15 Good Reasons a Custody Battle is More Like a Political Campaign Than a Lawsuit
by E.B. Gunn
Washington, DC, July 1, 2014 – A customer told me a familiar story recently. His teenage son whom he had raised from birth has recently been living largely with my customer’s ex-wife, the boy’s mother. That the boy now sees relatively little of his father was not his father’s wish. Not at all. It is the result of a recently issued Court Order won at great effort and expense by the boy’s mother.
Dad’s not a bad dad. Don’t get me wrong. Not at all. He just wasn’t able to paddle upstream against the torrent of pro-mom white water that is the American Family Court system in many jurisdictions in this country today.
When the boy and his dad got together the boy was clearly acting out in one of those awful transition periods where — with his mother’s angry voice still echoing in his head — the child struggles to acclimate temporarily to the ways of odd-man-out Dad’s household. Besides my customer having given up his portion of the house he purchased for his young family, and his sending hefty support checks each month, and providing gifts on special occasions and holidays, this dad was a regular in the bleachers at his son’s basketball games and a faithful attendee at teacher conferences. When he is permitted to under the terms of the Order he takes the boy with him to church on Sundays. But this day all that was forgotten when the boy said cuttingly to his father: “You don’t care about me. I might as well be an orphan!”
The boy’s callous what have you done for me lately? comment reminded me again of the striking similarities between child custody fights and political campaigns. Custody fights are much more like political campaigns than they are like traditional lawsuits. Why? In custody fights as in campaigns the sands are constantly shifting beneath the contestants’ feet. Current events and how those events are interpreted matter. They matter a lot. Whereas in virtually all other lawsuits what matters happened long ago and the arguments are about which facts relating to the long ago series of events should be considered by the judge and/or jury.
Indeed a political orientation is, I believe, the best background to bring to the task of assessing clearly, surviving the day-to-day rigors of and ultimately holding your own in a custody fight. What follows are 15 good reasons why.
1. The contestant lives a persona. Candidates for political office become what is sometimes described as “caricatures of themselves.” For example, tax cutters become card-carrying Tea Partiers and progressives tout at every whistle stop their progressivism and how the new programs they will introduce will benefit their future constituents. So it is with dads in custody fights. If he’s a coach, then that is how he portrays himself and is portrayed by his side. If he’s a businessman and provider (the fatted calf!) then it is that persona that is advanced. Likewise if he’s the home-schooling dad, the play-catch-in-the-backyard dad, or the read-em-bedtime-stories dad, then that’s the one dimensional silhouette of himself that’s presented to the Court. As with candidates for elective office, dads are most easily understood on the fly when they are dumbed-down to a catchy phrase.
2. Old fashioned charm pays big dividends. Surviving a custody fight requires meeting a series of former strangers who have just been introduced to the intricacies of your life — guardians ad litem, custody evaluators, child psychologists, mediators, court personnel, law enforcement, accountants, lawyers and their staffers, and most importantly the Judge! – and convincing them however subtly that you are a good guy. When this has been achieved you will be the beneficiary of a hundred welcome kindnesses. If these individuals cannot be convinced you are worthy of their courtesy a chilly frost will descend upon your cause that will make its moving parts run less smoothly. Likewise candidates for public office must meet strangers well. There are a hundred sayings — “He never met a stranger,” “He never met a bloke he didn’t like,” “When he comes into a room the room moves to him” — that describe this quality. In all the other courtrooms – criminal, civil, tax, appellate, you name it – facts are king. Why? Because that’s what’s going up on appeal.
3. Endorsements count. Fathers in custody fights and candidates for public office are seeking to convince strangers – voters on the one hand, a guardian or custody evaluator and ultimately the judge on the other – that they are trustworthy. As a part of this effort they turn to advertising. In politics this advertising comes in the form of endorsements via press releases, joint press conferences and TV spots. In a custody fight these statements take the form of sworn affidavits and then testimony in open court. It’s always tough to ask someone, even a good friend, to say nice things about us for the record, but with the heat of battle at our backs and urging us on we do it.
