Lessons I Learned From My Parents: Part IV

The next lesson I learned was that the concept of the 'evil stepmother' developed for good reason. Unfortunately, there is an inherent conflict of interest between a new spouse and children from a prior marriage or relationship.
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As I mentioned in my last article from this series, my father "divorced" me, after I refused to completely and permanently sever all ties with my mother. The lesson I learned on that occasion was that parents are ready, willing and able to use their adult children as pawns, just as they do with minor children.

The next lesson I learned was that the concept of the 'evil stepmother' developed for good reason. Unfortunately, there is an inherent conflict of interest between a new spouse and children from a prior marriage or relationship. It is not uncommon for a new spouse to resent the fact that some of their spouse's income and/or assets are being used to support children from prior marriages or relationships, especially once they reach the age of majority. After all, a parent is not legally obligated to provide financial support for their adult children and doing so depletes funds that would otherwise have been available to them and their family. In California, where income earned from work is considered community property, the new spouse may well object to "their" money being used to support their spouse's children.

As I mentioned before, my father married our mother's childhood friend. What I had not mentioned was that she had already been married several times and had one child, a daughter from her first marriage. When she subsequently remarried and prior to her marrying my father, her husband du jour adopted her daughter. Unfortunately, this also tended to coincide with her husband's relationship with his children from prior marriages coming to an end. We knew this information because she was our mother's childhood friend and our respective families used to take trips together. In fact, in or about 1985, her most recent ex-husband had told me that he was desperately trying to re-establish the relationship with his children that had been destroyed during his marriage to my now stepmother. Unfortunately, he was also dying of cancer at that time and did not live long enough to see that day.

This pattern is important to understand because the same dynamics played out after our father had married her. I was not only financially cut-off by the spring of my first year in college, but I was cut-off in every which way. Once I refused to sever all ties with my mother, my father stopped taking my calls. Since my stepmother was then also working as his secretary, I wasn't sure if she was telling him when I would call. Unfortunately, whether I called my father at home or work, she would answer the call. She would always tell me that he did not want to talk to me.

When I returned "home" after my freshman year at Brandeis University, I decided that I should go to his office and communicate with him in person. That turned out to be a very bad decision because it became very clear that he really did not want to have anything to do with me. In fact, while his patients were waiting in the lobby of his office, he physically threw me out and told me never to return. The next thing I knew, they had filed a restraining order against me. The "facts" set forth in that restraining order were completely fabricated, including the allegation that I had a baseball bat with me and threatened them with it. The only true allegation was the fact that I had entered my father's office on that particular day and time. I am the least violent person I know and most certainly did not bring a baseball bat into his office or otherwise threaten anyone.

Sadly, the next lesson my father taught me was that people are willing to perjure themselves in court documents in order to obtain their desired results. My mother and her fiancé had told me that it made no sense to oppose the restraining order because my father clearly didn't want to see me. They said that if someone wants a restraining order, they can easily obtain one and that it would not be an issue, as long as I kept my distance from them. After having practiced law for over 22 years, I completely disagree with that advice because if people are willing to perjure themselves in an effort to obtain the order, what makes anyone think they wouldn't perjure themselves to later claim that you violated it? Furthermore, "most restraining orders [in California] are 'CLETS Orders'. This means they are entered into the California criminal database, known as CLETS, 'California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System', often called a 'rap sheet'. All police departments have access to these records and use them in enforcing restraining orders. These CLETS orders can create serious problems when looking for work, applying to admission to school, or trying to obtain a state license." In the family law context, a restraining order may also impact living situations, parenting plans and timeshare arrangements, spousal support, and division of property. This information is explained in great detail in an article by Matthew A. Breddan and David Pisarra titled "Domestic Violence Allegations: Protecting Your Client's Rights" that was published in the May 2013 edition of Valley Lawyer Magazine. By the way, to this day, I don't recall whether or not they ever obtained a permanent restraining order against me. However, at that time, there was no such thing as a CLETS order.

In any event, long before I received any mediation training, I used my personal experiences as a child of a destructive divorce to help give my clients some perspective. I typically found this very beneficial, regardless of the divorce process used. I have generously shared my stories for the same reason that Antionette Tuff shared her personal story to disarm a shooter armed with a machine gun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition and save countless lives at a Georgia elementary school. Since I have found my openness with clients so effective over the years, I decided to publish this series of articles titled "Lessons I Learned from My Parents," so that many more people can benefit from my experiences.

Much to my pleasure, after someone read Part III of my series, I received the following email:

"Hi Mark. Your article definitely opened my eyes. I don't know if you know but a lot of people feel that attorneys are superheroes with superpowers to make things 'happen.' I look at my situation (another night where I'm held in suspense on when I can talk to my daughter) and it totally pales in comparison to just a portion of your story. Keep up the good work and never lose your zeal for fighting the good fight in the best interest of children and the parents who are genuine and mean well to others."

Obviously, my formal mediation training (which is ongoing) has given me a vast array of additional tools to use in my efforts to assist people with regard to their family conflict. Aside from everything else, I am fortunate to be a member of Woody Mosten's study group. We can never learn too much. Moreover, as Antoinette has demonstrated, we can learn from our own painful life experiences and use them for the benefit of others.

In addition to using my personal experiences to connect with my clients and help them to not unnecessarily ring a bell that cannot be unrung, I also learned never to accept what my clients tell me as being the truth. In fact, I have been known to cross-examine my own clients in a polite manner in order to try and decipher truth from fiction. If the dots do not connect in my mind, I assume that something must be missing and give judges the benefit of the doubt that they would be equally able to see that the dots do not connect. This skill has enabled me to avoid filing many a motion with the court on behalf of a client and have made those motions I have filed very strong because everything made a great deal of sense. Unfortunately, this is not a tactic used by many of my colleagues. In fact, when I have called them on it, they have responded by asking what I would do in their situation. I have consistently told them that I have become well-known for challenging my own clients, so I have never found myself in that position. As recently as just yesterday, I had a conversation with an opposing counsel who was clearly accepting her client's statements as "God's word." This is a grave mistake that may well have dire consequences, especially when families are involved.

My frustration with regard to the rampant epidemic of perjury and the reality that rarely, if ever, do consequences ensue, led to my writing articles titled "Does Anyone Tell the Truth Any Longer?" and "Is There a Penalty for Perjury?" Furthermore, when a friend's brother killed himself after losing his business, home, family and dignity as a result of false allegations of domestic violence by his wife in a divorce proceeding, I published an article titled "Philosophy and the Law" and another one titled "Legal Philosophy."

In fact, the inability of judges to decipher fact from fiction has led me to wonder why they are not required to take the same training as is required for FBI agents in order to detect truthfulness from deception. After all, what difference does it make if a judge properly applies the law to the wrong facts? Remember, judges are triers of facts. Please forgive me, but so many things just make no sense to me and I therefore question everything.

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