Alec Baldwin Discusses Family & Divorce Court on USA 20/20
The lawyers are there to make money. It's an industry. It's a racket. Judges are like pit bosses in Vegas casinos. Their job is to make sure everyone stays at the table and keeps gambling.
Quote #2: The lawyers are there to make money. It's an industry. It's a racket. Judges are like pit bosses in Vegas casinos. Their job is to make sure everyone stays at the table and keeps gambling.
19 September 2008
Alec Baldwin on Divorce, Children and Reconciliation
Actor Says Many Divorce Judges and Lawyers are 'Corrupt, Inefficient, Lazy, Stupid'
By Keturah Gray
Watch Diane Sawyer's interview with Alec Baldwin tonight on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET
Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger's cutthroat custody battle over their 12-year-old daughter, Ireland, has made international headlines for years. The couple divorced in 2002 after nine years of marriage, but the vicious accusations on both sides continued, culminating in the infamous 2007 voice-mail message in which Baldwin berated his daughter.
In an interview with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, Baldwin, 50, spoke about his lengthy court struggles with Basinger, 54, and said that when the voice mail was released, it brought him to the brink of suicide.
"I used to pray to God every night. I would get in bed, and I would say, please, don't let me wake up in the morning," Baldwin said. "I began to think about what little town I would repair to in order to commit suicide. And then you, obviously you say, well, what would that do to my child if I killed myself? Me, I really didn't care about me."
After the media storm and new round of custody litigation that followed the voice mail release, Baldwin nearly broke his own promise to never give up on his daughter. Deterred by the barriers that he believes his ex-wife imposed on his relationship with Ireland, Baldwin said he almost lost the will to keep fighting.
In his new book (in stores on Tuesday), "A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce," Baldwin chronicles his journey for other fathers who are seeking custody and struggling for justice in family court. He says it's time to do something about the business of divorce in America and, in typical Baldwin fashion, he doesn't mince words.
"I don't care if the judges and the lawyers die of heart attacks in the process of getting their job done. They are corrupt, inefficient, lazy, stupid – they're the most God-awful people."
Baldwin believes that many family court lawyers and their manipulations and delays make the child custody duel much worse than it needs to be. "The judges are like pit bosses in Vegas casinos. Their job is to make sure everybody stays at the table and keeps gambling."
Baldwin clashed with Basinger for nearly eight years: there are hundreds of documents, 91 court proceedings so far, and about $3 million in legal costs.
But it didn't start out like that.
'All Dissent Was Abuse'
Baldwin told Sawyer that he and Basinger came into marriage much like anyone else, except that they were two of Hollywood's biggest stars when they met on the set of "The Marrying Man" in 1990. "I had a marriage that I came to in the same way everybody else comes to a marriage. We all take chances when we get married."
Not long after they met, Basinger told ABC News that she thought Baldwin was "something else" and hoped that he was nuts about her.
Two years after their 1993 marriage ceremony, their daughter was born.
But by the time Ireland was 5, the marriage was unraveling.
"I'm sure she [Basinger] would tell you ad nauseam, she might even be more chatty about the warning signals she saw in me, you know," said Baldwin. "The harshest thing I can say is I was married to someone for whom all dissent was abuse. If you had your own opinion, you were abusive. And getting into the details doesn't matter 'cause it's not good for me legally to do that and it's not good for my daughter."
Ireland is unquestionably the love of Baldwin's life. He won joint legal and physical custody of her in 2004 and has racked up tens of thousands of frequent flier miles traveling between New York and Los Angeles to satisfy his custody visitation schedule. He sees himself as a good father and says he has met every court requirement that Basinger's side has thrown at him, including anger management classes.
"When I'm with her, I'm happy," he said. "It's one of the only times in my life that I'm happy."
In some ways, though, Baldwin believes that the separation with his daughter began before she was born.
"I think when my daughter becomes an adult, she'll be fully cognizant of the fact that she's estranged," he said.
At the time this story was published neither Kim Basinger nor her representative could be reached for comment.
Baldwin Describes 'Parental Alienation Syndrome'
In his book Baldwin recounts standing in the bathroom of Basinger's home in Los Angeles with Basinger and her assistant: "Kim said she was pregnant. A moment that one would have imagined, during all your lifetime leading up until now, would be a cause for unprecedented joy was more like someone telling you that they had wrecked your car. We all just stood there while Kim talked of her doubts about me and our marriage."
Baldwin wrote that Basinger's assistant "managed to sneak glances at me that seemed pitying, as if to say 'How sad to have this moment in your life play out this way.' I suppose that, in hindsight, the alienation from my daughter began that afternoon, before she was even born."
When he and Basinger separated, Baldwin said she moved from their home in New York back to California, reportedly for Ireland's health. At the time, a court-sponsored mediator was making custody arrangements with agonizing slowness, claims Baldwin.
At one point, Baldwin said Ireland told him, "Mommy says we can all be together again if you go and get help. Mommy says you're sick." Baldwin told Sawyer that he told his lawyer because he said it was another of Basinger's attempts to turn Ireland against him.
In "A Promise to Ourselves" Baldwin urges the courts to recognize parental alienation syndrome, which he says is real.
"There are women who get divorced in order to punish, out of this bitter, bitter hatred that some of these women have for their ex-husbands, they turn their children against them. Everybody knows that's real. We know that there are gangs in East L.A. We don't need to say there's East L.A. Gang syndrome, do we?"
Baldwin also suggests that if there is no evidence of abuse by the father, with school-age kids, "he gets meaningful custody of his child right away."
Joan Meier, a law professor at George Washington University, strongly disagrees with Baldwin. Meier, who helps women battle custody in court, says that allegations of parental alienation syndrome can endanger women. "Parental alienation is being misused and distorted simply to defeat abuse claims," she said.
The American Psychiatric Association also doesn't recognize the term. A former APA president, Dr. Paul Fink, referred to parental alienation syndrome as "junk science at its worst."
But what of Ireland's reaction to this book? "I said to her, I've written this book and this book is coming out and I want you to know that I tried to be as fair as I could in the book," Baldwin said. "And what's important is … what I left out of the book."
Baldwin says he dreams of ending the battle with Basinger.
