This reliance upon highly paid professionals would prove to be a major contributing factor in my eventual divorce difficulties.
As I hit the eighteen month mark in this relationship, once again I struggled with how I could care for this person and yet, at times, feel so alone. Unlike before, however, I resolved that I would not walk away. This time, I would stay and try to make it work. I believed with all my heart that if I kept my focus on my own issues, the rest would take care of itself.
"Love suffereth long and is kind," I was told. I chose to believe that. I pushed through these feelings and stayed. Less than one year later my resolve would be put to the test when Kim, upon the advice of her agent, pulled out of a movie and was sued by the film's producers.
In the spring of 1992, the plaintiffs alleged that Kim had agreed to star in a movie called "Boxing Helena." Kim asked for full written disclosure of the amount of nudity and physical contact with other actors that the part required. She counterclaimed that the producers did not satisfactorily provide this information. Therefore she walked away under the terms of the Screen Actors Guild contract. Furthermore, her new agents assured her that they would "make this thing go away."
Instead, Kim was sued for millions of dollars and lost. At the onset of the lawsuit, Kim's entertainment contract lawyer tried to convince her to settle out of court. However, Kim wanted no part of it. She refused to settle a case when she believed she had done nothing wrong. Like my father, she only wanted what was fair. Ironically, this principled stubbornness set off a chain of events that strained our relationship even before we married. Although I recognized this in hindsight, at the time I supported Kim in her decision and I trusted the court would vindicate her.
Rather than protect her, the system left her physically, emotionally and financially broken. From the start, the plaintiffs' lawyer, a vicious, menacing woman named Patty Glazier, posited the case as a showdown between a rich, privileged movie star and struggling film makers who had to work hard for whatever meager success they had achieved. Kim, Glazier said, was like the pretty girl in school who bypassed the rules with impunity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kim had a very professional work ethic, but the jury bought it.
Adding to the injury, Kim's agents had originally been named as co-defendants. Half way through the proceedings they successfully petitioned the court to be dismissed from the case, yet the judge inexplicably withheld this ruling from the jury. That meant the go-it-alone Kim bore the sole financial responsibility for the eventual $9 million judgment.
After the verdict, the judge, Judith Chirlin, strode across the courtroom and hugged the plaintiffs in full view of the entire proceeding. Even Kim's veteran attorney, Howard Weitzman, was aghast. In subsequent depositions, one juror said that $9 million was little more than a "parking ticket" to someone like Kim.
The lawsuit and judgment exacted a steep emotional, as well as financial, price. Los Angeles is a town completely consumed by perception. The woman who was wealthier and more famous than I was when I met her in 1990 was now bankrupt and humiliated three years later.
After the jury handed down its decision, Kim and I returned to her home in Los Angeles, where the stress and losses of the trial took their toll. One evening, she collapsed under the weight, sobbing on the deck beside her pool. Prior to the verdict in the trial, some friends had encouraged me to end this relationship. They told me that she was self-destructive. Watching her lying there, however, I thought to myself, How can I leave her now?
Kim was not one for self-pity. She would cry for the poor, the homeless, for abused animals, but never for herself. Like my father, her suffering came because she had stood on principle. However, this time I had the resources to do something to help. Soon after, I proposed and Kim accepted.
Perhaps she needed security, support and financial resources to help her navigate the white water she was about to encounter while appealing her verdict and living under bankruptcy jurisdiction. Perhaps while crushed under the weight of an unfair verdict, she needed to believe that someone would help her, would stand by her and take her side. I wanted to be that person. On August 19th of 1993, we were married.
When relationships begin, romance ought be the order of the day. The first couple of years should be a time of candlelight and intimate conversation, travel and entertainment. My relationship with my ex-wife was no different, at least during our first two years together. Life held no stress, no entanglements. We would jet off to London on a whim, or pass the time reading scripts that producers had sent our way. Life seemed easy and I enjoyed Kim's company enormously.
Everything changed with the lawsuit and Kim's subsequent bankruptcy proceedings. Our life became an endless procession of lawyers delivering a ceaseless chorus of bad news. Lawyers advised Kim to declare federal bankruptcy, but what she thought would bring relief only unleashed more pain.
