My phone was buzzing this past week like an over-caffeinated bee. The story of a mother who “kidnapped” her son was making the rounds and many of my friends felt it was a perfect story for me to comment on. As a family lawyer, who also writes articles and books, I am often provided with story ideas. Some of them come from my friends, while others from strangers as soon as I choose to divulge what I do for a living. Oftentimes I sit in court, whether here in Santa Monica or somewhere else around the state of California, and I hear stories that I think really should be turned into a TV show or a movie.

I don’t need to look very far for a good story as my own files have many interesting ones, and I have a way of describing them in such a way as to enhance their enjoyment factor and make them more intriguing. The catalog of human drama that a divorce lawyer deals with on a regular basis crosses many areas of both law and the human condition.

Family lawyers have the privilege of parachuting into someone’s life at one of the most traumatic times they will ever experience. We are hired to be everything from a priest (the things people tell their divorce lawyer are truly amazing, shocking, disgusting and appalling) to therapist (for their emotional pain who is expected to “fix” the situation) to superhero (whose job it is to “defeat evil and uphold the rule of law and justice”). Seriously, I had a client once who told me that was what he was hiring me for, to defeat evil. Thankfully he didn’t expect me to wear tights and a cape.

Over the years as a divorce and child custody lawyer I’ve developed a bit of psychological awareness. It’s an occupational hazard when you have to hire experts whose opinions determine whether a certain parent is acting in an appropriate or inappropriate manner. I’ve had to learn the difference between a borderline personality and a narcissistic personality, plus coping mechanisms for their irrationality. I’ve developed enough antennae to listen to a client for two minutes, tell him to stop talking, start telling him his story and have him be shocked that I am right when I ask who molested his wife/girlfriend — and he never saw the connection to how it’s impacting his relationship with her.

The job of a child custody lawyer is a mix of intellectual prowess — do you know the law, emotional awareness? — how well do you “read a situation” and common sense. Do you know what is going to work in a particular situation? My colleagues fall into two main categories. There are the hopeless romantics at heart (the do-gooders who honestly care about their clients well-being) and then there are the dilettantes who are doing family law because they think it is an easy way to make a buck. The first group tends to dislike the second a great deal because they muck up people’s lives terribly.

I have an abduction case where the mom took the kids to her home country for the holidays and decided she was going to stay there permanently. This is an international child custody case that deals with California law, U.S. law, international treaties and foreign custody laws. To say that you need to have more than a passing interest in this area is an understatement.

My firm has handled these international child custody cases for the past 10 years. We have lawyers around the globe that we have consulted with, co-chaired cases with and know that in these high-stakes litigation matters, a little bit of bad advice carries long-term consequences for the client.

I am being hired to parachute into this latest case because the stupidly expensive law firm that was in charge has mucked up the case terribly. They didn’t realize what they were doing, they treated it as if it were a “common case” and they may have cost him his children.

This is why I cannot comment intelligently on a story about a mother who “kidnaps her son.” There are way too many variables at play in family law. There may be mental or physical health issues with either the mother or the child, there could be addiction issues that are influencing this case. I hope that the “kidnapped son” caper resolves itself well, whatever that means for the boy and his mother.

The range of factors that go into any one family law case is tremendous, and it takes a big picture view of it all before a decent opinion can be formed, let alone an accurate one.



David Pisarra is a divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in father’s and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at or (310) 664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra

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