I always tell my clients that everything in family law has a dollar value
and therefore can be and should be evaluated from a cost/benefit analysis.
Everything, that is, except for one thing, the children. When the issue
is the children you leave the realm of apples to apples comparisons and
enter the land of apples to oranges, or more correctly, apples to antelopes
or atoms or the andromeda galaxy. When
custody is at stake, how can you ever place a dollar value on it?
Family law attorneys know this well. This is where the cynical canines
come out, snarling, perhaps drooling over the money to be made by spendthrift
parties as they attack their frightened ex spouses over custody of the children.
Case in point: Dad has supervised visitation. On a Saturday afternoon,
I receive an email from the Guardian ad Litem announcing that dad has
to have visitation on either Christmas Eve or Chistmas Day. This is the
first time this issue has been raised. The first time in years, actually,
since, when the parties divorced, dad wasn't interested in any time
at Christmas because dad is not a believer and mom practices that faith.
I forward the email to my client, asking for her thoughts on the subject.
Monday morning, as I am in trial on a whole other matter, the Guardian
files for an emergency hearing contending that we refuse to communicate
with her. Mind you, historically in this case we have been very flexible
with the visitation. The guardian's rush to the court house was unprecedented
and unwarranted. When that happens, I know I'm either dealing with
idiots or something else is up.
We show up for the Emergency Hearing. The court, understandably and predictably
wants the attorneys to talk first. We've already filed our response
brief letting the court know that the guardian had filed her motion less
than two business hours after she had sent her email and that we were
quite open to Christmas visitation.
We talk. After the calendar call, while we are waiting for the judge to
call our case in for the hearing, we talk. Then, and not until then, the
guardian and opposing counsel ambush us with their big surprise.
They aren't just interested in a few hours of Christmas visitation,
they want it unsupervised and they want it for days and nights on end.
"Ha, ha," they think. They have us on the ropes. We were caught
with our pants down. With stealth, with chicanery, they have triumphed.
Fortunately, I didn't think I was dealing with idiots. I knew ambush
had to be their strategy.
I asked for face time with the judge in a pre-trial conference.
They laid out their case, their justification for suddenly, surprisingly
moving this dad from supervised visitation to multiple day and overnight
visitation at Christmastime.
Then it was my turn. I provided a copy of the Settlement Agreement where
dad never wanted Christmas before. I provided a copy of the visitation
supervisor's report which detailed some rather unsettling events which
repeatedly occurred during the supervised visits. I cited to hospital
records which were directly related to the children's exposure to dad.
At the end of the day, at the end of all that, dad got a few hours on Christmas
Eve in the morning and a few hours on Christmas Day. Supervised.
The purpose of my story is not to toot my own horn, though I was pleased
with perceiving the opposition's strategy for what it was. All told,
at the end of the day, five attorneys and one paralegal spent their day
on this issue to this resolution. Over $10,000 of this family's money
was burned through that day, and for what? For dad to surreptitiously
gain the upperhand and accomplish unsupervised visitation in his larger
quest for custody? Yes. For dad to crash and burn miserably, being caught
red-handed using underhanded tactics and the judge getting a preliminary
view of how dad's time on task with the children has really been going?
Yes, that too.
You see, dad just got his year end bonus. $40,000 by report. "A fool
and his money..." A spendthrift dad using his economic prowess to
attack his ex, the mom, over
custody of their children.
And of the attorneys who teed it up to swing for the fences, even though
they struck out? you see, they didn't really strike out. They weren't
really playing on that ball field at all. Their game was something else entirely.
Apples to Antelopes. Lucrative comparison, don't you think?