4. Partisans must be babysat. Once someone has said they are for you, they become a more dangerous future adversary. This is because the general perception is that a friend must feel passionately to desert a friend. What caused the passion? What does it say about the character of the former friend? Dads in custody fights when they are gathering their affidavits do exactly what candidates for office do: look at the constituencies, get a respected representative from each, sign them up and keep them in the fold. Affidavits might well come from, for example, a doctor, a teacher, a coach, a member of the clergy, and the mother of one of his child’s best friends. The Criminal Court has a similar tradition: the character witness. Keeping your partisans in the fold means calling them regularly to keep them abreast of the fight, to take their pulse, and to give them some love.
5. The establishment influences the result. People talk. Contests are always interesting. So it is inevitable that the community will talk about custody battles and political campaigns. As contests being waged within the public’s view, political campaigns and custody battles occur within contexts. The establishment backed candidate may not win the campaign, but the establishment will have talked him up and gotten him some votes. The same is true in custody battles. The community will decide whether mom or dad is best suited to taking the lead in the raising of the kids, and their view will make its way by one back channel or another to the guardian or custody evaluator. In the face of everything else she knows about the case the community’s opinion may not sway the custody evaluator. Or it may. Some are more influenced by community pressure than others. In custody fights and political campaigns it’s better to have the establishment with you than against you.
6. The handlers must be handled too. At the outset of a political race, just as at the outset of a custody battle, the contestant chooses his team. Candidates engage, for example, pollsters, managers, advertising firms, body men and press secretaries. A contestant in a custody battle will certainly take on a law firm or two, and he will probably need a forensic accountant, a shrink or two and depending on the case a couple of expert witnesses. He may also have need for the services of a private investigator. Once it is together it is necessary to keep this group together. As with all organizations, the tone here is set at the top: by the client. If a team starts to splinter the inevitable impression given to the judge is that the guy at the top is causing trouble: he’s hard to work with, he’s slow paying, he’s micro-managing, he’s second-guessing. Or worse. You can’t trust him, he’s a drinker, he’s going down, he’s a dead man walking. Perception becomes then, as is said all the time in politics, reality.
7. Secret messages arrive from unlikely quarters. Because political campaigns and custody battles are contests that are waged within the public’s view, the public is inevitably engaged, and when the community is engaged a few individuals inevitably choose to self-start and become involved. They know something, or think they do, that might help one side or the other. They heard something. They saw something. In the cases of husbands whose wives cheat, this is the torrent of tips that has led to the well-worn but apt phrase “The husband’s always the last to know.” When it’s too late these well-meaning tipsters sing like canaries.
8. Negative messages hit the mark. Campaigns and custody fights are exercises in getting out the good word about yourself while making sure that all the bad about the opposition gets out too. Yet neither in politics nor in Divorce Court is it helpful for a good guy to do a mean thing … like reveal the shortcomings of his opponent or ex-wife. For this reason the opposition’s negatives are generally but not always best revealed by credible surrogates. In the courtroom lawyers perform this function. In politics it is reporters or bloggers writing stories based upon information gained from blind sources. Do these expressions win the day? Rarely. Because contestants who enter the ring rarely have show-stopping skeletons in their closets.
9. But it’s the counterpunches that win the day. You can tell the amateurs from the pros by watching who over-reaches and who is standing by on their toes listening carefully and ready to step in and capitalize on the opposition’s mistake. These are the moments upon which campaigns and custody fights turn. To make them most memorable, to assure that they will be discussed and re-discussed within the community, the best counter-punches are delivered with a light touch … just enough to draw a smile in the retelling. Here’s where little things become big things because the impression is left that the puncher is a flake and the counter-puncher is a solid guy who, having endured flakiness for too long, finally stood up and said “Enough.”