"I never think about her. I never think about the past. I think about the dreams I had, the reconciliation dreams, which to me, I could honestly say to you, there are few waking dreams I've had that I woke up as intoxicated as I was by those dreams, that all this was behind us."
Alec Baldwin Discusses Family & Divorce Court on 20/20
21 September 2008
"Corrupt, Inefficient, Lazy, and Stupid" is how Alec Baldwin describes the lawyers, judges, and others who are part of the Divorce and Custody Industry. Yes, it's an industry which generates billions of dollars of revenue and income for the states and all of the players within the system.
And so opened the story featured on ABC's program 20/20 on September 19th, 2008.
Alec Baldwin is stepping up to the plate and is making a concerted effort to do something about what he calls the "delays and manipulations" that serve to destroy and divide divorcing families more than the circumstances at hand often do. I believe that this is something that we all want to see happen in our lifetimes. Baldwin's struggles were apparently so bad that he had even contemplated suicide. When one stops to consider that more the 25,000 men in this country commit suicide each year, you have to wonder how many of those men were in the midst of a bitter divorce and custody battle that saw them marginalized as a parent, stripped of their right to be a parent, and relegated to little more than a wallet, from which states strive daily to extract the maximum amount of money "in the best interests of the children." Men commit suicide at a rate that is 4-times greater than women.
Throughout his lengthy struggles in family court and the years he lost with his daughter, Ireland, he struggled with depression and despair. These types of feelings and experiences are repeated tens-of-thousands of times over in this country and abroad.
Diane Sawyer, even at the very outset of the interview, sought to label Baldwin's rather low opinion of the divorce & family court system as a "scorched earth" attitude. Baldwin wisely countered that such an attitude defines one who actively seeks the negative in a particular situation. This is not what he did, but in reality, the situation was "thrust" into his face. It is his experience that brought him to these realizations. Again, this is a point with which I agree. My own attitudes, for reasons even unknown to me, led me to believe that things had changed in divorce & family court for the better for fathers since my own parents split up. I would soon learn that nothing could be further from the truth.
He describes his feelings for the love of his love, daughter Ireland - "When I'm with her, I am happy." Aren't we all when in the company of our children who we love unconditionally? His marriage to Kim Basinger began to fall apart when Ireland was 5-years old.
When asked about the warning signs that signaled the end of his marriage was near, he refused to divulge details, laughing at one point when telling Sawyer that Basinger would probably be a lot more "chatty" about warning signals about him manifested themselves to her. Then, Baldwin made a statement that I suspect will ring true throughout the overwhelming majority of divorced men in high-conflict situations.
"The harshest thing I could say is I was married to someone for whom all dissent was abuse. If you had your own opinion, you were abusive."
This describes my psycho ex-wife in a nutshell. It encapsulates her attitude about everything and like many other words that serve as lightning-rods for those with an agenda, the definition of what is "abuse" has been so bastardized today as to make it's true definition completely meaningless. If you are divorcing someone who takes this attitude - you're in for a long and difficult divorce and custody process that will be rife with accusations that you probably think are unimaginable to be attributed to you.
While asserting that he and Basinger did not argue all the time and, when they did, it was his belief that nothing he ever argued about was over something that was insignificant, he maintains that nothing occurred in the marriage that was deserving of anything that took place in its aftermath. The dreaded high-profile custody battle lasting 8-years… 365 documents… 91 court proceedings… 8 lawyers… 4 judges… 3-million dollars.
It started, as many do, with the mother removing the child from the marital home and moving some long distance away, in this case, from Los Angeles to New York, with Basinger citing Ireland's "health" as the reason. Once a "court sponsored mediator" began to analyze a custody arrangement, Alec Baldwin didn't see Ireland for 2-years (except for very infrequent arrangements during the process) and, Baldwin asserts, he had done absolutely nothing wrong. He did what he could to remain in her life, volunteering at school and being local to her as often as possible. This type of story is played out every day an untold number of times by people with far less financial resources than Alec Baldwin. So, we can see where thousands of fathers fail where Baldwin, thus far, has been able to succeed, assuming you can call his mess a "success" at this point. Of course, the more involved he tried to be, the more Basinger, he alleges, began to turn Ireland against him and he spoke of parental alienation syndrome.
His forthcoming book, A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce chronicles his experiences and provides details of the horrifying and sad stories of the impact of parental alienation on his daughter and himself. "Mommy says you're sick" is an exact phrase I've heard come from my own children and unlike Baldwin who told Sawyer that he said absolutely nothing to Ireland when she told him this, I would simply tell my children that what mom said simply wasn't true and that I was sorry that they had to hear that.
Unsurprisingly, Baldwin was ordered into "anger management" classes, like so many fathers are on the simple accusations of the mother, and he followed the order to attend. And while being a public figure, Baldwin's occasional outburst become tabloid fodder, for many low-profile fathers, that's not necessarily the case and yet - they'll be ordered into them just the same. The problem that arises with this situation is that once ordered into one, there is a perception that you have anger problems or are an abuser and that impacts the attitudes of those charged with making the life-affecting decisions regarding your parenthood. The typical anger-management class is predicated on the shameful 'Duluth Model' which is a feminist-driven agenda item that blames all of the evils of society on men. (Perhaps a post for another day.)
Just as the court sponsored mediator was preparing to award joint-custody after these first two years of limited contact, the Basinger attorneys exercised their right to FIRE the mediator. They did this the day before she was to make her recommendation. The problem with this? It sets them back to the very beginning. The classic delay tactic of a vindictive, malicious mother. Off to court they go! When describing his feelings about the court experience Baldwin said:
"The lawyers are there to make money. It's an industry. It's a racket. Judges are like pit bosses in Vegas casinos. Their job is to make sure everyone stays at the table and keeps gambling."
Folks, there exists no better description of the family court system at-large.
8-months later, the judge awards joint custody in his case. He would fly across the country every other weekend to spend his "court authorized time" with his daughter. He even went so far as to have phone calls scheduled right into the order. The incessant interference with these calls is what would lead to the now famous voice mail that Baldwin left to his daughter in a moment of frustration. Alec Baldwin even rented a home 9-doors away from Ireland. However, Basinger was allegedly already driving a wedge between he and his daughter.
