I don't typically write about celebrity or high profile divorces because I want my material to speak for itself, rather than having it receive attention for some parasitic reason. However, when I read the headlines and articles about Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas' divorce, I felt compelled to speak up. The information I picked up through reading those articles provided an amazing opportunity for me to educate people on a very important issue.
The article from "Today," specifically provided as follows:
"'We have thoughtfully and consensually decided to finalize our almost twenty years marriage in a loving and friendly manner, honoring and respecting each other, our family and friends and the beautiful time we have spent together,' the pair said in a statement they shared with TODAY.
The celebrity couple married on April 14, 1996, and have one child together. Griffith is seeking sole custody of daughter Stella, who will be 18 years old in September."
I posted a link to that article as a status update on Facebook and LinkedIn, with the following comment: "FYI - Seeking sole custody of a child in a divorce is NOT 'thoughtful, loving, friendly, or respectful,' especially when the child is almost 18 years old. Something's amiss here -- maybe her lawyer didn't 'hear' Melanie, when they prepared the divorce Petition for her? Wouldn't that be unusual!"
After reading my most, Phillip Tucker said, "Children this age vote with their feet on where they want to be." Phillip is absolutely correct, but I must also point out that he happens to be a very well-regarded family law attorney in Edmond, Oklahoma. It is essential that I point this out because of the comment I received from an attorney I know who went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree, to law school at Georgetown University Law Center, and has been handling complex civil litigation matters for approximately 15 years. That attorney said the following: "Just a question: Don't you think that it's a bit presumptuous to comment since you don't know any of the parties involved?" In addition, a writer and journalist in Canada, who previously practiced as a lawyer and legal academic, said, "Mark, what do you think is ´amiss´? Seeking sole custody of an 18 year old. Why?"
I responded to both of them as follows: "'Sole custody' is a fighting term and sets up a fight from the very beginning for the reasons stated in my article titled 'The Power of Words.' Imagine being served with a document stating that the other parent is requesting 'sole custody' of a child that you parented as well. I am not suggesting that they couldn't later agree to whatever parenting plan they wanted, but that does not set a good tone from the start. Furthermore, as Phillip stated, a child that age will do whatever they want regarding the parenting plan, so why start a fight? Thus, there was absolutely no legitimate reason to start the proceeding in such a manner. As I keep saying, outcomes are determined by the way in which the game is designed. No parent appreciates being served with a document stating that the other parent wants sole custody of a child they parented."
Although the civil litigator made no further comments, the Canadian journalist replied as follows: "Thank you for the article. I agree with your reasoning and understand the nature of statements in an initial pleading, but can´t understand why her lawyers took that approach. Shock value perhaps and to get what they are really trying to achieve but, as you said, it does not set the scene as conciliatory."
Linda A. Liljedahl, a well-recognized experienced mediator of all forms of civil and domestic dispute and a mediation trainer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, responded, "Mark, I so much agree with you as to the sheer fighting attitude of Melanie Griffith's demand for sole custody of their (soon-to-be) 18 yr. old daughter. Those not in the family law field don't understand that the tone of Melanie's sole custody request is nothing less than a declaration of war simmering underneath their alleged mutually concurred statement of divorce."
The final comment was made by a woman I have known since high school. She has minor children and happens to be divorced herself. She said, "Why seek sole custody of an almost 18 year old? It's nonsense. She's an adult for the most part. She drives and I am certain isn't going to abide by a court's rules. Let her hang out where she wants!"
In response, I said, "Exactly! In addition, it sets the tone from the very beginning. If Melanie and Antonio did want to be respectful, etc., her lawyers may have snuck that doozie into the Petition in order to exacerbate Antonio's emotions and thereby generate more fees. If they didn't sneak it into the Petition, they may have advised Melanie to make the request. In any event, a psychologically minded attorney would have discouraged such a thing. This exemplifies the distinction."