While the best of marriages is what most couples dream of when they tie the knot, stories of nasty, drawn-out divorces ought to be considered as child abuse when you factor in how brutal custody battles can be on the children involved.
Lawyers are often depicted in popular media as heartless moneygrubbers, but we at Buckingham, LaGrandeur & Williams do have hearts that bleed and break for the youngsters who are caught in the middle of their parents’ fights. For all cases, we wish for nothing other than their best interests, which often means that children get to receive love and care from both parents. However, there are cases where joint custody battles are downright traumatic for the kids.
When children are used as meal tickets
Being part of a broken family is challenging enough, but growing up knowing that a parent or guardian wants to use your child support or trust fund to bankroll his or her lifestyle is likely to do a number on a child’s self-esteem.
To illustrate, Michael Jackson’s estate was estimated to range between $500 million to $2 billion at the time of his death in 2009. How much weight this had during the battles for shared custody of his three children can be speculated upon, but there’s no denying that the Jackson family infighting negatively affected the young ones. “I’m really angry and hurt,” tweeted Michael Jackson’s son Prince after a twisted turn of events had him and his siblings lose and regain contact with their beloved primary guardian, Katherine Jackson, their paternal grandmother.
When children are used as weapons
It’s bad when the sweetest of loves turns into the most bitter of ashes, but it gets worse if one parent becomes so vindictive that he or she uses their child to hurt the ex. This appears to be the case between actors Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in their custody battle for daughter Ireland.
In his book, A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey through Fatherhood and Divorce, Alec claims that Kim took drastic efforts to make Ireland hate him. According to Baldwin, Basinger deliberately attempted to block his visitation rights to Ireland, didn’t give their daughter phone access so she could call her father, and didn’t drop her off when she was scheduled to spend time with him. Alec’s frustration exploded on April 11, 2007 when Ireland failed to answer his phone call. In a furious voicemail, he called his then 11-year-old daughter a “rude thoughtless little pig.”
Awful as that was, it got worse: the voicemail was sold to TMZ and made public. Later on, Alec revealed in an interview with Playboy that he actually contemplated suicide. In an appearance on The View, Baldwin publicly apologized to his daughter. Basinger, through her rep, responded that she wishes that Alec “finally address his unstable and irrational behavior so he, at some point, can potentially create a relationship with his daughter.”
Whether or not Baldwin was unstable before the divorce or as a result of being victimized is a point of contention. So too is the concept of parental alienation syndrome (PAS), a cluster of symptoms a child purportedly displays after being manipulated by one parent to turn against the other. Symptoms include automatic support for the alienating parent, avoidance of and non-communication with the alienated parent, and even hostility towards the extended family of the alienated parent.
While PAS is not recognized by any major medical or psychiatric association in the United States, there have been cases wherein courts have released parents of their child support obligations due to parental alienation. In Matter of Robert Coull v. Pamela Rottman, a Brooklyn appeals court ruled that a father did not have to pay for child support because the mother repeatedly prevented him from seeing their son. In some countries outside the US, particularly Brazil and Mexico, parental alienation is criminalized.
We know from firsthand experience as family lawyers that divorce or death of parental figures are tough for kids. In child custody cases, the wellbeing of minors must always be the primary concern. Beyond the basic necessities of food, shelter, and clothing, their dignity must always be upheld. Talk to us — at Buckingham, LaGrandeur & Williams, this is always the case.