The 1979 movie, Kramer vs. Kramer, is one of the best films of the ’70’s era. Its story revolves around the married couple Ted Kramer (played by award-winning actor Dustin Hoffman) and Joanna Kramer (acted brilliantly by Hollywood icon Meryl Streep). One day, Joanna told Ted that she was leaving, after being a dissatisfied housewife for many years.
In a very moving scene, Ted’s son named Billy asked his father: “Are you going away?”
Ted replied: “No. I’m staying here with you. You can’t get rid of me that easy.”
More scenes follow depicting the daily struggles of an unexpectedly single father trying to raise his son while juggling the demands of his advertising career.
The movie takes a more dramatic turn when Joanna suddenly shows up and tells Ted that she wants full custody of Billy. What ensues after is a courtroom drama about child custody.
It is a scene that happens daily in real life in courtrooms around America. With the professional assistance of a family lawyer, some cases get resolved amicably. Both parties agree to the decision of the judge. In some instances, the custody dispute does not even reach the court because both parties come to a mutually acceptable agreement after careful mediation. In some cases, the legal battle goes on for quite some time through appeals and counter-appeals.
Perhaps for memory’s sake, divorced couples would instead resolve their differences privately without any court intervention. However, realistically, many of these cases can only be dealt with fairly and adequately via a legal proceeding.
Attorneys play a crucial role in resolving the conflict between estranged couples and, more importantly, in providing a sense of stability and security for the child or children caught in between. Typically, these legal practitioners would advise one or both parties about the statutory provision that grants both parents the joint guardianship over the child or children born during the marriage.
If this joint guardianship is contested, the attorneys go to court to present the best argument for why his or her client should be granted sole custody. In the ideal terms, the court then seeks the ‘best interest of the child”, taking into account the wishes of that child as well as other factors such as education, home environment, the community, and relationships with other members of the family, to name a few.
There are also cases when an attorney from one party can secure a Third Party custody, that is, the child is brought to the care of a grandparent or close relative. In most instances, the parent who lost custody is still given visitation rights. To enforce laws related to child custody, a parent who violates the terms of the agreement and the orders of the court may be cited for contempt.
A child’s preference is material to the appreciation of facts and arguments of each party and relevant to the court decision. However, the age, the understanding or comprehension level, and the child’s experience are also weighed by the court’s decision-making.
Another essential aspect that is handled by the attorney is child support. That is a contentious aspect of the entire proceeding, especially if the divorced parents are from a lower-income segment of society. One or both parents may be unemployed and ill-equipped to provide for the child. For affluent divorced couples, it may be easier since the amount is what will be subjected to negotiation and not the ability to support a child. The so-called post-divorce economic status of the child takes on a higher level of importance. In this situation, the services of attorneys that specialize in divorce and custody are non-negotiable.
Long after a court decision has been made on custody and visitation rights, child custody can still be a pressing issue between ex-spouses or former live-in partners. In the middle of a pandemic, house visits and time for being with the children is adversely affected by lockdowns, quarantine protocols, and travel restrictions. The health and safety of children had always been a major factor in custody and visitation rights. But it is more so now when the entire world is grappling with the threat of coronavirus.
No one willfully seeks to ruin and end a relationship, more so if a couple took vows in marriage and had been blessed with children. As a team, they try to work on strengthening their union and overall family life.
But when that relationship crumbles and one or both parties no longer wish to continue with it, the custody issue becomes a focal point. When a relationship reaches the finish line, it is only the beginning of the process for the now-divorced parents and their children. In that process, the professional counsel of lawyers as well as psychiatrists, doctors, and other persons who have the desire to help become even more prominent and crucial to the ‘moving on’ phase for both parents.