We entered a new phase, with attorneys intruding into every aspect of our daily lives, as a bankruptcy trustee took full control of her seized assets. Kim's own bankruptcy attorney would call nearly every day regarding decisions that had to be made. Kim did not have the emotional reserves to deal with any of it. Someone had to give some direction and that fell to me. On top of this, Kim engaged more lawyers and appealed the judgment against her. She was, some time later, granted a "reversal without direction", which legally granted a new trial yet no return of her money.
The ongoing bankruptcy ordeal came packed with inexplicable malice and bad faith. The worst of it occurred one rainy afternoon when the bankruptcy trustee ordered the seizure of Kim's personal and professional property from her office.
Sheriff's deputies stormed into the building and took everything. Her files, the memorabilia she had collected from her own films and those of people she admired, antique furniture, electronic equipment and every last paper clip were flung into the back of a pick-up truck, uncovered, and hauled away in the rain. Many of the items they seized were irreplaceable and much of it was damaged or never seen again.
Kim was depressed, unemployed, and not easy to be around. Her treatment in the press did not help matters. On New Year's Day of 1995 the New York Times Sunday business section ran a front-page article about people who used bankruptcy protection to avoid paying their debts. The piece featured Kim's litigation. Accompanying the piece was a photograph of my then-home in East Hampton, New York. The article referred to it as Kim's "Hampton estate," and implied that she lived in luxury while evading her creditors. This, of course, was blatantly false.
The house was a premarital asset of mine, which I had bought for a small sum in 1987. The article was unfair to the point of ridiculous. Such articles were typical of how Kim was treated in the press during this period. Many mornings throughout 1993 and 1994, Kim's assistant and I would comb the newspapers for unfavorable depictions of Kim and her case to shield her from them.
As all of this churned around us, I found myself growing more and more frustrated with the way business was conducted in Hollywood. Anger seethed inside me over the way my wife was treated. Her agent and others, who should have stood beside her, scurried away to protect themselves, leaving her to face this all on her own.
Kim was accused of refusing to honor a contract, yet I had been on the other end when a studio chose to not honor a contract with me. The unwritten code in Hollywood, however, is that a performer can never sue the studios, not if you expect to ever work in movies again. Early on in my career, as I slowly worked my way up, I was filled with gratitude for the opportunities I received.
Yet, once I had moved up that ladder, I began to see another side of Hollywood. I believe there is more greed and dishonor in the movie business than anywhere else. In terms of honor and dignity, the illegal drug business looks like the Boy Scouts by comparison.
The pain and frustration in my work, combined with the stresses in my marriage, created the worst of all circumstances. At work, I was disappointed by a system whose games I now refused to play. I came home to share in self-pity and bitterness over the hand that we had been dealt.
By 1994, the bankruptcy attorney would call with her daily report and, at that point, we had devised a shorthand. I would ask, "Was it a ten or a nine today?" This was a measure of how badly Kim had been treated during the proceeding, ten being the worst. Most days were either a nine or a ten.
After nearly two years of this, the issues we faced as a couple grew larger and more pronounced. I had been in other relationships and recognized the look that people get when they would prefer that you were not around. Kim hardly looked me in the eye anymore and seemed to always be talking to me over her shoulder.
The New York Times piece on Kim's bankruptcy ran on New Year's Day, 1995. Kim was once again made to look callous and irresponsible in a way that, under the slightest examination, was clearly untrue. Kim was livid.
We were scheduled to fly that night to Lima to begin shooting a documentary on endangered exotic birds of the Peruvian rainforest. I had hoped that working on this project together would help our marriage, but once again, the case overshadowed everything. Kim did not want to go to on the trip, partly because of a tantrum I had thrown over the Times piece. The documentary, which I had helped to organize, appeared to be ruined
Ultimately, Kim relented and we headed to Peru. We did not talk much, although the project proved to be exhilarating. We flew home somewhat renewed. And then we discovered Kim was pregnant with our daughter.
We were standing in her bathroom in her house in Los Angeles: Kim, myself and Kim's then assistant. Kim said she had something to tell me. She seemed lost in thought, bordering on grim. Her assistant had a slightly woeful smile on her face. Kim said she was pregnant. A moment that one would have imagined, during all of your lifetime leading up until now, would be a cause for unprecedented joy was more like someone telling you that they had wrecked your car. Or, that your house had been flooded.