10. Missteps produce immediate consequences. As in any closely fought contest, momentum ebbs and flows in a rhythm dictated by current events. Dad chose to play golf instead of attending the parent-teacher conference. Mom had an extra glass of wine at lunch and was asleep in her chair at the school awards ceremony when Johnnie got the big citizenship award. Or, more seriously: Dad got a DUI with the kids in the car. Mom requested an emergency hearing, and now Dad’s on supervised visitation. Or, the kids complained to the guardian again about Mom’s boyfriend. And the guardian, who had previously warned Mom about just this, called for an emergency hearing. It goes without saying the exact same thing happens in political campaigns: the candidate utters an ethnic slur that is picked up on someone’s iphone and played on the air. His opponent makes the slur into an ad, and now our man’s off 15 points. Contributions have dried up and our supporters are running for the doors.
11. Physical conditioning is crucial. Missteps get made for a variety of reasons – neurosis, anger, booze, drugs, gluttony and laziness to cite just a few. However most mental errors are caused by fatigue. Child rearing, especially under the klieg lights of a custody battle, is stressful and tiring. The custody evaluator is watching with particular care how you handle the pressure. Dad has business out-of-town, but he wants to get back to see Johnnie in the school play. It’s raining torrents. Katie (and thus Dad) is up all night with the throw-ups the night before the big pitch. If Dad never went to the gym before, he should go now. The same goes for candidates. This isn’t about looking pretty, although there’s a lot to be said for contestants looking vigorous. This is all about avoiding the mental errors that are caused by fatigue.
12. The machine runs on money. If, as it is said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” it is not an overstatement that money is the life’s blood of a father’s shot at getting equal time with his kids. If in a political campaign the voters have the final say, in a custody fight the final say belongs to the children, as their opinion is interpreted by the guardian or custody evaluator and then finally by the judge. Accordingly, besides private eyes, lawyers, accountants and guardians, all of whom must be paid promptly, there’s the home theater rig, the afternoon shopping trips with Katie, the meals out, the annual trip to Disney World, the nights at the ballpark with Johnnie and more. It is necessary to woo the kids, and for 99 out of 100 kids that’s expensive. Candidates woo voters. Dads woo kids. One in a hundred candidates get outspent and still win. For fathers it’s more like one in a thousand.
13. Mediocre food is plentiful. I see it all the time. Dad wasn’t the family cook before the divorce, and while the custody fight’s ongoing he wants to take the kids out to Chick-Fil-A for every meal. Brother, to stay in the game you got to learn to cook for the kids. And to win the game you got to outcook the ex! This is the time for the gym, but it is not the time for the diet. Gumbo, burgers, spaghetti, pizza … and desserts! Make em with the kids as your sous-chefs, and serve em with a smile. The whole world is watching. Why’s this like politics and not like Tax Court? Office-seekers eat their way through campaigns. It’s not unusual for a candidate to put on 15 to 20 pounds in a race. That’s why campaigning is often referred to as “The rubber chicken circuit.”
14. When it’s over things change fast. Custody fights at their basics are about determining whose primary responsibility it’s going to be to see to it that the children are raised up right, and who’s going to pay for it. What is at stake then is who will be given specific responsibilities, which of course is exactly what’s at stake in a political campaign: which candidate will be given the responsibility of representing the constituency. The children are growing up. The government must be managed. There’s urgency. Accordingly, when the voters vote, or the judge issues his Order, things happen fast. Candidates who win in November get sworn in on January 1. It’s even quicker for parents: the Judge issues his Order and you’ve got ten days or two weeks to get out of the house.
15. But when it’s over it’s not over. Congressmen and state representatives who run every two years basically never stop running. They live on the edge of the sword. Mayors and other local elected officials, who typically serve four year terms, have a little more comfort. And of course U.S. Senators have the most comfort of all with their six year terms. There’s no comfort whatsoever for guys who have won either full or partial custody. As long as the ex has a thousand dollars in her pocket to pay a filing fee and for a couple of hours of her lawyer’s time, and until your youngest child is 18 years old, the ex can on the slightest of pretenses drag you back before a Family Court judge to revisit the custody arrangement. And many exs do … repeatedly.