A montage of father videos is shown with them speaking of the alienation from their children and Baldwin discusses this more in-depth. He calls the situation a "national crisis" and that fathers all over the country are paying a steep price, along with the children. His belief and the belief of many others, is that parental alienation is a form of child abuse. It is largely a woman-on-man "crime" and it's furthered by the gender bias that exists in America's family courts.
When normal male behavior is being characterized as abuse, even the slightest action demonstrated during a normal emotion can cost you custody of your children. He uses an example of having an argument with your wife and smashing your cellphone down in the driveway now being characterized as "abuse." (There are actually worse examples of that and nowadays, just saying something that hurts your spouse's feelings can be characterized as abuse.) On the flip side, Baldwin again validates the beliefs of most men who are involved in a custody dispute or close to some father involved in one, when he says:
"You gotta catch the mother, as I said in the book, with a crack pipe in one hand, in bed with her pimp, and the child chained to a radiator before they do anything."
Much to my dismay, Joan Myer, professor of law at George Washington University claims, "Family courts are bending over backwards to bring fathers into their children's lives." Of course, she doesn't substantiate that in the limited time given with any objective evidence of such. Further, my research, my experience, and the experiences of those with whom I interact on a daily basis and via this blog lead me to believe that nothing could be further from the truth. Further, she goes on to outright dismiss parental alienation syndrome and, much like the radical feminist that I imagine she is (and I will look into it) she further propagates the myth that parental alienation is claimed by people who are using it to "defeat abuse claims." Sawyer cites the National Organization of Women's cloak of defense with their (accurate, if misleading) claim that PAS is not a "recognized syndrome" and it's not "legally child abuse" in terms of it being a chargeable offense. You'll notice how neither denies that poisoning a child's mind against the other parent is possible and easily achievable, especially when the target parent has been forced to the fringes or out of their children's lives.
I concur with Baldwin's statements and I'm certain that many fathers would echo the sentiment that fathers who wish to be fully involved in their children's lives "loathe and despise" fathers who physically or sexually abuse their children… who have the means but willfully fail to pay reasonable support… who abandon women whom they've impregnated. However:
"It doesn't change the fact that there are women who get divorced and in order to punish, out of this bitter, bitter hatred that some of these women have for their ex-husbands - they turn their children against them. Everybody knows that's real."
Still, the interference with Baldwin's custodial time with Ireland was granted with the full support of the court, on the 2nd-hand claim that Ireland said that she "felt unsafe" around Alec. Another investigation, another extended period of no time with his daughter, charges dismissed, custodial time restored. I've experienced these same types of claims repeatedly from my own psycho ex-wife. The children don't like spending time with me. They are afraid of me. They don't want to come to be with me. They hate it with me. It's indescribably disgusting.
When speaking about the phone rant towards his daughter, he described the experiences and frustrations of the reality that less than 25% of his phone calls were getting through or returned or otherwise being facilitated by the other side. It is a moment he regrets. Still, in the face of hard questioning by Sawyer, he stood by his claim that there was an expectation of privacy and, that the bigger picture is that the voice mail was released to the tabloid website TMZ. While Kim Basinger denies being the source of the leaked tape, one can probably safely assume that Ireland wasn't the one who sent it to TMZ and the larger tragedy is as regretful as his voice mail may have been, what kind of person/mother furthers the embarrassment suffered by her daughter by releasing it to TMZ to be broadcast all over the world?
I gotta say, I have to agree with him here. Why? Not that he was justified with his angry words towards his daughter. It's because I am of the firm belief that there isn't a mother or father alive (or dead, for that matter) who hasn't said something inappropriate, unnecessary, or downright wrong to their children during the course of their lives. Let that person or persons (if they exist) be the ones to sit in righteous judgment of Baldwin's message to Ireland on that fateful day.
A quote from Basinger along with her denial of releasing the tape to TMZ went something like this… and tell me if you haven't seen these words in any number of emails I've posted from the PEW:
Her sincerest wish "is for him to finally address his unstable and irrational behavior so at some point he can potentially create a relationship with his daughter."
It's as if all of these women are operating from the same playbook with the same glossary of terms to use in court, in public, and in this case - on television. I'm certain Alec would read this blog as so many others have and write the same thing to me… "My story is almost exactly the same as yours. In some cases, it's literally verbatim!" I'm sure when I read his book, I will say the same damned thing.
Alec Baldwin is launching a crusade to change the way the divorce process operates. As an example, he will push to see that if there is no evidence that the father has been abusive to the school-aged kids, he gets equal custody of the child right away. He would also like to see co-parenting coaching in an effort to prevent the types of alienation of children that he's purported to have experienced with Ireland at the hands of Basinger.
One of his closing quotes during the segment is one that I repeat in some way, shape, or form at least 2- to 3-times per month:
"Everything with my daughter now is fine. Everything with my daughter is great, so long as the mother stays… out… of… the way."
It's my feeling exactly. Despite knowing the answer, and that is, I believe my PEW is truly ill, I often ask myself why she does and says the things she does. Why does she treat me the way she does, despite now having her divorce and distance between us? Why does she persist in the chaos and terror when all I want is the minimum contact necessary on matters of importance and relevant to the children? Why does she persist when I couldn't care less what she does or is doing with her life provided it doesn't negatively impact the children?
The bottom line is that if the psycho ex's of the world would simply carry on with their lives and share custody of the children and limit contact to only what is absolutely necessary - life would be so much better for everyone, including them!
Alec Baldwin Book Excerpt: "A Promise to Ourselves"
Follow this Google search for sources for Baldwin's book.
17 September 2008
Book Excerpt: 'A Promise to Ourselves'
Actor Alec Baldwin Discusses Fatherhood, Divorce, Hollywood
The following excerpt of Alec Baldwin's book, "A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce," which was provided to ABC News by the publisher, St. Martin's Press.
I never wanted to write this book. Although my experiences with judges, lawyers and court ordered therapists during my own high conflict divorce proceedings left me outraged over the injustices I believe are endemic to the family law system in our society, I had no desire to revisit them.
The pain I suffered, the fear of and anger I felt toward nearly all of the principals involved and the inescapable sense of helplessness and isolation exhausted me. However, to live inside of the divorce matrix, to be engaged in that battle, ultimately means to be poised to tell your story, to make your point, to argue your side at a moment's notice. It is a fire that is constantly burning.
