Saturday, January 05, 2008

If you are considering divorce....

People contemplating divorce often do not have a realistic view of what is awaiting them. Sometimes, people in my audiences tell me, "if I had known how difficult divorce was going to be, I would have worked harder at my marriage." Here is a truly awful case which illustrates a number of the points I sometimes make about divorce.
1. Divorce does not end conflict. It just transfers the conflict into new arenas. (Actually, I have found this is a great laugh-line when talking to divorce lawyers or family court judges: "Divorce ends conflict." Hysterical, if ironic, laughter.)
In this particular case, Marc and Tonya Herschfus continued to argue for three years after their divorce over the religious upbringing and medical care of their son.
2. The conflict sometimes escalates, as the stakes are higher. In this case, Tonya accused her former husband of abusing their son.
The trial court cited the “numerous post-judgment divorce proceedings” and lawsuits filed by Marc Herschfus against Tonya Herschfus. Tonya Herschfus filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and instigated Marc Herschfus’s arrest on a Friend of the Court (FOC)bench warrant. Jacob was the subject of four Child Protective Services referrals and investigations and was subjected to numerous medical examinations, psychological counseling, and an interview regarding potential sexual abuse.

No evidence of child abuse was ever found.
3. The family court ends up investigating the most personal and detailed aspects of people's lives. When parents can not cooperate, whether they are married or not, the court steps into the middle of their lives. In this particular case, religious practice was one of the issues in dispute:
As part of the divorce settlement, the parties signed a document outlining specific terms for raising Jacob in that religion (the “Upbringing Document”). ... The trial court found that the parties “have different views on how strictly to observe their religion,” such as in relation to driving on holy days. The trial court noted that Marc Herschfus hired a private investigator to follow Tonya Herschfus on holy days in 2006 and caught Tonya Herschfus driving with Jacob. The trial court found that Tonya Herschfus was clearly “attempting to hide the fact that she is driving from [Marc Herschfus]. The message to Jacob, of course, is that it is appropriate to deceive his father.” The trial court noted that the parties also disagreed about the use of kosher food. Tonya Herschfus believed that Marc Herschfus had brainwashed Jacob to read the food labels at her house. She also testified that Jacob refused to eat at her non-Jewish family’s home on Thanksgiving 2006. Tonya Herschfus testified that Jacob acted “troubled and withdrawn” even
after she promised that she would only give him kosher foods.
The trial court found that Jacob was in turmoil given the different religious observances of his parents. The rules at Marc Herschfus’s home and Jacob’s religious school were inflexible, while Tonya Herschfus was more lax, causing him “substantial stress.” Jacob sought “structure and guidance” but felt “conflict and divided loyalty.” Jacob’s school principal testified that Jacob is a “loner,” “hyper and easily angered,” and the other children tease him. At the age of five, Jacob already saw a therapist to deal with stress and anxiety.

Notice that these kinds of issues are usually none of the government's business. We don't ordinarily invite agents of the state to examine these kinds of issues within our families. Because parental cooperation has broken down, the state gets drawn into these intimate matters, which ought properly be none of the government's businss. The court went to great lengths to emphasize that each parent could practice any relgion they wanted, but that they were compelled to comply with their agreement. (I originally found this case in a blog that does religious freedom issues.)
4. There is some evidence that custodial fathers are more apt to foster healthy relationships with mothers than the reverse. (See Warren Farrell's book,Father and Child Reunion on this point.) This case illustrates this.
The trial court noted that Dr. Okla opined that Marc Herschfus was “more likely to foster a positive relationship” than Tonya Herschfus. ... The trial court further noted that Dr. Okla testified that Tonya Herschfus had an “inappropriate affect” when discussing the sexual abuse allegations, was suspicious of Marc
Herschfus, prevented Jacob from having a comfortable relationship with Marc Herschfus, may have coached Jacob to make allegations against Marc Herschfus, and made inappropriate remarks in front of the child. To the contrary, Dr. Okla found Marc Herschfus to be appropriately concerned and less angry than Tonya Herschfus, although he was worried, frustrated, and anxious.

5. Not only did this mother make false accusations of child abuse, she also accused her husband of domestic violence, a charge which was never substantiated.
During the current custody hearing, Tonya Herschfus claimed that she sees a therapist because of domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of Marc Herschfus. She testified that Marc Herschfus is angry and intimidating, and that she is afraid of him. Tonya Herschfus secured a personal protection order against Marc Herschfus during the initial divorce proceedings; however, the trial court noted that
domestic violence was not “a significant issue” at that time. Marc Herschfus denies that he ever abused Tonya Herschfus and claims that Tonya Herschfus assaulted him during one of Jacob’s doctor appointments.The upshot of this case: In the absence of parental cooperation with each other, the court modified the custody agreement to give primary custody to the father, rather than shared custody. As far as I can tell, the court levied no penalty against the mother for her false allegations of child abuse and domestic violence.


