Good news. Britney and K-Fed have a settlement! Their lawyers were back in court — again — last week to tell the judge in the long-running battle over custody of their two sons that they had agreed that K-Fed would retain custody, Britney would get more visitation, and she would also pay more. Both sides claimed victory.
Of course, as everyone conceded, it's not really over. As soon as the conservatorship her parents secured over her and her affairs has ended, Britney's side apparently plans to ask the judge to restore the 50-50 custody the parents had initially agreed to.
Those poor boys. They are 1 and 2.
And then there are the poor little girls who are the subject of the long-running fight between former spouses Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen. They are 3 and 4. Those lawyers were back in court this week, armed with experts and even a video, as Denise sought adjustments in the never-ending custody battle involving the two blond-haired preschoolers who co-star with her in her new reality series, "Denise Richards: It's Complicated."
Both sides claimed victory in that one, too, but no one expects that the fight is really over. Richards, who has been making publicity rounds to promote the new show, complained to Redbook last month: "I'm in a no-win situation. If I have my kids on the show, I'm exploiting them. If I don't, people will think I'm not a hands-on mom. That's why it's very important to me that the girls are a part of it — but only when it makes sense."
Earlier, in an interview promoting the new series on Ryan Seacrest's radio show (Seacrest happens to be Denise's executive producer, among the many hats he wears), Richards unloaded on her ex: "He just cut me off of child support last week," Richards said. "He doesn't want my kids to have vaccines and shots, but that's a whole other issue. So whatever." Sheen's response: "I will not dignify the majority of these allegations set forth by Denise Richards with any measure of response. On its best day it remains laughable and inane."
It's not laughable and inane. It's pitiful and hurtful — maybe not to the publicity-seeking parents, certainly not to the well-paid lawyers who represent them, but without question to the children who bear the ultimate burden. And it's not complicated; it's simple. Being a parent is, or should be, about putting your kids first, acting like a grownup, especially when you're getting divorced.
The short answer to Denise Richards' no-win situation is not to do the show. Would that be a sacrifice for her? Sure. No one does a reality series were Hollywood knocking down their door with offers of roles as an actual actress in film or television. You don't see Meryl Streep turning her kids into a television series, or Michelle Pfeiffer, or Julia Roberts.
They go out of their way to protect their kids from the press, rather than use them to stay in the spotlight. But that's not even the half of it.
As anyone who has raised kids knows, it goes by in an instant. Before Britney or K-Fed or Denise or Charlie knows it, those babies will be old enough to decide for themselves where they want to live. And in another blink of the eye, they'll be off to school and on their own. To waste that precious time squabbling about overnight visits and money robs the children of their childhood.
Courts don't have any magic answers to these questions. Family court judges and commissioners are just lawyers who become judges. They make decisions not because they know better, but because when parents can't come to any accommodation, there is no one else to decide. Whatever they decide is bad for the kids because the very process is bad for the kids.
One of the problems with divorce law is that all of the incentives, from the lawyers' point of view, support prolonging the battle. Divorce lawyers are paid by the hour, and so long as the parents have money to pay, there will always be something to fight about.
Sadly, most cases of non-celebrities tend to settle when the parents run out of money and can no longer afford to fight. But some people don't run out of money, and some parents, children themselves, refuse to listen when even the most honorable divorce lawyers — and there actually are some — advise them that the fight isn't worth the candle.
Moreover, there may be "tactical advantages," which is to say financial advantages, when one party is willing to publicly humiliate the other (hello Christie Brinkley and Peter Cook) in open court.
One of my friends, who used to practice divorce law but stopped, said he always tried to get parents to put the kids first, but too many of them were so intent on hurting each other, not to mention paying less or getting more, that they refused to see what they were doing to their children.
King Solomon had it right: The true test of a loving parent is not how tightly you hold on to your child, but whether you are willing to let go or get less for their sake.
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