I see a lot of emotion in court. Many people have hard lives. They don’t have what we now like to call “social capital”. They don’t have strong families, satisfying careers, reliable housing, good friends, or even good health. They don’t have knowledge of the court system. In family law cases, they don’t even have appointed lawyers. And yet their kids are at stake. Lots of reasons to break down and just feel overwhelmed. My heart goes out to them.
But I have also seen those who seem to “have it all” sit and cry in deep, heartfelt sorrow. Let’s take a wildly successful, well-respected and even honored professional in his field of choice. With a lovely house and family. A world traveler. Healthy and relatively young. The whole world at his feet, so to speak. Splitting time between his demanding multiple careers and his wonderful family was a difficult task, but with the help of a top-notch personal assistant, he managed.
He seemed to have it all. It sounds like a wonderful life, and it is. It was. Because now comes the divorce. His brash young attorney has a great idea. Father can still do it all and have it all. Keep the house, the kids, the great career and his business ventures. Nothing has to change. The stay-at-home mom from another country can go back to where she came from. The problem is, she is asking the court to allow her to take the children with her. He opposes this.
The kids should stay put, dad’s young lawyer explains to the judge. Their school friends, lovely home, and after-school activities are more important than mom is to them, at their ages! Geography matters more than parents. The attorney argues forcefully and repeatedly that it would be terrible to move these kids “across the world” when they are “born American”. Their lives are here! But that is not the law.
Our state parenting plan laws focus heavily on primary parenting roles. There is nothing that says if the kid loves ice hockey you have to keep them near a rink. We look at the strength, nature and stability of each parents’ relationship in determining the best placement. Children cannot be split in two, in spite of what some parents may think. They have to be somewhere, with someone, at every given moment. They exist in space and time. And if the parents are going to live in two different countries, thousands of miles apart, then the judge has a tough decision to make.
In this case, the judge carefully considered the relative strength, nature and stability of each parent’s relationship with the children, and determined that the children’s lives would be less disrupted if they join their stay-at-home mother in relocating to her birth country. It helped that they had lived there for several years and had gone to school there, had extended family, and spoke the language. But the fact that the mother had dedicated herself to their upbringing and was closest to them was the central deciding factor.
And one sentence later, the man who had it all has lost the legal right to see his children grow to adulthood in his home. He has lost the right to have his children live in the same city, the same state, or even the same country as him. And like so many other parties to lawsuits I have seen, he sits and cries. Yet another reminder that there is no one alive who does not suffer. There is no one alive who deserves our envy more than our compassion. And so my heart goes out to these “more fortunate” moms and dads, and to these children, too.