Custody fights look like lawsuits. The hearings are held in a courtroom with a judge presiding. The vocabulary is legalese and there are lawyers everywhere you look. But that’s just the format, the stadium in which the game is played.
The contest’s outcome does not turn – as do all other lawsuits — on the set of facts that were presented at the outset of the proceeding. In a custody battle, as in a close campaign, the set of events upon which the outcome turns occur largely during the term of the proceeding. Custody fights are waged in the here and now. So it’s not how you go in that determines how you come out. It’s the campaign you run that is determinative.
The Feelgood Divorce Finds an Advocate
New York, NY, March 6, 2014 – The hottest ticket on the lecture circuit this year is Belgian sex therapist Esther Perel. A quick look at why tells us more about ourselves than about Ms. Perel.
There’s no denying Ms. Perel’s central message would attract fans in any age, but it resonates uniquely with the generation that came of age in the 1970′s and ’80′s. Among the personally-reassuring things Ms. Patel, the author of ‘Mating in Captivity,’ tells audiences is “Not every infidelity is a symptom of a problem in a relationship. Sometimes it has to do with other longings that are much more existential. Sometimes you go elsewhere not because you are not liking the one you’re with; you are not liking the person you have become.” According to a recent story in The New York Times, Ms. Perel is working on a book along these lines.
A topic of interest to me has been seeking answers to the question “Why are my contemporaries’ (and my) marriages failing at rates two and three times greater than those of our parents and grandparents? What happened?” What social factors are contributing to this phenomena beyond the simple physical fact that because of medical advances we are living longer?
It’s not Dr. Spock, the low-hanging fruit. Let’s clear him. Yes, he opposed the Viet Nam War, but we certainly won’t hold that against him. The Pentagon now agrees US involvement there was a mistake. More significantly, however, as a pediatrician-author Spock did not urge our parents to indulge us beyond suggesting simply they regularly cuddle us in our early years. Pretty hard to hold that against him. In fact in his writings he advocated clear boundaries and speedy consequences for us when we overstepped. Okay, not guilty.
So what was it? Rounding up the usual suspects: Online dating? Women’s Liberation? Television? The gym? The pill? Or is it that we have finally revealed that monogamy is unnatural? We are, of course, if nothing else, natural … especially when it tastes good.
Ms. Perel has, I believe, given us a hint in her line “…not because you are not liking the one you’re with,” which is clearly reminiscent of the 1970 Stephen Stills song “Love the one you’re with.” Stills says this rock classic was inspired by Billy Preston’s rocker-on-the-road throwaway line: “If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with,” which became of course the iconic couplet in Stills’ song that pulled it together, gave it its name and landed it among the immortals: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
But that’s more about the mechanics … more about the how, than the why?
On the central question, on the why, Ms. Perel is I believe onto something when she suggests that “you are not liking the person you’ve become” sometimes prompts adulterous behavior. This concept, of course, harkens back to our mothers and grandmothers who maintained it is the girls who don’t like themselves (“who have low self-esteem,” to use the post-psychoanalysis term) who are the tramps.
While we’re still thinking in rock-and-roll (contemporary poetry) terms for a moment, let’s also consider the 1987 Michael Jackson mega-hit “Man in the Mirror,” featuring the memorable couplet “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.” Michael Jackson – Man In The Mirror And the other thousand songs, articles, books and movies that when taken together gave us the nickname “The Me Generation.”
Consider also that Oprah gives a Master Class on how to reinvent yourself, and so does virtually every other personal self-improvement and entrepreneurship lecturer. Consider Steve Jobs who envisioned the reinvention of the telephone and is widely regarded a genius for his having done so. Consider Charles Colson, Nixon’s hatchet man, who returned from prison a Christian thinker and whose pamphlets proliferate in church narthexes today alongside C.S. Lewis’. Or Jane Fonda, the actress-protester turned what’s-good-for-the-body-is-good-for-the-head exercise guru. Or Al Franken, the comedian turned senator. Or George Foreman, the killer turned griller.
