October 10, 2015 • By Dennis Beaver
“Close to 15 years ago you wrote a wonderful article about a divorce case where the mother kept the children away from their father. Something amazing happened when that story ran, because we were going through a divorce, talked about your story, and met for coffee. We cried, stopped the divorce and have been together ever since.
“Now, our son and his wife have separated. They have two lovely kids. I am looking for a miracle, Dennis. If you can find that powerful story, and your editors allow you to run it again, will you please. Thanks, John and Rose.”
We found the story.
In my town, “Divorce Court” is in Department 13 of our Superior Court. It is an appropriately named, bad luck, sad place. If you believe that rooms and buildings can possess a spirit, then those of Department 13 are tormented, as are so many of the people waiting for their cases to be called.
When child custody and visitation battles erupt in this courtroom, spectators are far too often treated to a bad situation made worse by lawyers who care only about winning — doing whatever it is that the client wants — and who have no concern for what the children need.
Some family law attorneys pride themselves on never speaking to the children alone, the justification given: “Well, I don’t want anyone to accuse me of telling the kids what to say.” This excuse is a convenient way of never hearing what the child wants.
When a client is paying hundreds of dollars per court appearance and tells a lawyer to do everything possible to limit visitation with the other parent, few family law attorneys care about a child who wants to spend more time – or worse yet – wants to live with the other parent.
The foundations of a stable society begin with family. When, in the name of “zealously representing the client” lawyers simply do as instructed – without regard for what we are doing – then we may harm the children, and even our own client in the long run.
Family court should not be a place of where it is only a question of “Whatever my client wants me to do, I will.” But it is that way, often with painful results.
For children have long memories. When they discover the real reason that they only saw Dad once in a while was because Mom set up road blocks to visitation, guess who gets the blame? Mom and her lawyer.
When they discover that Dad didn’t forget their birthday and that his Christmas presents never made it under the tree, it is Dad who they will seek, as Mom becomes a faded memory of their past.
This past Thanksgiving holiday, just as I was locking up the office early on Wednesday, a couple — brother and sister in their early 20s — came by the office and asked if I had a minute.
“You probably don’t remember us, but you handled our father’s divorce about 10 years ago. We were about 12 or 13 at the time,” said the woman. “We both vividly remember that Mom didn’t want us to spend much time with our father, and there was a very loud discussion in the hallway right outside the courtroom,” she explained.
“You bought us a soda and we talked — just the three of us. We actually wanted to live with Dad. But we were afraid to say this in front of her. And you told the other lawyer to please talk with us, but he wouldn’t,” the brother added.
“We weren’t allowed in the courtroom, and never knew what happened, but found out years later that she and her lawyer did everything possible to keep us away from him. It was only when we got older — and started asking questions of other family members — that we learned just how much she did to prevent us from having a loving relationship with our father.
“This Thanksgiving we’re spending with him. It will be his last, as he is terminally ill. We just wanted to thank you for talking with us in court that day and trying to get us more time with Dad,” the sister said, weeping.
“We won’t talk to our mother anymore. She robbed us of a father who loved us and who we could have loved. He was a decent man and we needed him. We blamed her and her lawyer. If he had just taken the time to talk to us, I can’t help wondering if things would have turned out differently,” the brother said.
In this case and so many others, I have wondered the same thing.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.