I have recently read in the last two issues of my wife’s People Magazine about the travails of actress Halle Berry and her brewing custody case. As a Denver area divorce attorney, the multiple articles have peaked my interest and led me to ponder some of the allegations raised in them. An initial article raises the issue of Ms. Berry wanting to be able to take her child with her for a seemingly extended period of time to go to Europe, presumably to be with her current love interest, actor Olivier Martinez. This ties into a somewhat common question often asked by people related to relocating with their children outside of Colorado.
In family law or child custody terms, we attorneys call this a relocation case. Though people often think, “Well I’m the parent with residential custody, I should be able to move without issue,” that is just not the case. Pursuant to Colorado statute, after final custody orders have entered, one must either gain the written permission of the other parent or an order of the court to move out of state with the children. We often tell people that this is the hardest battle to win.
The reality is that most courts and experts who investigate cases are generally philosophically opposed to one parent relocating and do not find such to be in a child’s best interest. The primary concern is obviously the effect the move will have on the relationship between the child and the parent left behind. The standards for moving prior to the entry of a divorce decree or final custody order are easier than after the decree or final order has entered. Were Ms. Berry in Colorado, she might find herself in a tough spot trying to gain a court order seeking to relocate her child. However, the difference between Ms. Berry’s case and yours is that she may be able to present a plausible solution to the court due to her Hollywood income making exhorbinant travel costs a non-issue. As most of us don’t have that kind of money, our battles may be less costly, but more difficult. Nonetheless, the issues are the same whether Hollywood royalty or not.
The February 14, 2011 issue of People Magazine raises another interesting issue. Specifically, the article seems to allude to the father of Ms. Berry’s child being unfit to care for the child, in need of supervised visitation, etc. It is not surprising to see that celebrities engage in the same type of behavior as common people. It is fairly common for people to claim “child abuse,” “neglect,” substance abuse, or other issues to try to limit the time the other parent has with the child.
In some instances, the allegations are absolutely truthful and need to be addressed. More often than not, the allegations are raised for litigation purposes and can backfire on the false accuser to the point of actually damaging his or her position in a custody or visitation battle. Conversely, when one has false allegations raised, he or she will need to attack and dissect those allegations with methodical vigor. Though one is “innocent until proven guilty”, the reality is that the stain of nasty allegations, though hopefully refuted through good facts and good lawyering, can still cause initial or lasting damage and create expense trying to erase.
The moral of this issue is that people should really think long and hard before going down the road of accusing someone of being a horrible parent. If abuse, neglect, or other concerns exist related to visitation and a child’s safety, raise them and do what you need to to try to protect the child. However, if you are tempted to accuse someone of being unfit to parent, stop, step back, and take a moral and factual inventory of whether there is a factual basis for your concerns or whether you are just creating ammunition for litigation that may come back to bite you on the rear end. One can only presume that Ms. Berry is armed with top-notch family law representation and that she has raised her allegations contained in the February 14 issue of People Magazine with facutal substance behind them. Thanks to my wife’s People Magazine subscription, I guess I’ll find out soon.