The New Me list is as endless as the line at the DMV.
But what if we don’t like “The New Me?” What then? What if we’re uncomfortable with what we become? Or, what if our spouse reinvents herself and finds she’s not comfortable in the new her? In an effort to get comfortable does she, or we, seek affirmation of the new self? In what form? From what source? If the makeover is in part physical, doesn’t it follow that the affirmation being sought might also be in part physical? Why else do I suggest in The Gentleman’s Guide to the Nasty Divorce that the gym is an excellent place to get a line on the next girlfriend?
Which brings us to the really seductive part of what Ms. Perel is selling. “Not every infidelity is a symptom of a problem in a relationship,” she says. How sweet it is! I didn’t do anything wrong. She got messed up and as a result she blew up the marriage! In our let’s-try-to-keep-it-simple highly-complex era of no-fault automobile accidents, painless dentistry, mail-order brides, no-fault classrooms, offshore pharmacies, no-push childbirth, and no-fault divorces, here’s a free ticket to no-guilt Splitsville.
Two people need not grow apart, as has to date gone the conventional wisdom. Ms. Perel suggests instead that one partner can grow apart from the other. So in the Me Generation, characteristically faithful only to ourselves, all it takes is one to blow up a union. Layer upon that all the pressures we face to reinvent ourselves, to reboot, to get a nip or tuck or dye-job, and then have a glance at the long haul suggested by the actuarial tables and we may be closing in on making sense of why the numbers are what they are.
If half the country’s marriages are going to end in dissolution, as they now do, a way must be found to ease the pain of divorce. Ms. Perel is showing us the way, the way to the feelgood divorce.
PARAMOURS, WIVES, EX-WIVES AND THE CHANGING RULES FOR REPORTERS AND CANDIDATES
CHARLESTON, SC, May 1, 2013 – The ongoing South Carolina-01 House race has caused the rules — the big rules, the national rules, the rules by which presidential candidates are expected to play – to change again. A new rule, one we’ll call #7, that now the divorce documents of divorced candidates are no longer off limits, has found its way into the rulebook. It happened last week.
See below, for example, is one of the SC-01 candidates’ mugshot that’s been making the rounds.
(Charleston County, South Carolina Sheriff’s Office file)
Here’s how it happened.
From the days of the aptly named Founding Fathers through the dawn of television the adulterous dalliances of elected officials in the US were off limits to the press. We know now, for example, from various memoirs that JFK cheated on Jackie regularly, that the White House press corps knew about it, and that the rules in effect at the time were that they wouldn’t write it. We know also about Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and others, including 4-termer FDR.
But those old rules began to change with the increased scrutiny brought by post-Watergate television when in the 1987 Democratic Party Presidential primary frontrunner Colorado Senator Gary Hart, notorious around Washington for his memorably stunning girlfriends, began to face questions about his “womanizing.” Flatly denying and then deriding the charges, famously Hart dared reporters to “put a tail on me” adding anyone who did so “would be very bored.” The Miami Herald took him up on his offer and immediately discovered a model, Donna Rice, overnighting with Hart at his Washington townhouse while Hart’s wife was known to be in Denver. Caught, Hart bowed out and stayed out. Soon after his departure The National Enquirer splashed across its front page a photo (http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1831856_1831858_1831879,00.html) of the curvy model nuzzled up cozily on the frontrunner’s lap.
Rule 1: The only reliably safe place is home with your wife. An extramarital affair, and especially lying to cover it up, disqualifies a Presidential primary candidacy.
No small wonder it’s often next-to-impossible to get the best and the brightest to run. However, there are a few bright lights.
