February 11, 2010 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
“Mr. Beaver, I am a retired naval officer living near the Naval Weapons Station at Lemoore with my wife of 35 years. She is from Japan, and our son — who I will call Henry — got her great looks,” wrote Captain Lewis.
“He has always had women looking at him as if he were a movie star. This, unfortunately, led to something which deeply worries me, especially now as he is engaged to be married to a lovely girl from San Francisco.”
“Henry has never been serious about relationships, and he’s had many. He admitted that he has never been faithful to anyone and has no plans to change after getting married. When I heard that from my own son, I was floored! Henry is 25 and has an excellent job in an accounting firm.”
“Both my wife and I feel that he needs to be told how we feel, and that this somehow needs to be brought to the attention of his fiancee. We know she would never approve of such a thing as an ‘open’ marriage, as she is from a very conservative, religious family.”
“Do we face any legal liability — such as alienation of affection — if we get into the middle of this? Could we be sued for defamation? We’ve read you for years, and always find that you’re a good source of common sense and sound advice.”
The “legal” part of the captain’s question isn’t too difficult to answer. California no longer allows alienation of affection suits. In the few states that do, typically a deserted spouse sues the adulterous spouse’s lover for failure of the marriage. But there could still be severe legal consequences by becoming overly involved in their son’s life.
Echoes of ‘Erin Brokovich’
Henry’s blatant plans of immorality took me back to law school, and from there to the movie “Erin Brokovich,” starring Julia Roberts. The film dealt with Pacific Gas and Electric having poisoned ground water in a small California town, leading to one of the nation’s largest toxic tort judgments, more than $300 million.
The Los Angeles lawyer in that case was Ed Masry, for whom I clerked while at Loyola University School of Law.
(I wasn’t hired due to any great legal brilliance, but because I had worked as a French translator and interpreter. When Masry’s partner, attorney Ray David, learned of my language ability, he said, “My mom and her family grew up speaking French in Lebanon and North Africa. If you can translate their letters and be my personal interpreter for phone calls, you’re hired!)
There was a young lawyer in the firm, recently married to a beautiful gal, who boasted of his non-stop playing around. One day, speaking with him in the lobby of the One Wilshire Building, where the firm was located, I asked, “Why does a man married to a lovely wife fool around? I don’t get it.”
Pointing out the many attractive women walking by, he puffed himself up like a frog about to burst, and replied, “Look at ’em!!!”
Six months later he was divorced.
A psychologist weighs In
I asked Southern California clinical psychologist Dr. Dean Haddock for his opinion — what should the parents do?
“They have an obligation to talk with him about his plans that are immoral, not in keeping with their family values and has challenges for not only his physical, but mental health as well.”
“He is risking the health of his future wife. If he plans to live this way, he is not ready for the marriage commitment, which requires mutual trust.”
“They should not breech their son’s confidence by telling the fiancee as this would be seen by the son and potential daughter-in-law as interfering and meddlesome,” Dr. Haddock points out.
Possible legal issues
While unlikely, if the captain and his wife came right out and revealed his ideas to the fiancee — and their son denied it — we could be looking at a suit for defamation as well as intentionally caused emotional distress. If their comments sent the young lady to a psychologist’s office, their desire not to see her hurt could backfire.
I asked Dr. Haddock, “Does a parent ever stop parenting? Just what should you say to your adult children?”
“Parenting never stops,” he replied. “It just takes different stages as our children develop from infancy, childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and adulthood, with increasing respect for their independence and privacy.”
The clinical psychologist suggested two excellent books for families going through tough times: “Parenting Your Adult Child: How You Can Help Them Achieve Their Full Potential,” by Gary Chapman and “Don’t Bite Your Tongue, How To Foster Rewarding Relationships with your Adult Children,” by Ruth Nemzoff.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.