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January 30, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Long as the list of benefits of shared parenting is already, it just keeps getting longer. The latest is this tawdry little affair arising out of a child custody fight in the U.K. (Bristol Post, 1/28/15).

It seems mother-of-two Jessica Dunne was embroiled in child custody dispute with her ex. Pursuing the case meant she went into debt to her attorney and, not having the money to repay the debt or continue the fight, she dropped by her 83-year-old uncle’s house one day. That was nice of her, except she used the opportunity to steal a number of his blank checks, wrote them to herself and deposited them to her new partner’s account. And the sums weren’t small either. In all they added up to £10,700.

Eventually, the uncle figured out what had happened, complained of bank fraud and Dunne was arrested and charged. She recently pleaded guilty to charges of fraud.

Now, the Bristol Post article, the judge, Dunne’s lawyer and of course Dunne herself are all desperate to let everyone know that Dunne was a helpless, innocent victim of circumstances.

Recorder Richard Davison told her: "It was quite a wicked thing to do.

"It was your first offence and it was completely out of character, committed during a time of great stress to address a deteriorating financial situation caused by legal fees you incurred."…

Patrick Mason, defending, said her client had incurred debt and didn't know what to do.

He said: "She fell prey to the temptation to take the cheques that she took.

"She wrote them put and signed them. The money changed hands and here she is.

"She committed the offences at a time of incredible stress.”

Yes, the ravening beast called ‘debt’ was abroad in the land and Dunne “fell prey” to it. She herself had nothing to do with taking on excessive debt. That apparently meant she was forced to steal from an elderly relative. In fact, she stole from more than just her uncle.

Mr Treharne said: "It would seem the defendant was responsible, through her partner's account, for cashing cheques.

"Up to March 2014 the defendant visited her relative Mr Appleton at his home.

"He lives there with his disabled son and he is her uncle.

Nice. The uncle from whom she stole apparently supports a disabled son in addition to himself.

Of course countless people go into debt for all sorts of things without robbing their nearest and dearest, but Dunne seems to be such a special case she’s going to all but escape punishment.

Dunne was given a 12-month community order with 150 hours' unpaid work and was told to pay a £60 victim surcharge.

£60? She stole £10,700 but is only required by the court to pay £60?

The court heard Lloyds bank reimbursed Mr Appleton and took the financial loss themselves.

That’s legally appropriate. The bank paid on an instrument that had a signature that wasn’t that of the holder of the account. Having done so, it’s liable for the amounts wrongfully taken from the holder’s account. Fair enough. But how is it that the court didn’t require Dunne to reimburse the bank? Only one person should bear this loss — Dunne. She incurred the debt, but, as things stand now, it’s the bank that paid it off. Strange.

But all that nonsense, interesting and bizarre as it is, isn’t my subject. No, what I’d like to point out is how much it can cost to litigate a child custody case.

Of course plenty of parents will say “£10,700? That’s nothing. I spent ten times that on my case.” That of course is true. But obviously, that sum to Dunne was daunting, far more than she could afford. It really doesn’t matter what the actual amount is; if it’s beyond your ability to pay, then it’s too much.

And that’s a big part of the story of child custody suits. Lawyers make their yacht payments off the fear, hurt and bitterness parents feel when they go to court to fight for parenting time. Usually of course parents have no intention of involving lawyers in their case, so they just agree in advance and submit the fait accompli to the judge who waves his wand over the deal and everyone goes their merry way.

That process usually means Mom gets the bulk of parenting time and Dad sees the child rarely but pays often. It’s not what parents (at least not fathers) want, but it’s the best they can get under the circumstances.

But what if those circumstances were different? What if both parents knew, going into divorce, that each would end up with something like half the parenting time? The answer is that there’d be no reason to fight because neither would fear the loss of the child. And no fighting would mean less money paid to lawyers, custody evaluators, psychologists, guardians ad litem, etc. That in turn would mean no one would need to go into debt to pay the sums charged in the custody case.

And fewer aged uncles would one day look at their bank statements and wonder where all the money went.

Shared parenting means far more reasonable costs of deciding child custody. Add it to the list.

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National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#childcustodybattle, #lawyersfees, #debt, #robbery, #fraud, #sharedparenting

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