Next up, Bill Clinton. If Rule 1 was in fact a red line, then Gennifer Flowers’ 1992 mid-campaign foray into checkbook journalism with the story of her lengthy affair with the Arkansas Governor should have sunk Bill Clinton. But Hillary and Bill Clinton’s top-rated appearance together on ’60 Minutes’ to reaffirm their marriage vows was a game-changer. Moreover, on the show Bill Clinton displayed his Houdini-like knack for sounding as if what he was saying was one explicit thing, but then when the transcript of his comments was analyzed it turned out a side door had been left cracked, and maybe he hadn’t actually said what it sounded like he had said.
Rule 2(a): Cheating’s maybe okay for a Presidential primary candidate – especially if the country is really hungry for a change of leadership — if the affair is over and your wife takes you back.
Rule 2(b): Especially if you can convincingly blur the specifics of the encounter(s).
Gennifer Flowers cashed her check and there was relative silence for a few years until the Monica Lewinsky Scandal tested the rules again. A friend of Lewinsky’s told the Feds that Monica had had sex with President Clinton in the Oval Office and she could prove it. Lewinsky’s subsequent testimony in the sexual harassment case of Paula Jones became the subject of a Federal Special Prosecutor’s inquiry. And ultimately because of the revelations contained in Lewinsky’s testimony impeachment proceedings against President Clinton were initiated.
Rule 3(a): Extramarital sex in the Oval Office is grounds for initiating embarrassing impeachment proceedings.
Rule 3(b): If you’re having sex (oral or otherwise) with a married man – especially POTUS – and you want to control the timing of the story’s release, don’t tell your friend.
After a lengthy process the opponents of adultery in the US House of Representatives couldn’t muster a majority, and Clinton – at considerable political cost — beat the impeachment rap, thus reaffirming that when it comes to public policy in Washington there are no rules (including the 10 Commandments), nor right nor wrong. The only thing that actually matters in Washington is who’s got the votes.
But there are rules for candidates for public office, and those rules are changing all the time. Which brings us to two Governors who were on the Presidential trajectory to run against one another to replace George W. Bush in 2012 : Spitzer and Sanford. Here loomed tests of Rule 2(a):
But first, as a footnote US Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) resigned in 2007 after being charged by police with allegedly soliciting gay sex in the second-from-the-left stall in the main men’s bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. His wife stood by him at the resignation.
Okay, consider Silda Wall Spitzer’s impressive (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/12/nyregion/12cnd-resign.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) 2008 fidelity to her husband, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and Jenny Sanford’s famous 2009 refusal after her husband, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admitted he had a soulmate who was not his wife. Spitzer, whose wife stuck with him, resigned. And Sanford, whose wife took the kids and moved out, remained in office in the face of ethics investigations, impeachment efforts by the South Carolina State Legislature and concurrent divorce proceedings.
After Spitzer and Sanford Rule 2(a) was overturned and replaced by 2(c).
Rule 2(c): Maybe cheating’s sometimes okay, but the girl better be your soulmate. However, as an important footnote, be aware that that the same sex stuff won’t float with the voters except in Eastern Massachusetts, New York, San Francisco, Key West and, maybe, Austin. Additionally, just as another footnote, back to that vote thing: Sanford, like Clinton, had the votes to head off impeachment. The South Carolina State House of Representatives couldn’t muster an anti-adultery majority either.
The formidable Huma Abedin, SSOTUS Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and the newly-made wife of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, stood by her man in 2011 when it was revealed that before and after their recent wedding the congressman was sexting with various women he had met over the internet. In the face of a Gotham-sized media onslaught Weiner resigned. Now the former congressman, after warning last week that there may still be more sexually suggestive photos of him still out there in various ladies’ inboxes, is poised with the help of his wife and Hillary Clinton to reemerge by entering the race to fill the vacancy that will be created by the termed-out departure of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Similarly, Wendy Vitter stood by her husband David, the deeply conservative junior senator from Louisiana, when it was revealed in the 2007 DC Madam Scandal that he had consorted with prostitutes. Vitter was reelected by a wide margin in 2010.
Rule 4: If you’ve got Hillary (the Goddess of Light) on your side, you’re a made man.
