Family law is a wacky part of the legal world. As a divorce lawyer I’ve found myself in outrageous situations, arguing over absurd things. My clients have gotten themselves into some pretty creative places from a legal and personal perspective.
Attorneys who practice family law usually have lots of great stories about their clients. Some of them are sad, tragic, and depressing, like the recent multiple killings down in Seal Beach, which seem to have a child custody component.
Other times the stories are just comical, and you can’t believe that people actually do the things they do. Take the couple that married and divorced so often they both forgot they were not legally married when they went to get divorced for a third time. Seriously.
They married and divorced each other twice, but continued to live together. After a few years he decided that he wanted to move out and divorce her, so he came to me and we started the divorce process. We went through the entire process and a year into it, literally in a hallway at the Santa Monica Superior Court on the day of trial, opposing counsel comes up to me with a huge grin, lightly chuckling to herself and tells me that I’m “not gonna believe this” but they are already divorced. She hands me a divorce decree from a few years earlier and says the parties never remarried, so we’re done here. I wouldn’t believe it, except I lived it.
Then there are the crazy battles over property. The McCourts aside, usually the battles over property are not about the property so much as past hurts. This is not something you are taught in law school. The psychological side of divorce and family law is not an area that professors discuss greatly, though they should. Much of what a good family law attorney learns is how to handle the emotional ups and downs of a divorce or a child custody battle.
I started learning the psychology of divorce with my first case. They were a young couple with a house and no kids, both had jobs and pensions and this looked to be a very simple divorce — until we started on the division of the mementos. Then it got ugly. On their honeymoon they had toured Ireland, and one of the things they picked up there were bar towels with Harp and Guinness logos on them. Actual value, maybe $5. But to them these were critical assets to fight over.
Finally, I was able to talk some sense into them and get them to realize that they were fighting over something besides the towels, that they were just tokens, and their real anger was rooted in something deeper. That case taught me many lessons, but one of the most important was that people need to realize what they are really fighting over before the fight will end.
Couples do the same over the children and sometimes the pets. Angry couples will use the children to get back at each other, not realizing the harm they do to the children. I hate to see those cases and try to get them to put their hurts aside for the benefit of the kids.
In that first divorce case we had to do dog custody as well. Since then I’ve had other cases where dog custody and visitation was an issue. Even in my own life I had to put that to the test with the dog. Now, some people may laugh at that, but the truth is most attorneys have cases where the dog is an issue.
Which is why I’ve co-written my latest book, “What About Wally: Co-Parenting a Pet With Your Ex.” It is based on my experience of sharing our dog, and how we’ve worked out custody. The book tells of how when I moved out, I said, “the dog is coming with me, you can have as much visitation as you want. The dog does not fly cargo.”
“What About Wally” presents a plan for couples who no longer want to be a couple, but want to continue to share the dog. In it I lay out an entire parenting plan, just like we do with children, because for many couples, the dog is the child. Pets go through the divorce or breakup and feel the effects as well. They can become depressed, act out and need to be cared for, which is why I wrote it with pet expert Steven May.
My ex and I still share our dog. He just spent the weekend with his other daddy, his new husband and his dog, who is shared with his ex. It all gets very complicated, but in truth, in many ways, sharing the dog has helped heal the hurts of the broken relationship, and allowed us to regain a friendship.
“What About Wally” is available on Amazon.com today.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.