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Custody: Heartbreak Hotel

Of all the family law work that we do, of all the issues that we handle, of all of the different kinds of cases that we try, custody cases are the hardest, most heart wrenching, high stakes gambits imaginable.

Custody cases are borne of true disagreement.  When the parties get along, when they think in similar ways about their children, they don't have custody battles.  These parents may have some disputes about quantity of access, but those disputes these days are usually resolved peacefully, with only slight consternation.

But when parents battle for the kids, it gets deep.  And the end result is always a mixture of joy and sorrow, of elation and despair.  Because the parents' positional thinking played itself out in court, there are winners and losers.  But, as the winners realize, they lose too.  For the battle costs, not just in fees but in acrimony stoked and fed and sustained for years on end.  The battle may well have been absolutely necessary and justified, but the pain from the battle is no less acute.

It is difficult to try a custody case and keep the gloves on.  Mom and Dad each think they are the better parent and believe themselves sufficiently so that the other parent must be comparatively deficient by definition.  One parent must be right.  One parent must be wrong.  Right or wrong, no matter how necessary it is, the result is devastating for all.  "I don't want to kill you and you don't want to be dead," is a cute saying, but still a fatal forecast if neither side blinks in this high stakes game of chicken.

You can probably tell that I'm a bit worn down tonight from a custody battle. Three this week, to be exact.  Back to back to back is quite unusual.  Custody cases absolutely wear on the parents, but they tear the heart out of compassionate counsel as well.

We were quite fortunate in all three cases.  Because of our work this week, five children have much more secured futures, much greater chances of success; they can look forward toward a brighter future.

But what of the parents who did not prevail?  We cannot forget them nor dance our victory dance on their bones. They remain family.  The children are still a significant part of them.  And because of the schism that the custody battle caused, those parents are, at best more distant, at worst estranged and perhaps wholly absent, gone from the children's lives.

Winning without winners.  That's a custody trial for you.

Michael Manely  

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