These feelings moved me to share my own experiences with nearly any kindred spirit who broached the subject. In restaurants, ticket lines, airplanes, men's locker rooms, wherever I might be, when that particular conversation started, the facts of my own case would spill out in a torrent. Other times I would sit and listen for hours, grateful for the opportunity to allow someone else to unburden themselves. I could never tell my story urgently enough, and I never tired of the subject of divorce's iniquities. I believed that a book on the subject would write itself.
Eventually, that would change. The passion I had for this issue dried up. The ideas and stories, once so fresh in my mind that I thought they would pour out of me and onto the page like a Pollock painting, began to fade. For three years I had told my story, each recitation as fresh as the first.
But, any normal human being has a limited capacity for ongoing conflict, and I believed I had reached mine. I have heard people use words like "spent" and "hollowed out" to describe the ultimate result of protracted divorce litigation. Sadly, I have learned that little of this is hyperbole. Divorce litigation becomes like the island of Dr. Moreau in H.G. Wells' novel. The abused and horrified litigants want to row their boat away from that island at any cost. I was no different.
I wanted nothing more than to put this entire experience behind me and get on with my life. I had grown weary of writing this book, until I would meet another man who had suffered the same way I had. Suddenly, the old passion to address these issues would return.
Divorce litigation is a unique phenomenon in our culture. When someone is sick, our society usually offers some means of care. Often, that care extends to their families, as well. The sick individual reaches out to professionals who arrive with their skills and training at the ready, prepared to solve the problem.
When illness afflicts a marriage however, the professionals who arrive on the scene often are there to prolong the bleeding, not stop it. To be pulled into the American family law system in most states is like being tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged down a gravel road late at night. No one can hear your cries and complaints, and it is not over until they say it is over.
Early in my own divorce proceedings I came upon men who told me that the corrosiveness and complexity of their divorces had forced them to give up. They "wrote off" not only their first marriages, but their children as well. Many went on to remarry. The chance to "make things right" meant starting another family. I could never, ever comprehend how a man could abandon his child in this way. However, as my own proceedings went on, and the recriminations became more severe, I began to appreciate these men, and some women as well, better than I imagined possible.
I have sat with men whose hearts are filled with love for their children. Before their divorce there had never been any doubt of that love or their abilities as parents. Then divorce lawyers entered the picture to do what many of them do best; to destroy an innocent parent's reputation and their bond with their children. Therefore, lawyers, along with ineffectual judges who do little to curb such destructive forces in American family law, are a principal focus of this book.
Family law in most states has become its own preserve, one in which litigants come and go, while the principal players remain the same. Those players, not the families whose fates are determined by this system, are the ones who profit from protecting the status quo. We have, I believe, a system designed to line the pockets of these principals.
Anything that results in effective conflict resolution, protection of both parents' rights and, most importantly, a healthy environment for the children of divorce is a happy accident. The problem lies not only with antagonistic lawyers who perpetuate conflict, but also with the judges who sit idly by and do nothing to rein them in.
However, this book is not a blanket indictment of all attorneys and the legal profession. I will cite by name some of the truly constructive and decent men and women I have encountered during my own proceedings, (Unfortunately, under the current system, decency and humanity often work against family law attorneys.) Nor do I mean to imply that a legal divorce is always an unsafe option when a relationship has degenerated beyond repair.
There are times when dissolving a marriage is the best decision a couple can make. American taxpayers, however, continue to fund a system that turns a sensitive and private decision into a destructive process that leaves few unscathed. If getting out of your marriage is good for both you and your estranged spouse, it ought to be easier to achieve. The truth is that we maintain a system in which destroying one's ex-spouse, not effectively resolving conflict, is the order of the day.
What follows will disappoint those who hoped to find a gossipy, salacious tale of a show business marriage gone bad. Tabloid publications have already put out enough such stories about my protracted divorce and ensuing custody battle. I do not feel compelled to set that record straight. Think what you will.
What stories someone's own imagination can come up with will be far more satisfying, in that regard, than the truth. Necessity demands that I include some of the particulars of my own case, but only those germane to the book's purpose. However, you will come away disappointed if you hope to find a bitter, angry attack against my ex-wife.
When I write of my own experience, I present my side of the story and interpretation of what occurred. As all divorce litigants should eventually realize, attacking the other party is not in anyone's interest, especially when children are involved. It does no good for a parent to bury their ex-spouse on the pages of a book, so I reserve my attacks for the family law system, specifically the Los Angeles county system where my own case was adjudicated.
Most importantly, this book is not an attempt to escape responsibility for my own actions. I do not ask anyone to believe that this is all someone else's fault. Much of the trouble I found myself in came about as the result of a series of mistakes and bad judgments I made throughout both my marriage and divorce.
Knowing what I do now about myself and my ex-wife, about our approaches to life, our personalities, what makes us happy, even something as simple as where we wanted to live, I am convinced that it might have been in everyone's best interest if we'd never married. But that kind of thinking is pointless. We did marry and in the process we, like so many others, ignored signs of what lay ahead. I made choices that led to the place where I am now. In the pages that follow I accept full responsibility for them.
Because of the scope of the problem this book explores, the issues raised could never be fully articulated through my own case alone. Therefore I have chosen three men to share their own stories and perspectives. All of them have changed their names and the specifics of their identities. One of the subjects is an amalgam of different individuals' stories, including my own.
Although I believe that to omit the particulars of my own case would be counterproductive to the book's purpose, it has never been my goal to embarrass anyone in the process. Adding some of my own experiences to those of my contributors proved to be the most effective way to explore key issues while leaving everyone's dignity largely intact.
Many readers, especially the attorneys and other professionals who play integral roles in the family law system, will automatically dismiss this book as nothing more than the grumblings of a bitter and angry man. Rather than falling prey to a corrupt system, they will say I am the victim of my own poor choices who brought all this on myself by marrying the wrong woman, hiring the wrong lawyer or through my own boorish behavior.
After all, I should have known I stood a good chance of ending up inside a divorce court. Half of all marriages end in divorce, and Hollywood marriages fare even worse. My time of being chained behind the pick-up truck of the legal system was my own bad luck. Everyone knows little good ever comes out of our legal system, only varying degrees of bad. I should have had the good sense to avoid it at all costs.
