In my practice as a Sonoma family law attorney, I often hear or read about bitter divorces where the parties cannot work together in the best interests of their children.  But nothing compares to a case I recently came across.  Entitled In re Marriage of McLoren, this 1988 case is an extreme example of what can happen when a family cannot effectively address the hurt and anger attendant to a divorce.

Little is known about the Kirk and Nancy McLoren’s relationship during their three years of marriage, but we can surmise that it was not good.  We do know that their post-dissolution life resembled a war zone, the first battle occurring when Nancy’s mother shot Kirk with a rifle, causing him permanent injury.  A year later, Nancy accused Kirk of sexual and physical abuse of both of the children.  After Kirk was cleared of those charges, custody was awarded to him.  Then, Kirk was arrested and prosecuted for soliciting Nancy’s murder.  When Kirk was acquitted of those charges, sole legal and physical custody was returned to him permanently.

Years later, Nancy sought joint legal and physical custody in an effort to become more involved in her children’s lives.  Sadly, it was too little, too late.  While the superior court granted her request, the decision was overturned by the court of appeal.  This mother could not show that she was making sufficient progress in therapy or able to put her acrimony aside.  The court of appeal concluded that the parents were not “ready, willing, or able to engage in cooperative effort.”   She was not permitted more than minimal visitation with her children.

Certainly, all of the participants in this family drama were suffering to an enormous degree.  Just reading the written accounts of what transpired is difficult.  It is impossible to comprehend how any of them endured the endless acrimony, legal wrangling, and physical violence.  Fortunately, while many of us divorce, most are not in danger of becoming the McLorens. We can choose to avoid devastating consequences.  If your divorce is beginning to look like mutually assured destruction, take a step back and breathe deeply.  Protect your children.  Seek appropriate psychological and legal assistance before the stress and hostility become overwhelming.