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A powerful message for divorcing parents

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In custody battles … children lose.”

So begins the trailer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pv-DaOkQP7o) for “Talk to Strangers,” a film that “tells the story of a sister and her younger brother struggling to navigate the child custody evaluation process typically used in family courts throughout the United States,” according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

The trailer starts with a shot of a courthouse in winter. A few seconds later, there is another shot of the courthouse, with a statue of parents sitting next to each other in the foreground. Each parent has an arm around the other, and together they hold their young child; they appear to be a loving couple not at all bothered by the snow on the ground.

Next, we are in the courthouse, observing parents whose words, tone of voice, and body language tell us that they are anything but together.

Powerfully depicting the ordeal from the point of view of the children, “Talk to Strangers,” written and directed by Larry Sarezky, is unique and serves as a cautionary message to parents and lawyers on the brink of traumatic child custody battles.

Accompanying the film is a guide written by Sarezky with contributions from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a prominent organization, to help parents avoid those battles and other high-conflict divorces.

“This film is undeniably moving and offers an invaluable portrayal of the ways in which a custody battle directly impacts children who are caught in the middle,” said James T. McLaren, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “It is truly one of the most powerful tools I have seen that can encourage parents and professionals to pause and more thoughtfully consider how custody battles affect children.”

The Academy says professionals in the United States and abroad are already using the film, as are certain public and private institutions. It is being screened by “law schools nationwide,” which offers the hope that matrimonial and family lawyers will be more aware of and sensitive to the emotional damage that often result from custody battles.

Additionally, the film “is scheduled to be in service throughout the Massachusetts family court system at the beginning of next year,” said McLaren.

The more people who are exposed to the movie’s message, the better.

Some parents who think — or who try to convince themselves — that fighting it out in court won’t have much of an impact on their kids may well make different choices after watching this 25-minute film.

Similarly, a lawyer who has represented one parent against another in nasty child-custody cases, never having raised the issue of the harm that children may suffer due to these battles, may have a harder time ignoring the question after seeing the film.

Imagine how many more parents would think twice, and then a third time, before deciding to litigate custody questions, if lots of other parents and the lawyer at a consultation for the divorce were to tell them, “a custody battle is probably going to cause your children harm; and, it wouldn’t be pleasant for you either. Some people have to engage in a bruising court fight; but, maybe you’re not one of them. What about trying a different approach to begin with? If it doesn’t work, you can litigate it then.”

I’ve only seen the trailer for “Talk to Strangers,” and cannot fairly critique the film, but if its hugely important message resonates with parents and others, it will be a big success.

If Sarezky’s efforts interest you, you may want to read my blog post titled “Considering a custody battle? Ask yourself — and your spouse or partner — the following” at http://bit.ly/1QfSFId.

New York City and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at lee_chabin@lc-mediate.com, (718) 229–6149, or go to http://lc-mediate.com/. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lchabin.

Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

Updated 4:38 pm, December 9, 2016
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