Besides, my situation is, in these critics' eyes, an anomaly. It is the exception, not the rule. I could have chosen a course that would have shortened the legal process and lessened my pain. I could have given up. Caved. Others have. I should have, as well. Instead, my persistence only made things worse for myself.
I agree that I did make things worse for myself. Foolishly, I walked into a courtroom with the expectation that I would be given some equitable rights regarding my daughter. I ignored the less than subtle message that tells non-custodial parents, especially fathers, to abandon such hopes and face the realities of this system. Walk away, we're told. Accept your fate as your penance for the poor choices you've made. Write off this failed family as the price of learning difficult lessons. The longer you hold out for what should be the right of every parent, the more expensive and painful the process becomes.
Indeed, I went through very bitter litigation. But I did not have a contentious divorce proceeding because I sought alimony or other financial concessions from my ex-wife. My litigation did not involve unreasonable personal demands about where my ex could live or whether she could move on with her life. Alternately, I did not seek to move my daughter to London or Paris.
I had a contentious divorce because I wanted a meaningful custody of my daughter. I refused to settle for becoming a "Disney Dad," one whose role is nothing more than outings to theme parks once or twice a month. Instead I wanted to share the joys and responsibilities of raising my daughter. I wanted to be a real father, and the system punished me for that. Ultimately, I refused to give in and, for a period, I prevailed.
If the circumstances of my case had been truly anomalous, I likely would have taken my lumps and got on with my life. I would not have written this book if I felt that my experiences were isolated. However, I have seen the other broken lives and destruction that this system leaves in its wake. I have even had attorneys, in a fleeting moment of candor, admit that the system is terribly flawed. I am not stating that every divorce proceeding is the same. Nor am I suggesting that most divorce lawyers and family law judges are at best inept or at worst corrupt.
There is, however, enough injustice, inefficiency and corruption within the system to compel us as a society to closely examine what is being perpetrated on innocent men and women, funded by our tax dollars. As you read my story and the stories of others that follow, I believe you will reach this same conclusion.
Some people will, no doubt, criticize me for tilting this book so much toward my own dilemma as opposed to that of my daughter. However, due to restrictions set by court orders, as well as a desire not to expose my child to any further unnecessary scrutiny, an open and frank discussion of my observations of my daughter's experiences is, to an extent, better left alone.
My relationship with my daughter is a casualty of parental alienation, aided and abetted by the Los Angeles family law system. As I have suffered, so has she, in my opinion. I have attempted to inlay as much of my daughter's reality as I saw fit.
I have seen the psychological toll that divorce litigation takes on people. These are not an isolated few, hidden away from the rest of society, as was often the case some generations ago. Today, more than half of marriages end in divorce, and the damages are not limited to the couples themselves.
The aftereffects of divorce seep into all of society. This phenomenon of acrimonious divorce litigation exacts an incalculable psychological and emotional toll not only on the litigants but on innocent bystanders as well. Like any social issue, there is a cost we all bear, spiritually as well as financially.
Among the several topics that my contributors and I will examine in this book are: Prenuptial agreements and how couples can attempt to preemptively protect themselves, their respective extended families and, of course, their children from the unnecessary pain of divorce litigation.
How to approach the ultimate decision to file for divorce, specifically in both high and low conflict divorces. We explore the question of when, as well as how, to file.
Divorce strategies and assessments for couples with above average, average, and below average assets.
Selecting an attorney. Is word of mouth all its cracked up to be?
Private mediation versus going to trial.
Observations on judges, forensic accountants, custody evaluations and evaluators, collateral witnesses, child psychologists and other court appointed therapists.
An examination of actual custody/ visitation strategies. What should your time with your child be like? How does the inevitable passage of time affect you and your growing child?
The newly divorced parent's life and the hopeful prayer of constructive co-parenting. The political influences on current family law. How the political apparatus of lawyers, judges and feminist groups assault fatherhood and impact custody.
I have been through some of the worst of contentious divorce litigation. I have lost some proceedings that seemed important at the time, but I prevailed in many others. Wisdom has urged me to walk away from this experience and count my blessings. But I have chosen to return to it, to examine it again and share with you not only my thoughts, but those of others, as well. A book is not a Pollock painting; its web of facts and feelings must be arranged in an ordered way. To that end, I have enlisted the aid of Mark Tabb, who helped me with the research, organization, and writing of what follows.
This book is entitled "A Promise to Ourselves." And it is in fulfillment of that promise that I offer to all divorced fathers, to all parents, the dreams and nightmares, the insights and ultimate lessons of my own story.
Chapter One Even the Deepest Feelings
On a Sunday morning in January of 2001, I stood on a cold Manhattan street with a movie crew as we prepared to shoot the first scenes of a film I was directing. For me, this was a dream come true, not only because I was directing for the first time, but also because of the incredible cast we had assembled for the project, including Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Dan Aykroyd, Kim Catrall and Barry Miller. Pete Dexter wrote the script and Bill Condon did the rewrite, just prior to winning the Oscar for "Gods and Monsters."
And as if all of that weren't enough, we were going to make the film during my favorite season in my favorite place. Later that winter, heavy snow fell on New York during our shooting schedule, like the winters of my childhood. I was elated by the possibilities.
Yet the joy of the moment was mitigated by a painful uncertainty hanging over my personal life. My wife of seven years had packed her things from our New York home and had moved back to Los Angeles a few weeks earlier. We talked in the ensuing weeks with words that vacillated between animosity and a seemingly perfunctory hope of reconciliation.
Even as I faced the reality that we had grown apart, I also believed that our relationship might be salvaged. Less than a month before our separation I found my wife distressed over a minor health problem. Instinctively, I put my arms around her and tried to assure her that everything would be all right. No matter what she faced, I would be there for her. My desire to care for her was reflexive and immediate. I had been with this woman for over ten years. She was my wife, my friend and the mother of my only child and I wanted to make her troubles go away. Four weeks later she was gone.
Even though all of these thoughts swirled in my head as I stood on East 53rd Street, preparing to roll the camera for our first shot of the day, I tried to focus on the job at hand. Suddenly, a man I assumed was an extra walked up to me, smiling, and asked if I was Alec Baldwin. I smiled back and said yes.