Rule 5: In Louisiana all the big cheese keep hookers whom they visit after church. If you don’t, you’re not.
Now, presumably, it was the trailblazing Ms. Sanford who has caused the rules to change again. Just as her former husband’s general election campaign was gaining steam earlier this month word was leaked that the former governor had been accused by his former wife of trespassing at her house and that the two are due in Family Court on May 9, two days after the general election, to sort out who did what. Ms. Sanford denies she leaked the sensational “sealed” documents, but reporters who know her (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/04/jenny-sanford-sabotaged-mark-sanford-comeback.html), and common sense suggest she did. Everyone in the business knows everyone in the business who leaks always denies leaking. The trespassing leak was followed immediately by more blindly sourced revelations of “sealed” alleged violations by the former Governor of the Family Court Order relating to his and Ms. Sanford’s divorce. Someone who knew a lot told a lot more to fuel the second day story, and common sense says it’s hardly likely it was the former Governor’s side, or Family Court personnel who did that tattling either. Polls indicate the revelations cost Sanford 6-10 points, the margin of a landslide by most definitions. We’ll know on May 7 whether those numbers stick.
Rule 6: If there is a single lonely knuckle left over from a skeleton in your closet, beware of the Goddess of Dark.
Here’s what has now changed. Here’s Rule 7. The opening of the Sanford Family Court documents on April 17 in the midst of the former Governor’s campaign caused reporters to dig also into Charleston County Family Court documents relating to the 1987-88 divorce of Sanford’s general election opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. It didn’t take the reporters long. A story in the Charleston Post & Courier on April 20th shows two reporters there, Schuyler Kropf and Robert Behre, found it newsworthy that in November, 1988 Ms. Colbert Busch was jailed for contempt of court. The Post & Courier story explained Ms. Colbert’s incarceration euphemistically, referring to Colbert and her former husband as having “failed miserably to resolve their differences in the children’s best interests.” Specifically the judge’s Amended Order indicates Colbert was jailed for violating the terms of her divorce by secreting her three children away when their father came for his court-ordered visitation.
Newly-minted Rule 7: “Who behaved worse in their divorce(s)” is another measure by which voters are entitled to judge the qualifications of candidates standing for public office.
Like the affairs of politicians in the pre-Gary Hart years, Divorce Court matters were until last week off limits to reporters. Were we privy to the divorce documents of Ronald Reagan and actress Jane Wyman, for example? Or, more recently, were Divorce Court documents relating to Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s two former marriages written about in the course of the 2012 Republican Presidential primary? What do we know of Mayor Bloomberg’s marriage? Even the documents containing the details of Rudy Giuliani’s tempestuous divorce while he was Mayor of New York in which he was required by a Family Court judge to move out of Gracie Mansion, leaving use of the place to his estranged wife and their son for a time, were largely concealed.
The unwritten rule that Divorce Court matters are out of bounds to reporters was presumably based on the longstanding principle that preserves the paramount importance of protecting the children of divorcing parents from having to read about their parents’ divorces in the papers, and endure and be scarred by the chatter that inevitably follows salacious public events. In a larger sense the toppling of this barrier can also be seen as just another Internet Age compromise of the privacy rights of individuals. But hey, besieged by unfiltered salacious information from televison and the internet already, what do kids today not already know?
A 2012 HOLIDAY MESSAGE FROM E.B.
HO HO HO…which is short for, HOLD HOLD HOLD onto your hats, Guys! ‘Tis the season … for divorce.
Yep, according to search tools the phrase “women’s divorce advice” was keyed in 35% more last January than any other month in the previous 12 month period. The pros know and the stats show that the holiday season finishes off marriages more efficiently than any other time of the year.
Since jolly old Yuletime’s approaching let’s consider the season’s perils.
#1 Gift-giving. She asked none-too-subtly for that pair of diamond earrings. You (you quick-thinking guy) made the MISTAKE of telling her they were cubic zirconia (set in sterling, no less!) because they were much safer for traveling.
“Traveling?” she said. “Where do we ever go?” Ouch!
