One Little Lie
I was sitting in court yesterday, thinking about the incredible waste of time, money and resources one little lie can cause. My client has custody of his teenage daughter. She decided, as teenagers will, that life at her Mom’s house was more exciting, so she went there and wouldn’t come home. My client tried to retrieve her, Mom resisted, and other family members got involved in a big (verbal) tussle. My client called the cops. The cops came and interviewed everyone. The daughter said she didn’t want to go back to Dad’s. The cops explained to my client that they couldn’t force her to go with him, and advised him to go to family court and file a petition for contempt of the custody order. Then they and my client left. Case closed, or should’ve been.
But Mom must have been mad, because she marched down to family court and filed a petition to get a protection order against my client, alleging that he had assaulted their daughter during this incident. He hadn’t, and I’m sure of it, because I spoke to both the cops who were there and had talked to everyone, including the daughter, and no one told them anything about an assault – the only issue anyone mentioned was whether the girl could stay at Mom’s or not. Regardless, Mom filed a petition, got a temporary protection order against Dad, and a hearing was scheduled.
That’s where I entered the picture. My client, a guy who works two jobs, cooking by day and cleaning offices by night, come to my office and met with me (paid for a consultation); hired me (paid a retainer); and took the day off from work for court (lost wages from two jobs). I had to subpoena the two police officers (fees paid to the city) and get the police reports (fees paid to the police department). The officers had to come to court the day of the hearing (paid overtime). The hearing was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Mom was a no-show. But my client, the officers and I waited in court until almost 10 a.m. in order to satisfy the court that Mom wasn’t going to come, and then we had a brief hearing so the judge could take the testimony necessary to dismiss Mom’s petition for lack of prosecution (salaries paid to judge, court reporter, court officers, court administrative staff, rent and utilities for family court building, etc. etc.) Then we left.
My client had been pretty sure from the beginning that his ex wasn’t going to show up, because he knew that she knew what she had alleged in her petition a) wasn’t true, and b) she wouldn’t be able to prove it in court. She just wanted to punish him. And she did, very effectively, as well as the rest of us taxpayers who were footing the bill for the cops and the court personnel. The ripple effect is huge. And there’s no remedy; since she didn’t show up, there was no hearing on the merits of her petition, so no record was created from which the court could determine that she was in fact lying. The petition was dismissed because she failed to appear. Sigh.
About that contempt petition my client filed: the hearing isn’t scheduled until October. And his daughter still hasn’t come home.
Just when I thought I had handled cases involving every possible riff on the concept of marriage, I found out I’m wrong. To date, I’ve missed polyamory. Or at least the open, admitted-to variety. I’ve certainly heard from clients about affairs which are ongoing and implicitly accepted, actually a pretty traditional model for men of means and power throughout recorded history. But this is different.
Polyamory involves a group of people who have sexual or romantic relationships with one another with every member’s knowledge and consent. (Best new word learned this year: a “moresome,” if the group is more than four.) This doesn’t sound easy, and apparently it’s not. According to a panel at the American Psychological Association meeting in Philly last week, polyamorous people talk a lot about rules and boundaries concerning time spent with other lovers.
I’ll bet they do. They need them. And nobody knows that like a divorce lawyer. Suppose a polyamorous group of four buys a house together and then things go south. It’s hard enough to navigate financial issues between two people who used to sleep together; add two more to the mix and it becomes a firestorm. Now there will be four people who all want the others to move out, four people who want the dog and the orange Le Creuset pot, and four people who disagree over how to divide up the bank accounts.
Is this new? Can’t be, since nothing involving human nature is. It’s probably just new that people talk openly about it. Apparently it dovetails with a statistical decline in dedication to monogamy. Close to one-third of all lesbian and unmarried straight couples, and almost half of all gay couples, are not monogamous. And married people are not far behind – about one-fifth of them say they’ve “cheated.” But this is a different variation, of course; cheating means there were rules you knew about and chose to break. The rules of the game for a polyamorous group don’t prohibit sex with others. Presumably, they just regulate the conditions under which it can happen.
What does this mean for kids? On the up side, it means they are likely to have more adults intimately involved in their daily lives. On the down side, it means they could experience losses if those connections shift or dissolve. And the potential for horrendous custody litigation looms over child and parent alike: each member of the group surely knows that he or she does not want to end up on a witness stand trying to explain polyamory to a family court judge.
Turns out a lawyer in my firm has already written a custody agreement for a client who lives in a polyamorous household with this configuration: lesbian couple, consisting of biological and non-biological moms, and boyfriend of biological mom (who may or may not be father of child). All very happy together.
I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I get asked to draft a cohabitation agreement for a member of a polyamorous group, or to negotiate the dissolution of one. I love dealing with new family configurations. I’ll be ready.