His whole demeanor then changed as he pressed an envelope against my chest. "This is for you," he said. "Oh, yeah," he added as he walked away, "I'm a big fan of your work."
I opened the envelope filled with legal documents. Although I had asked my wife to delay any legal action until after the film shoot was over, she had served me with formal separation papers right there on the set of the movie. Our marriage was officially over.
I can honestly say that a part of me never saw it coming. Although I knew I was unhappy and I was certain that my wife was as well, talking about divorce is one thing, actually carrying it out is quite another. Even when I had contemplated the dissolution of my marriage over the past several months, I still believed we had something worth fighting for.
I found it hard to believe that this was the end. I also found it equally hard to believe that my ex-wife would choose to dive back into the civil court system that only a few short years earlier had nearly destroyed her. The deep feelings of love that swept you into a marriage don't die overnight. The process is often slow and, typically, painful. Understanding how these feelings died can be as painful as the loss itself. When relationships end, some people naturally reflect upon what led them to that point. Others seek to affix blame. Therefore, some find it necessary to renounce their feelings and therefore nullify everything that came before.
That is when you hear people say, "I never loved her." Or, "I never really cared for him." This nullification is nothing but a lie some people tell themselves. Litigants will say in open court that "My husband was Saddam Hussein," to which I once heard a judge reply, "Well then, why did you marry Saddam Hussein?"
These litigants and their attorneys find it convenient to burn the couple's past down to the ground and seek to paint a picture of their ex-spouse that is wildly distorted. Hopefully, a judge will see through this. I was incapable of denying what I had once felt. Therefore, I looked back in an attempt to understand what attracted me to my ex-wife in the beginning and how our relationship failed.
We have all heard the many angles on how one should choose a spouse and, thus, increase the chances of a happy marriage. Some say a woman marries a man hoping to change him while a man marries a woman hoping she will never change. Others say men should look to their girlfriend's mother, a woman to her husband's father, because that is what your spouse will become in 25 years. They say never marry a woman who is close with her father, or a man who is close with his mother, as you are unlikely to ever measure up to that figure in their life.
I suppose that I had some prejudices, fantasies and hang-ups of my own going into my marriage. To a degree, I wanted a wife who was, in some ways, like my mother and not at all like her in others. Oddly enough, however, it was my father, and the role he had played in my life, that had more of an impact on my marriage than anyone or anything else.
My father taught school for twenty-eight years in Massapequa, Long Island. He'd dropped out of Syracuse law school to take an entry level teaching position in a newly formed school district. His uncle told him that a respectable career as a school administrator would be his, with a little effort. But my father never left the classroom. Not only did he not become an administrator, he never even became a department head.
It wasn't that my father was a bad teacher; quite the opposite. The students adored him. Twice the student body dedicated their yearbook to him while he was still living and active, an honor normally given to those retired or dead.
My father refused to play the political games necessary to advance. One man in particular could have made my dad's life unimaginably easier if my father had just played ball. But my father refused. He didn't think it was right. Self-respect and integrity were always front and center with my dad, a former Marine. "Judge me by my merits," was his attitude. And he never attained the level of success he might have because of it.
My relationship with my father evolved in the years after I left home. He became a more essential advisor and mentor to me, someone whose judgment I trusted almost implicitly. He supported my decision to pursue a career in acting in New York after leaving George Washington University. I found his advice invaluable as I moved further into the entertainment industry where men like my father were few and far between. Just as I was making the transition from New York to Los Angeles, my father died suddenly, of cancer, at the age of 55. His passing left a huge void in my life.
Over the next few years I began to actively, even unconsciously, search for someone who could fill his role, not as a parent, but as a trusted ally in a cutthroat business. Little did I know that I would find just that in a beauty-queen-turned-movie-star from Athens, Georgia.
Kim made a quick ascent up the Hollywood ladder in the late 1970's and early 1980's. She went from modeling and commercials to television and feature films in a relatively short time. When we met on the set of a film in 1990, she'd already established herself as a major star. Although she'd achieved a great deal of success in a difficult business, she did not allow the industry to consume her.
She loved movies but was rarely a part of that world on a social basis. Like my father, she refused to play the games necessary to gain any advantage in her career. Kim could have married the head of the studio, network or talent agency, the Oscar winning star or producer. Instead she chose to allow her body of work to speak for itself. She felt she should be judged by her merits, nothing more. It was this quality, more than any other, that most attracted me to her.
Prior to meeting my ex-wife, I had often walked away from intimate relationships after about eighteen months. That is not to say that I would not return out of some combination of love, pity, and/or loneliness. After about a year and a half, however, I was ready to move on. My relationship with my ex-wife was no different.
We met in April of 1990 and by November of the following year, almost like clockwork, I once again felt lingering incompatibility issues rising up. I noticed major differences in our attitudes toward family and friends, our careers and acting itself, our places in the community and the public eye. For all of her image as a go-it-alone iconoclast, I discovered Kim rarely did anything without the advice of a team of people. The more powerful her agents, publicists and business managers were, the more she believed their advice should be heeded. Kim did not necessarily wish to socialize with important Hollywood figures, yet she rarely made a move without consulting one.
This reliance upon highly paid professionals would prove to be a major contributing factor in my eventual divorce difficulties.
As I hit the eighteen month mark in this relationship, once again I struggled with how I could care for this person and yet, at times, feel so alone. Unlike before, however, I resolved that I would not walk away. This time, I would stay and try to make it work. I believed with all my heart that if I kept my focus on my own issues, the rest would take care of itself.
"Love suffereth long and is kind," I was told. I chose to believe that. I pushed through these feelings and stayed. Less than one year later my resolve would be put to the test when Kim, upon the advice of her agent, pulled out of a movie and was sued by the film's producers.
In the spring of 1992, the plaintiffs alleged that Kim had agreed to star in a movie called "Boxing Helena." Kim asked for full written disclosure of the amount of nudity and physical contact with other actors that the part required. She counterclaimed that the producers did not satisfactorily provide this information. Therefore she walked away under the terms of the Screen Actors Guild contract. Furthermore, her new agents assured her that they would "make this thing go away."