We all just stood there, while Kim talked of her doubts about me and our marriage. She was, however, determined to move forward with having the child., in spite of our current state of disconnect.
Her assistant managed to sneak glances at me that seemed pitying, as if to say, "How sad to have this moment in your life play out this way." I suppose that, in hindsight, the alienation from my daughter began that afternoon, before she was even born.
I had committed to make a film in New York in the spring of 1995. After all we had been through, I was not automatically inclined to attempt to get out of that contract. However, when I had found out that Kim was pregnant, I asked the producers to release me from the project so I could remain home with my new family. True to form, they refused and threatened to sue me. Kim was due to deliver our baby in late October, just six weeks before her 42nd birthday.
During her pregnancy, I would travel back to Los Angeles frequently, but no one greeted me with any of the protocol of the expectant father. Kim was having a baby, not me. I was reminded of that constantly. I wrote this off as the fears and doubts of an expectant mother, but it all seemed wrong.
There was never any talk of bringing Kim's mother or mine or any of our siblings, most of who had children, to LA to participate in Kim's care. It was go-it-alone time again. As the due date drew near, there was some warmth and even some closeness. But, the overall experience left me wondering if this was how it was supposed to be.
After my daughter was born, like many new fathers, I felt an almost instinctual need to work harder to make us more secure. My film career was never robust, but 1996 proved to be a good one for me and for Kim as well. I shot "Ghosts of Mississippi" in Los Angeles and Kim shot "LA Confidential" there at around the same time. Next, I went to Alberta, Canada to shoot "The Edge," with Tony Hopkins. My daughter was just shy of a year old, but my wife complained about putting her on a plane to see me.
The flight to Calgary was just over two hours, but Kim came there with my daughter only once. I worked what was an unusually tough schedule and flew to LA nearly every other weekend. Kim complained about my being away, but I maintained that one of us had to work. Then, suddenly, "LA Confidential" was released in 1997 and the film was a critical success. Soon thereafter, Kim was nominated for an Oscar and, as if in a dream, she won in early 1998
Five years after her loss in civil court, Kim had a beautiful daughter, an Oscar and the opportunity to earn back nearly all of the money she had lost in court.
Kim had been restored to the place she longed to be and starred in two films between 1998 and 1999. I clearly sensed that, by that point, I had outlived my usefulness to her. I accompanied her to Africa in the fall of 1998, but I was really just the third nanny in the rotation. In 1999, I went to Montreal to work and she to Toronto. By the fall of 1999, my daughter was ready for preschool.
I commuted to Toronto nearly every weekend to see Ireland. No provisions were made for a tutor, or for any type of academic program, as Ireland turned four years old. My daughter would essentially visit her mother on the movie set and then spend the remainder of the day sitting in an expensive hotel suite, reading books or watching television with a nanny.
I did not graduate Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard, but I wanted my daughter's educational needs to be addressed with some real care and deliberation. We were now approaching the end of the road. I urged my wife to move to New York to put my daughter into school, as I did not want my child raised in Los Angeles.
By 2000, we lived in eastern Long Island. My wife complained, nearly every day, that the weather there was making my daughter sick. I countered that my daughter was sick on a regular basis because she was in school. Like all children, she was building the immune system that would protect her for the rest of her life. I took off nearly all of 2000, working for only six weeks that year, in order to drive my daughter to school each day.
Often, I would go to the school to pick up my daughter's missed assignments, only to see other kids with symptoms that had kept my daughter home. One teacher told me that her rule was that if the child does not have a fever, convince her to attend school. My wife would hear none of it. She threatened, on a daily basis, to head back to Los Angeles. I reminded her that Los Angeles, with its mythic air pollution and overcrowding, was no environmental Eden by any stretch.
It was ostensibly over this issue that, on December 8th, we had the argument that ended our marriage. I moved out of the house. We had very little contact. I wanted to see Ireland, but suddenly, as the semester ended, Kim was off to Los Angeles and, as I later found out, contacted an attorney to begin divorce proceedings.
Soon thereafter, I was driving down a road in East Hampton when it hit me: that unmistakable and shuddering wave that comes over you when you own the truth that your marriage is over.
Now, you are like all of the other millions that have failed, or at least felt they had, at something so personal. Something that meant so much to you and that you tried so hard to keep alive is dead. I pulled my car to the side of the road, snow falling all around me. I let out sounds I did not know were in me. I cried and thought how helpless I felt, helplessness having been, in my lifetime, the most demoralizing feeling of all.