Anonymous said...

As the main purpose of beginning to date again after a Divorce is to reestablish yourself as a single, and to take that single status into the social scene, it is unwise to consider such dating to be a means of leading to another,,,,,,

Anonymous said...

Good points, Jennifer, especially number one.

When I walked out of the L.A. County Courthouse after my husband's successful petition for divorce, my attorney said to me, "Well, he's out of your life forever."

He was a very young attorney, who obviously hadn't yet discovered that *that* is the great lie divorce tries to sell to people. Get the divorce, and your problems will be solved.

In reality, divorce merely exchanges one set of nasty problems for a different set of equally nasty problems.

Anyone interested can go to my blog and read all about the problems that ensued after my divorce. Not as bad as the couple you described in your post, but still very sad...Bad, unhappy, and abusive marriages stink, but divorce stinks too.

Anonymous said...

I would like to say that I know Tonya and Marc Herschfus, mentioned in the above article. Tonya did not lie or make false accusations up. Marc was/is abusive. The lawyer he is used is known to be an incredibly slimy, cheating, lawyer!

Jennifer Roback Morse said...

I have no doubt about anonymous's comments. I am sure there are cases of slimy lawyers on the husband's side, and lying on the wife's side. and vice versa. This case illustrates the difficulty of asking the courts to make these kinds of determinations over the most private aspects of our lives. Easy, no-fault divorce was supposed to be a great advance for personal privacy and freedom. THAT, is the biggest lie of all, about divore.

Anonymous said...

You started this article out stating that if people new what they may have to go thru, they may work harder to stay. In the Herschfus case, I did try to make it work. I did go back. I did try marriage counseling, clergy, friends and family interventions. I had to leave because it was no longer safe to live in the home. I went to the police. They told me to get a Personal protection order. I did that. I went to the womens survival center for help, and was given very empowering help. The sad thing about all of the is that people do not get married to get divorced, but in my case it was also not an option to stay any more, for the saftey of my self and my 1 year old son at the time. It has been a long hard road, I have been slandered all over the court, and from this slander, people think that this is the truth. The truth is that I got out of a very bad marriage. I am one of the luck ones. Thank God, I was a nurse, and had a job to be able to get out. I have had a lot of support from family, friends and co-workers. What I did not have was a lot of money to hire several high priced attorneys like my ex-husband did. He was a doctor dentist and attorney. I was just a nurse taking care for sick children part time and raising a 1 year old. Some how I did it. I have helped a lot of other women get out of a bad situation since then. There is not a day that does not go buy that I do not get a phone call from someone wanting some sort of information or help about the ins and outs of being a women going to court. I am glad to be there for them, as I did not have someone to call for help at the time. Divorce in not something to wish on anyone. It is like having your arm cut off, and is a constant reminder of the past. I find it the most painful, when someone writes a story about something that was not researched completely, and does not shed light on the whole true story. My son and I have truely suffered from this situation, but we are strong and we will survive. I wish anyone in the same situation strength and support.
Tonya Herschfus, R.N., B.S.N., B.A.
Berkley, MI

Anonymous said...

You are so right in that, there is nothing private about no-fault divorce. Everything is put out there, including lies. I found it the most disturbing that someone that does not even know me, is all of a sudden telling me how to worship. They may or may not even share my belief system. I was raised christian in a small town in Clarkston, Michigan. I attended Temple Israel (Reform) before getting married, and attended Temple Israel and Orthodox Shuls during and after my marriage. I do not fit into a certain box. I am a very spiritual person, and enjoy and celebrate diversity. I have been forced to raise my son in a way, that my ex husband and I did not even live during our marriage. My ex husband and I both worked during the marriage, we talked on the phone and we both drove during the marriage with my son, as we would need to take him to my mothers home if we were at work. The courts are now telling me that this is not ok. It is a very frightning thing. I live in the United States to have religious freedom. I have lived in Michigan for 39 years. I pay my taxes. I always thought that there was a seperation of church and state. In the court room of Linda Saud Hallmark, that has not been the case. My family also suffers, as they have also lost time and holidays with our son.
Tonya Herschfus, R.N., B.S.N., B.A.
Berkley, Michigan

Anonymous said...

My heart go out to you. I have no doubt everything you have said has great validity. I knew your husband long ago, before you did. He was very evident that he was controlling, mentally and verbally abusive, which I observed, but I suspected physically as well. I'm leaving my name as anonymous as I was a spectator of this behavior and not the one that it was perpetrated against. I choose to protect the other person's privacy. As soon as your story aired, many of us knew exactly who your ex-husband was, although you did not leave a name, and none of us knew you.