Instead, Kim was sued for millions of dollars and lost. At the onset of the lawsuit, Kim's entertainment contract lawyer tried to convince her to settle out of court. However, Kim wanted no part of it. She refused to settle a case when she believed she had done nothing wrong. Like my father, she only wanted what was fair. Ironically, this principled stubbornness set off a chain of events that strained our relationship even before we married. Although I recognized this in hindsight, at the time I supported Kim in her decision and I trusted the court would vindicate her.
Rather than protect her, the system left her physically, emotionally and financially broken. From the start, the plaintiffs' lawyer, a vicious, menacing woman named Patty Glazier, posited the case as a showdown between a rich, privileged movie star and struggling film makers who had to work hard for whatever meager success they had achieved. Kim, Glazier said, was like the pretty girl in school who bypassed the rules with impunity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kim had a very professional work ethic, but the jury bought it.
Adding to the injury, Kim's agents had originally been named as co-defendants. Half way through the proceedings they successfully petitioned the court to be dismissed from the case, yet the judge inexplicably withheld this ruling from the jury. That meant the go-it-alone Kim bore the sole financial responsibility for the eventual $9 million judgment.
After the verdict, the judge, Judith Chirlin, strode across the courtroom and hugged the plaintiffs in full view of the entire proceeding. Even Kim's veteran attorney, Howard Weitzman, was aghast. In subsequent depositions, one juror said that $9 million was little more than a "parking ticket" to someone like Kim.
The lawsuit and judgment exacted a steep emotional, as well as financial, price. Los Angeles is a town completely consumed by perception. The woman who was wealthier and more famous than I was when I met her in 1990 was now bankrupt and humiliated three years later.
After the jury handed down its decision, Kim and I returned to her home in Los Angeles, where the stress and losses of the trial took their toll. One evening, she collapsed under the weight, sobbing on the deck beside her pool. Prior to the verdict in the trial, some friends had encouraged me to end this relationship. They told me that she was self-destructive. Watching her lying there, however, I thought to myself, How can I leave her now?
Kim was not one for self-pity. She would cry for the poor, the homeless, for abused animals, but never for herself. Like my father, her suffering came because she had stood on principle. However, this time I had the resources to do something to help. Soon after, I proposed and Kim accepted.
Perhaps she needed security, support and financial resources to help her navigate the white water she was about to encounter while appealing her verdict and living under bankruptcy jurisdiction. Perhaps while crushed under the weight of an unfair verdict, she needed to believe that someone would help her, would stand by her and take her side. I wanted to be that person. On August 19th of 1993, we were married.
When relationships begin, romance ought be the order of the day. The first couple of years should be a time of candlelight and intimate conversation, travel and entertainment. My relationship with my ex-wife was no different, at least during our first two years together. Life held no stress, no entanglements. We would jet off to London on a whim, or pass the time reading scripts that producers had sent our way. Life seemed easy and I enjoyed Kim's company enormously.
Everything changed with the lawsuit and Kim's subsequent bankruptcy proceedings. Our life became an endless procession of lawyers delivering a ceaseless chorus of bad news. Lawyers advised Kim to declare federal bankruptcy, but what she thought would bring relief only unleashed more pain.
We entered a new phase, with attorneys intruding into every aspect of our daily lives, as a bankruptcy trustee took full control of her seized assets. Kim's own bankruptcy attorney would call nearly every day regarding decisions that had to be made. Kim did not have the emotional reserves to deal with any of it. Someone had to give some direction and that fell to me. On top of this, Kim engaged more lawyers and appealed the judgment against her. She was, some time later, granted a "reversal without direction", which legally granted a new trial yet no return of her money.
The ongoing bankruptcy ordeal came packed with inexplicable malice and bad faith. The worst of it occurred one rainy afternoon when the bankruptcy trustee ordered the seizure of Kim's personal and professional property from her office.
Sheriff's deputies stormed into the building and took everything. Her files, the memorabilia she had collected from her own films and those of people she admired, antique furniture, electronic equipment and every last paper clip were flung into the back of a pick-up truck, uncovered, and hauled away in the rain. Many of the items they seized were irreplaceable and much of it was damaged or never seen again.
Kim was depressed, unemployed, and not easy to be around. Her treatment in the press did not help matters. On New Year's Day of 1995 the New York Times Sunday business section ran a front-page article about people who used bankruptcy protection to avoid paying their debts. The piece featured Kim's litigation. Accompanying the piece was a photograph of my then-home in East Hampton, New York. The article referred to it as Kim's "Hampton estate," and implied that she lived in luxury while evading her creditors. This, of course, was blatantly false.
The house was a premarital asset of mine, which I had bought for a small sum in 1987. The article was unfair to the point of ridiculous. Such articles were typical of how Kim was treated in the press during this period. Many mornings throughout 1993 and 1994, Kim's assistant and I would comb the newspapers for unfavorable depictions of Kim and her case to shield her from them.
As all of this churned around us, I found myself growing more and more frustrated with the way business was conducted in Hollywood. Anger seethed inside me over the way my wife was treated. Her agent and others, who should have stood beside her, scurried away to protect themselves, leaving her to face this all on her own.
Kim was accused of refusing to honor a contract, yet I had been on the other end when a studio chose to not honor a contract with me. The unwritten code in Hollywood, however, is that a performer can never sue the studios, not if you expect to ever work in movies again. Early on in my career, as I slowly worked my way up, I was filled with gratitude for the opportunities I received.
Yet, once I had moved up that ladder, I began to see another side of Hollywood. I believe there is more greed and dishonor in the movie business than anywhere else. In terms of honor and dignity, the illegal drug business looks like the Boy Scouts by comparison.
The pain and frustration in my work, combined with the stresses in my marriage, created the worst of all circumstances. At work, I was disappointed by a system whose games I now refused to play. I came home to share in self-pity and bitterness over the hand that we had been dealt.
By 1994, the bankruptcy attorney would call with her daily report and, at that point, we had devised a shorthand. I would ask, "Was it a ten or a nine today?" This was a measure of how badly Kim had been treated during the proceeding, ten being the worst. Most days were either a nine or a ten.