My wife had finally stopped pretending to listen to my opinion about my daughter, or anything else, and gone back to LA with no regard for any of my rights, or those of my child to see her father. I had loved this woman, once.
As things would grow more contentious and bitter, I wondered how she could behave this way. Eventually, my disbelief would become immeasurable.
I asked my therapist, an intelligent, mature, kind woman, a wife and mother herself, "What am I supposed to take from this?"
Her answer was, "Now you've learned
one of life's most painful lessons: that even the deepest feelings don't
Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures
Spare The Custody Fight, Save the Children
By Mimi E. Lyster
Every year, a million children see their parents divorce. And often, the most pressing concern of those two million parents is: "Who gets the kids?"
Angry, hurt and overwhelmed with both the divorce or separation process and their own feelings, parents may try to gain the upper hand by demanding full custody of the children. Their anxiety is fueled by well-meaning but disastrous partisanship of friends and relatives, who frequently urge them to fight for the kids in court. Before long, the family has slipped into a long, expensive and emotionally draining journey through the world of child custody litigation, the result of which is likely to please no one.
Why to Avoid Court
It's true that courts are responsible for preserving and protecting children's "best interests" when their parents divorce. All but a few states have laws that spell out what factors a court should consider when determining what best interests are. So why not let an impartial judge resolve your sticky custody and visitation disagreements?
Simply because laws set standards for children in general -- not your
children in particular. A judge or court-appointed evaluator must try to
understand the family's situation and each parent's position within a few
minutes or hours, and then to make wise decisions with the children's
Although state laws set guidelines for custody decisions, judges have considerable discretion in interpreting them and imposing their own views of what constitutes a good environment for children. The chance that a judge's decision will be ideal for your specific situation is slim.
With rare exceptions, you can do a whole lot better crafting your own decisions, which fit your unique situation, rather than hiring lawyers and turning the ultimate decisions over to a judge. You and the other parent can negotiate a parenting plan with the other parent that reflects the needs and best interests of their children and assures them the maximum possible contact with both parents.
Only if the children's safety or well-being is at risk and their parents cannot agree on a way to reduce that risk can court intervention be crucial.
Making a Bad Situation Worse
Even if your separation or divorce will be better for your children in the long run, for the short term, most children feel that things couldn't be worse. Divorce can shake a child's confidence that he or she will continue to be loved, cared for and safe, even when the child understands the reasons behind the decision.
A custody battle only makes things harder. Most researchers who study the effects of divorce on children believe passionately that using the court to resolve custody issues is a mistake in all but a few cases. It is far better, in their opinion, for parents to negotiate their own parenting agreement, with help from mediators, counselors and lawyers as needed.
No matter how much you may believe that your life would improve if you won and the other parent lost a custody battle, the fact remains that children need both their parents. That means that part of being a good parent after separation or divorce is finding a way to work with the other parent -- at least as far as the children are concerned -- rather than fighting over custody in court.
Negotiate? You Must Be Kidding
Not surprisingly, most divorcing parents panic at the prospect of working
together. Fortunately, even couples with a painful or bitter past -- or
ones going through an intensely acrimonious divorce -- can devise a successful
custody and visitation agreement that favors the best
Even if the other parent is inflexible, or both parents want something mutually exclusive -- for example, sole custody of the children -- the process is not doomed. If parents can describe their concerns, goals and perceptions of the situation in some detail, they will at least have a good list of issues to address and resolve. And there's plenty of help available.
To improve your ability to work with the other parent, you may want to improve your negotiation skills, try to find ways to set aside your feelings regarding the separation or divorce, and get some outside help from a mediator or counselor.
The real key to success is to focus on your children, not a potential outcome in court. Think about your children's needs and wishes, your goals for them and concerns you have about their health, education, and their relationships with parents, siblings or other important people.
If both you and the other parent put your kids' interests first, you'll probably find that you can adjust your positions enough to produce a good agreement. Both of you will be in the best possible position to ensure that your custody and visitation arrangements make sense and serve your children well as they grow to adulthood, and work for you as well.
Copyright (c) 1995 Nolo Press
Brought to you by - The 'Lectric Law Library
Three Strikes Legal - Index