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March 5, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Abuse and Betrayal: A Cautionary True Story of Divorce, Mistakes, Lies and Legal Abuse. By Richard Joseph, 67 pages.

I like the social science that relates to children’s well-being and the types of families they live in. It’s enormously instructive. It takes us out of individual cases that alone matter little to anyone not immediately involved in them. Social science gives us the big picture and should be used as a guide to public policy.

But the small picture is important too. When a social scientist tells us that divorce is harmful to children because they lose one of their parents, what does that really mean? What might it mean if it happened to you? When data indicate that fathers are removed from children’s lives by a system that never ceases telling us it’s acting “in the best interests of the child,” how does that look to the fathers who are forced to endure that torture?

Well, Richard Joseph’s short book, Abuse and Betrayal, tells us. It does so in admirably restrained language. Joseph is, if anything, too lenient on his ex-wife and the system of divorce and child custody that cast its cloak over every puddle in her path toward the total alienation of his children from him. But part of that is Joseph’s willingness to at times say “I did wrong,” “I made a mistake.” Indeed he did, as we’re all likely to. But, by the end of his book, anyone with any sense or sensibility will understand the alacrity with which the child custody system takes kids from dads. Its dogged sense of purpose is truly breathtaking as is its utter disregard for children’s need for both parents.

Richard Joseph met his wife-to-be Diane when he was 29. He was a hard worker and earned a good living in the financial services industry. She was several years younger and hadn’t completed college. Love being what it is, Richard overlooked the many differences between the two. He was a hard-working intellectual with a strong bent toward fatherhood. Diane was a party girl.

In short order, they had two daughters, Laurie and Brooke.

Given the way I’d been able to make a living, I had flexibility during the week that enabled me to spend lots of time being a dad. I rarely worked more than thirty hours a week, and therefore I was one of the few dads able to be at most of our girls’ daytime school functions and activities. The fact that Diane and I were usually together at these events created a very favorable impression for teachers and other parents regarding our commitment to our girls. I took great pride in that.

Diane was an indifferent mother. Yes, she rarely worked at paid employment, but she didn’t spend a lot of times on mommy things either. She found a set of friends, with whom Richard had little in common, and spent most of her time with them. That included a good bit of alcohol consumption, long trips abroad alone and apparently affairs. Into the bargain, Diane was a social climber. In her view, nothing was too good for her, no expense was too great as long as it benefited her.

Diane’s orientation toward status, money and an overarching social life didn’t exactly square with Richard’s sense of himself foremost as a father.

Brooke was now in second grade at the Catholic school she attended. One day she came home with an envelope addressed to me. She and her classmates had been given an assignment that day to practice their cursive writing skills by writing about “the best person I know.” Her teacher had thankfully made sure I saw what Brooke had written:

“The best person I know is: My Dad. He’s always happy and cheerful. He cheers me up whenever I’m not happy. He always asks me to do something he thinks is fun. I love him very much”

I consider this note (which I will keep forever) to be one of my greatest achievements.

While Diane was away on her many trips with friends, Richard fell easily into his role as single father and his girls accommodated themselves to him. When she returned and he confronted her about her behavior, about which he’d learned from others on the trip, Diane played the “control” card. His suggestion that drinking until all hours and probably having sex with other men was inappropriate got him labeled by Diane as “controlling.”

He should have figured out then that his marriage was headed for the rocks and that he’d better start accumulating evidence for the mud-slinging to come. But Richard found himself in the same position so many fathers do. He loved his daughters dearly, was an excellent father to them and they needed him. He couldn’t face the idea of divorce because he knew, on some level, that he’d lose his children, that Diane, the utterly inappropriate wife and mother of his children would get custody and use her power as primary parent to kick him to the curb.

So he hung on.

Diane increasingly began to accuse me of trying to control her, and by this time I was increasingly convinced of my inability to trust her. I nevertheless was making an attempt to keep our family together. I asked some colleagues (women and men) if what I was tolerating with Diane was a red flag and whether I was being unreasonable. The feedback was emphatic and unanimous: they would never accept behavior such as Diane’s from their spouses, nor would they expect their spouse to accept it.

Truthfully, I had known for several years at this point that I didn’t love Diane anymore, but I still very much loved being a family together.

Diane’s behavior went from bad to worse and Richard finally realized his marriage was over. At the same time, he began to grasp the true nature of the trap he’d laid for himself. He was the girls’ father. That meant a judge would likely consign him to the status of visitor if he filed for divorce. He earned a good living but Diane earned essentially nothing. That meant his child support would be high. It also meant his alimony would be astronomical. All put together it meant he’d lose his kids and watch Diane achieve her goal of dressing well and joining the country club on his money. It was not an appealing prospect.

Needless to say, given the person she is, Diane had all that figured out in advance. She’d talked to a divorce lawyer and knew the lay of the land in child custody cases. She knew she had the power and didn’t hesitate to use it.

The financial reality of separating was sobering for me though. I calculated that in order to pay alimony, child support, private school tuition for both girls (Catholic school), health insurance for the girls, auto insurance for Laurie, etc. I would need to earn over $80,000 (before taxes) just to cover these expenses.

That was before Richard could pay himself one thin dime. He still had to pay the mortgage on their house, put food on the table, buy insurance, pay auto expenses and everything else. $80k was what he owed the woman who’d made his life hell and taken his kids.