After nearly two years of this, the issues we faced as a couple grew larger and more pronounced. I had been in other relationships and recognized the look that people get when they would prefer that you were not around. Kim hardly looked me in the eye anymore and seemed to always be talking to me over her shoulder.
The New York Times piece on Kim's bankruptcy ran on New Year's Day, 1995. Kim was once again made to look callous and irresponsible in a way that, under the slightest examination, was clearly untrue. Kim was livid.
We were scheduled to fly that night to Lima to begin shooting a documentary on endangered exotic birds of the Peruvian rainforest. I had hoped that working on this project together would help our marriage, but once again, the case overshadowed everything. Kim did not want to go to on the trip, partly because of a tantrum I had thrown over the Times piece. The documentary, which I had helped to organize, appeared to be ruined
Ultimately, Kim relented and we headed to Peru. We did not talk much, although the project proved to be exhilarating. We flew home somewhat renewed. And then we discovered Kim was pregnant with our daughter.
We were standing in her bathroom in her house in Los Angeles: Kim, myself and Kim's then assistant. Kim said she had something to tell me. She seemed lost in thought, bordering on grim. Her assistant had a slightly woeful smile on her face. Kim said she was pregnant. A moment that one would have imagined, during all of your lifetime leading up until now, would be a cause for unprecedented joy was more like someone telling you that they had wrecked your car. Or, that your house had been flooded.
We all just stood there, while Kim talked of her doubts about me and our marriage. She was, however, determined to move forward with having the child., in spite of our current state of disconnect.
Her assistant managed to sneak glances at me that seemed pitying, as if to say, "How sad to have this moment in your life play out this way." I suppose that, in hindsight, the alienation from my daughter began that afternoon, before she was even born.
I had committed to make a film in New York in the spring of 1995. After all we had been through, I was not automatically inclined to attempt to get out of that contract. However, when I had found out that Kim was pregnant, I asked the producers to release me from the project so I could remain home with my new family. True to form, they refused and threatened to sue me. Kim was due to deliver our baby in late October, just six weeks before her 42nd birthday.
During her pregnancy, I would travel back to Los Angeles frequently, but no one greeted me with any of the protocol of the expectant father. Kim was having a baby, not me. I was reminded of that constantly. I wrote this off as the fears and doubts of an expectant mother, but it all seemed wrong.
There was never any talk of bringing Kim's mother or mine or any of our siblings, most of who had children, to LA to participate in Kim's care. It was go-it-alone time again. As the due date drew near, there was some warmth and even some closeness. But, the overall experience left me wondering if this was how it was supposed to be.
After my daughter was born, like many new fathers, I felt an almost instinctual need to work harder to make us more secure. My film career was never robust, but 1996 proved to be a good one for me and for Kim as well. I shot "Ghosts of Mississippi" in Los Angeles and Kim shot "LA Confidential" there at around the same time. Next, I went to Alberta, Canada to shoot "The Edge," with Tony Hopkins. My daughter was just shy of a year old, but my wife complained about putting her on a plane to see me.
The flight to Calgary was just over two hours, but Kim came there with my daughter only once. I worked what was an unusually tough schedule and flew to LA nearly every other weekend. Kim complained about my being away, but I maintained that one of us had to work. Then, suddenly, "LA Confidential" was released in 1997 and the film was a critical success. Soon thereafter, Kim was nominated for an Oscar and, as if in a dream, she won in early 1998
Five years after her loss in civil court, Kim had a beautiful daughter, an Oscar and the opportunity to earn back nearly all of the money she had lost in court.
Kim had been restored to the place she longed to be and starred in two films between 1998 and 1999. I clearly sensed that, by that point, I had outlived my usefulness to her. I accompanied her to Africa in the fall of 1998, but I was really just the third nanny in the rotation. In 1999, I went to Montreal to work and she to Toronto. By the fall of 1999, my daughter was ready for preschool.
I commuted to Toronto nearly every weekend to see Ireland. No provisions were made for a tutor, or for any type of academic program, as Ireland turned four years old. My daughter would essentially visit her mother on the movie set and then spend the remainder of the day sitting in an expensive hotel suite, reading books or watching television with a nanny.
I did not graduate Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard, but I wanted my daughter's educational needs to be addressed with some real care and deliberation. We were now approaching the end of the road. I urged my wife to move to New York to put my daughter into school, as I did not want my child raised in Los Angeles.
By 2000, we lived in eastern Long Island. My wife complained, nearly every day, that the weather there was making my daughter sick. I countered that my daughter was sick on a regular basis because she was in school. Like all children, she was building the immune system that would protect her for the rest of her life. I took off nearly all of 2000, working for only six weeks that year, in order to drive my daughter to school each day.
Often, I would go to the school to pick up my daughter's missed assignments, only to see other kids with symptoms that had kept my daughter home. One teacher told me that her rule was that if the child does not have a fever, convince her to attend school. My wife would hear none of it. She threatened, on a daily basis, to head back to Los Angeles. I reminded her that Los Angeles, with its mythic air pollution and overcrowding, was no environmental Eden by any stretch.
It was ostensibly over this issue that, on December 8th, we had the argument that ended our marriage. I moved out of the house. We had very little contact. I wanted to see Ireland, but suddenly, as the semester ended, Kim was off to Los Angeles and, as I later found out, contacted an attorney to begin divorce proceedings.
Soon thereafter, I was driving down a road in East Hampton when it hit me: that unmistakable and shuddering wave that comes over you when you own the truth that your marriage is over.
Now, you are like all of the other millions that have failed, or at least felt they had, at something so personal. Something that meant so much to you and that you tried so hard to keep alive is dead. I pulled my car to the side of the road, snow falling all around me. I let out sounds I did not know were in me. I cried and thought how helpless I felt, helplessness having been, in my lifetime, the most demoralizing feeling of all.
My wife had finally stopped pretending to listen to my opinion about my daughter, or anything else, and gone back to LA with no regard for any of my rights, or those of my child to see her father. I had loved this woman, once.
As things would grow more contentious and bitter, I wondered how she could behave this way. Eventually, my disbelief would become immeasurable.
I asked my therapist, an intelligent, mature, kind woman, a wife and mother herself, "What am I supposed to take from this?"
Her answer was, "Now you've learned one of life's most painful lessons: that even the deepest feelings don't last forever".