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March 12, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I’ve said it before. I have no interest in the personal lives of celebrities. And that includes their divorces. All those do is reinforce the already-well-known fact that stars of the large and small screens are, however familiar their faces, mostly just ordinary people, neither smarter nor more worthy of our respect than anyone else. Some of them are good at what they do, some decidedly less so. But to tell the truth, I place far greater value on the man who moved my wife’s 5,000-pound pottery kiln 125 miles than I do on, say, a Hollywood actor, even a good one.

Still, I do occasionally dip my toe into the turbulent waters of celebrity divorces if a particular case has something to offer beyond the invariably tawdry details of the couple’s split-up and their barking allegations against one another.

So, for example, I posted several pieces on the Kelly Rutherford/Daniel Giersch custody case. Why? Because the news media proved itself entirely incapable of simply reading the decision by the Los Angeles County judge and drawing reasonable conclusions. The case itself had little of interest to it; the dogged determination to portray Rutherford as a wronged innocent when she appeared from the judge’s findings to be a classic alienator gave interest to an otherwise uninteresting case.

Now it appears that the Scarlett Johansson/Romain Dauriac child custody battle will be one to watch, albeit for different reasons than Rutherford/Giersch.

That’s because it appears that Dauriac has always been their daughter’s primary parent. In this article, Martin Daubney nails the issues in the case (Telegraph, 3/10/17).

A previously high-flying man puts his career on hold to allow his more successful wife to continue working, while he brings up their newborn child.

Then, a couple of years later, when your gurgling baby turns into a beautiful, walking, talking little person, mum suddenly files for divorce – and demands custody of the child you reared while she made her fortune.

Now, if the sexes were reversed, as they so frequently are, no one would seriously doubt the outcome. It would be so cut and dried that few would even notice the final order: primary custody to Mom, every other weekend plus one weeknight to Dad, Dad pays child support and alimony. And of course if our hypothetical case included a fabulously wealthy father, the amount of alimony and child support he’d end up paying would be likewise fabulous.

In the case in question though, it’s Johansson who’s the wealthy one and Dauriac who “put his career on hold” to care for their daughter. That takes it out of the general run of child custody cases, whether celebrity or not. What places it squarely within the general run is that it’s Mom who filed the divorce and custody action and who was first to demand primary custody.

So the questions arise: Will the court treat Dauriac the way it usually treats primary parents, particularly those who give up work to care for the child? Or will the court treat Johansson and Dauriac the way it usually treats mothers and fathers, i.e. with Mom getting custody and Dad visitation? Or will the two divide custody equally? And what of child support and alimony? Surely Dauriac would receive hefty amounts of both if he were the mother. But he’s not. Will the law be applied gender-neutrally to give him primary custody? Or will it be applied gender-neutrally to give equal custody to both?

As I said, occasionally celebrity cases crop up that hold the promise of real interest.

Meanwhile, Daubney has his own ideas about the likely course of this case.

Johansson will more than likely be a benefactor of one of the legal system’s greatest inequalities: the de facto granting of child custody to mothers.

And here’s where this rarified story has implications for our own ordinary lives. Now, it will all be about lawyers proving who was Rose’s “primary caregiver.” This standard tries to determine which parent has been responsible for meeting most of the child's daily needs, such as feeding, bathing, playing, waking and putting to bed, making doctor appointments, arranging for child care, and so on.

That of course reveals the real problem with the case. Dauriac seems to have been the child’s primary caregiver and, under the usual rules of the game, he’d get primary custody and Johansson would end up paying child support and alimony. So, if the judge deals with this case in a gender-neutral manner, that should be the result.

But of course who’s been the primary parent shouldn’t be the issue in a child custody case. Because children bond with both parents and suffer the loss of either, judges should order equal or roughly equal parenting time to both parents. After all, the child thinks of each adult as a parent, so what’s in its interest, absent unfitness on the part of one parent, is more or less equal time with each parent.

So one of two things should happen. Dauriac should either be the primary parent receiving massive amounts of child support and alimony or he should be an equal co-parent with Johansson. We’ll see what happens.

Meanwhile, Dauriac faces an adversary with essentially unlimited money to litigate her position. And, as we see all too often, the more money, the messier the divorce, the more drawn out and the more abusive to all concerned.

But the real lesson for dads of Johansson/Dauriac will be how a father’s willingness to transcend traditional sex roles will be viewed by a family court judge. We’ve seen fathers do that before, and it didn’t end well.

Stay tuned.

 

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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.

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