Before she even moved out, Diane was seeing Dave, a man she’d met at one of her many “all girls” parties. Of course cohabitation would have ended her right to receive alimony from Richard, so the two were careful to live apart.

Then the alienation began.

It became very clear that, with Dave now in the picture, Diane had convinced my girls that they were now a new family and that I needed to move on in a similar manner. Just as disturbing, I noticed how little contact my girls were having with me apart from my custodial visitations with them. I received no phone calls and only abbreviated answers to my texts. I certainly wasn’t getting any proactive or unexpected communication from either of them. Increasingly, it was as if I were being forgotten or ignored.

Soon enough, Diane and Dave were scheduling the girls’ to be out of town or engaged in some other activity during Richard’s visitation time. It’s a classic – and can’t lose - ploy by an alienating parent. If the non-custodial parent insists on his usually scheduled visitation, he disappoints the child by depriving it of a special event; if he acquiesces, he loses even more of his already meager time with his kids. When Diane upped the ante by telling mutual friends that Richard was “not involved in [the girls’] lives,” his anger got the better of him.

I parked my car and walked to Diane’s front door. I proceeded to knock, and then bang, on the door loudly, requesting to speak with Dave. He finally opened the door. Without going into the house or touching or threatening anyone, I proceeded to tell Dave he had no right to participate in efforts to violate my custody times with my girls, that he had been a shitty dad himself, and that word around town was that he was a bit of a player with women. And I didn’t say any of it in a friendly manner.

Richard then turned, walked to his car and drove away.

And that, my friends, was all it took to remove a loving, responsible father from his children’s lives for good. The road from that one entirely non-violent and understandable confrontation led to jail and the utter alienation of his daughters from him. Yes, Richard’s telling off the man who was living on his money and helping to alienate his children constituted such a heinous offense in the eyes of the judge that nothing but a restraining order would suffice to “protect” all concerned.

And when Richard went to Diane’s house again for his now almost non-existent visitation only to find the girls once again absent, he did something that once again the judge viewed as so threatening, so serious that he almost put him in jail for up to a year. What did Richard do when Diane, Dave and the girls finally showed up?

He glared at her. Here’s the transcript of the event as it was described in court.

Prosecutor: Your honor, the defendant did remain in front of the residence for a number of minutes . He did make eye contact with the plaintiff. He did glare at her in a manner that she found harassing and made her feel uncomfortable and uneasy. (My note: this was truly unbelievable to listen to. I was facing possible prison time because of the claim I glared at my ex-wife, which made her uneasy(?). I was there for no more than 45 seconds…and, regardless, why would she stand there for ‘a number of minutes’ if she felt harassed and uneasy?)

My Attorney: Forgive me, Your Honor. If I may, I had told the Assistant District Attorney, the gentleman that was handling the case last week had clarified and confirmed that my client was in a position where he should be waiting for them to arrive. He did not reposition his vehicle or move his vehicle in any manner. He was simply there longer than what some felt he needed to remain before leaving, which he ultimately did.

Judge: Well, apparently there was a glare.

Yes, that’s the sort of thing that loses a dad his kids.

By then there was a restraining order against Richard prohibiting all contact with Diane. That meant he had to communicate directly with Laurie and Brooke, but Diane’s alienation of them had taken hold. They didn’t want to see him or talk to him, so they didn’t. Diane wasn’t going to make them and going to court to enforce a weekend’s visitation with a teen-age girl who wanted no part of him didn’t seem to make much sense.

They’d learned a lot from their mother, and the chief lesson was that dad is nothing more than a cash machine. Diane lied to Richard and his lawyer about cohabitating with Dave in order to get one last installment of alimony. Three days after lying about her situation, she and Dave were married. For her part, Laurie, who never spoke or communicated with her father in any way, nevertheless threatened to sue him if he didn’t pay her college tuition.

Eventually, on the advice of his therapist, Richard moved away. The simple fact was that, with a restraining order hanging over his head, one false allegation by Diane or Dave of any form of wrongdoing on his part would have landed Richard in prison for up to a year.

As of his writing, he lives in a different state and has no contact with either his ex-wife or his daughters.

The lesson Abuse and Betrayal teaches is how easy it is for a mother to remove a decent and loving father from his children’s lives. The court system is her willing enabler.

Diane was identified by Richard’s therapist as a narcissist and certainly his description of her fills the bill. But narcissism is her problem. It should be her cross to bear and hers alone. But a child custody system that rewards mothers does so pretty much regardless of who they are or what they do. Anyone can trump up a charge of abuse, but it takes an utterly dysfunctional court system to honor it in such a way that takes a father out of his children’s lives and abuses them in the process.

Richard Joseph’s story is indeed a cautionary tale. But how many men will be able to heed the caution? Exactly how does one do that? How does an honorable and loving father go about proving that his ex-wife is a narcissist bent on destroying his healthy relationship with his daughters? How does he overcome the anti-father bias that converts an alleged glare into an excuse for prison? How does he show such a judge that a glare is trivial and in no way warrants the theft of his children, if the judge doesn’t already know that?

Countless fathers every year confront the same problems. Richard Joseph’s book will give them a glimpse of one of our most incompetent of institutions – our family courts. Just what they do with the information is another story altogether.

The book will be coming out March 15th.

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