I know – I get it. Times have been tough. Surely she should have understood: you’ve already laid out over $125 for your daughter’s American Girl doll, and then that again for the doll’s requisite accessories … the doll your wife said Jenny HAD to have. And then there’s the new mountain bike your wife insisted Joey’s been asking for for over a year – and it’s only another $250+. Now throw in the kids’ school ski trip, meals out – and in. Oh, and your mother-in-law’s coming. “Johnnie Walker Black, please” the Old Bird caws … and if there’s one thing you KNOW you’re going to spring for, it’s that litre of scotch … or hear her cawing about how you didn’t through the whole holiday.
So there it is: This peril just comes down to what you’re willing to spend. Push the budget…unless you think the marriage is already irrevocably on a sleigh-ride to Divorce Court. Then pinch, pinch, pinch. You’ll need every penny.
#2 In-laws. Not her people, yours. If they’re successful, they’re arrogant. If they’re not, they’re bums. If your Dad enjoys a holiday nip now and then, he drinks too much, and the worst part about that is “You’re getting to be just like him.” If there’s a family get-together, it better be catered. Because if it’s not, I can guarantee you that your wife will, in her mind at least, be asked to do more than her fair share. Guard against this at all costs … even doing the work yourself if necessary. Go ahead, slip into the Santa suit apron and get in the scullery…there’s a chance she’ll find you charming again.
#3 The social whirl. Here’s where your wife gets to stack up her wardrobe, her house, even how you two entertain — against those of her contemporaries … and come up short.
I feel your pain: how could you have known when you vetoed her “Holiday Drinks Party” and suggested a backyard barbecue instead? I’m sure you thought it would mean less work for her – and good for you. But look, be on your toes because here’s where you might get the clearest signal. If you hear, “I’m wearing the same old thing to the same old parties with the same old people talking about the same old stuff,” that’s a sign the sleigh ride is near.
The good news is righting the wrong is simple. It just takes two things: respect and, oh yes, more money. If you can help her feel good about herself, do it. If she wants a new dress, don’t ask questions. If it’s the Holiday Drinks Party, embrace her creativity… shut up and put on the stupid patterned holiday sweater she gave you last year. If you’re unwilling, get ready to wrap up half your net worth and slide it under the Christmas tree. It’s gonna be hers.
#4 Vacation time. This is that week between Christmas and New Year’s when most people take a few days off. If you had a good year, you’re going skiing in Colorado. Not so good? Welcome to 2012. “How about let’s stay home, watch a ballgame or two, and maybe I’ll do some of those honey-dos. Whatever, we’re together, and this is good, right sweetheart?”
Maybe not. You getting comfortable in the house she’s accustomed to having more or less to herself daily is closely akin to your being “under foot.” Here’s where, if you’re not careful, you’ll be to your great detriment: yourself. Here’s where your wife is reminded up close who she married, and a two hour power walk won’t get her far enough away from her present reality.
Nonsense. Of course you’re a prize. You’re charming, fun, and hey, you just gave her cubic zurconia earrings (set in sterling, no less!). But might you also be the big guy whose snoring all-too-rarely makes her want to play Vixen to your Comet?
Here’s what MIGHT help: make a point of doing something you’ve never done. Like maybe take a field trip to a place you’ve never been, and invite her along. Season the ordinary with a dash of the unexpected. If she flat won’t go, the stats show and now you know she’s home on her laptop searching “women’s divorce advice.”
Knowing statistically what you’re up against this season – and what you might do about it – can help. Take the precautionary steps, and stay positive. Santa might still sneak in one more surprise for you both. U.S. birth rates historically display a heartening bump around Labor Day. You do the math.
The following appeared recently in The Daily Loaf.
All ten tips are useful, but you’ll get the most for the least from #10.
Same piece but as it appeared in The Pittsburgh Better Times with the intro still intact:
Tips for men seeking to survive their divorces …
Tips for men seeking to keep substantial post-divorce time with their children …