April 2008 Archives

April 21, 2008

YouTube Divorce Video Takes the Low Road

divfam042108.jpgBy now you've probably heard about or seen Tricia Walsh-Smith's YouTube video, right? If not, here's the story: Walsh-Smith, a British actress-playwright, has been married for nine years to Philip Smith, president of the largest theatre owner in New York City, the Schubert Theatres. Now, she says, he's trying to kick her out of their Manhattan apartment and leave her destitute. Under their prenuptial agreement, she's entitled to half a million dollars and their house in Florida upon divorce, but she's trying to get that set aside so that she can fight for more of his assets.

Now, she's brought her case to the Internet with a video that has garnered nearly three million hits since it was posted on April 10. In it, Walsh-Smith explains her predicament, gives a tour of the apartment she's being asked to vacate, discloses intimate details about her husband to his assistant over the phone, shows photos from her wedding album, makes disparaging comments about her husband's family, and expresses her distress and bewilderment about the situation. In media mentions from CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and The Los Angeles Times, experts express various opinions about what it all means. Is it the advent of a new weapon in the divorce wars? A plan that will backfire when the judge is appalled by the tactic? A means to gain public sympathy and pressure Mr. Smith into doing what Ms. Walsh-Smith calls "the right thing?" A way for a disempowered wife to regain some control?

Or, as The L.A. Times says, perhaps it is merely "a performance piece by a theatre professional"? I'm inclined to agree with this view, and the whole thing leaves a bad taste. As an advocate of communication, collaboration, and making every effort to take the high road even in the painful and difficult event of a divorce, it's hard to condone something so clearly designed to humiliate Mr. Smith in the service of revenge and financial gain. The low road seems to have hit a new low.

April 2, 2008

Religious Issues in Custody Cases, Revisited

Recently I posted here on the apparent rise in religious issues in custody disputes. One such case is working its way through the Oregon courts, where the Oregon Supreme Court recently addressed the question of whether a 12-year-old boy can be circumcised at his father's request over the objections of his mother.

As explained in more detail in the Oregon Divorce Blog, in Boldt and Boldt the Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for additional testimony regarding the boy's preference, which was never considered in the original proceeding. The parents divorced in 1999 and had ongoing disputes about custody, with the father obtaining custody when the son was nine years old. In the meantime, the father converted to Judaism, and stated his intent to have his son circumcised, consistent with the Jewish tradition. The mother asked for -- and got -- an injunction from the court, prohibiting the father from going forward with the circumcision until she could petition the court for a change in custody and a permanent injunction.

The Supreme Court ultimately held that "the decision to circumcise....falls within a custodial parent's authority, despite medical or religious objections by the non-custodial parent." However, the Supreme Court also ruled that the trial court made a mistake by not interviewing the now-12-year-old son about his preferences, and remanded the case to the trial court to evaluate the son's preference. If he does object, the trial court may transfer custody to the mother.

The most significant part of the ruling is the part that says a custodial parent has control over medical decisions, even over the non-custodial parent's objections. Even where one parent retains physical custody, it's far more common for parents to continue to share decision-making than for one parent to have sole power over important decisions like these. Where the fight is over the right to make decisions like this, it certainly raises the stakes in any custody dispute.

Have I mentioned before that mediation and collaboration are great ways to resolve disputes? And that sharing custody cooperatively is optimal for your kids? Sometimes it just can't happen, but once again, giving it your best effort may pay off in the end, when your kid doesn't have to go to court and tell a judge whether he wants to be circumcised.