Consumer — 17 February 2014

Special to American News Report

The ongoing and somewhat sad saga over sex abuse allegations against film director Woody Allen (brought against him by ex-wife Mia Farrow) is being seen as an alleged case of child abuse. But, at the heart of it, is the residue of a bitter divorce and child custody battle.

Agreeing upon the best arrangement of child custody is often the most contested and emotionally challenging part of a divorce proceeding.

Alan Fishbein

Alan Fishbein

There are times when one spouse feels that the other shouldn’t have anything to do with the children and will seek sole custody.

For Ellicott City, Maryland attorney Alan Fishbein, when sole custody is the goal and it’s going to be contested, the key to winning the case is to do your homework.

“We see a lot of nasty custody cases,” said Fishbein. “Children naturally cause a lot of emotion. They, along with dividing the financial assets, are the main reason for difficult contested cases.”

So Fishbein looks for answers to the following questions:

  • Which parent has been getting children to where they need to go (to sports practice,  music lessons, the doctor, etc.)?
  • Is there any history of spousal or child abuse in the relationship?
  • Is there any history of other violence?
  • Is there alcohol or drug abuse?
  • Are their mental health issues?
  • Is adultery in the equation?

As you might guess, it’s not always easy to get answers to these questions. Fishbein will send a paralegal out to interview different people who might be able to shed some light on these matters.

Fishbein, who practices in Maryland and the District of Columbia, says there are 13 factors identified in the state of Maryland as to whether joint custody is feasible.

“One of the first things I try to determine is what the client wants,” said Fishbein. “And then I try to figure out whether the divorcing couple works well together, or if they don’t even live near each other.”

Figuring all that out helps him determine how to proceed.

And when that road map leads to sole custody of the child, Fishbein knows it will be contentious.

When a parent seeks sole custody, they will usually tell you that they are doing it to protect their children from undue influence from a defective other parent. Often, courts will decide that sole custody is preferable when there are really combative parents, drug or alcohol dependent parents, or those with mental disorders.

However a divorcing couple decides to proceed, attorneys like Fishbein know this: When it comes to child custody, emotions will run high.

“That’s why they need an experienced attorney, someone who is not emotionally invested,” he concluded.

Thankfully for most, child custody battles and their ensuing results are not played out on the public stage, like that of Allen and Farrow. But, as the public is now witnessing, those battles can rage for many years.


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