It is always good to remind ourselves that the words we use in pleadings filed with the Court are very, very important. What you tell your Family Court Services mediator tends to be pretty important, too, as she (generally “she”) reports directly to the Court.
But this story has a different spin than you might be expecting.
One of my “learning” incidents occurred many years ago, when I was new in the practice of law. In preparing to defend against the other parent’s claims that my client drank too much, and had other substance abuse problems on top of that, I grilled my client ruthlessly. He swore she was making it all up. He signed a declaration, under penalty of perjury, that he didn’t drink and “certainly not around the kids;” he didn’t smoke pot or use meth or anything she accused him of doing, and “certainly not around the kids.”
I checked him into mediation one bright and sunny morning, and the mediator told both attorneys to come back at 10:30 a.m.
At 10:30 a.m., I checked in with my client. He was sitting in the hallway outside the mediator’s office, looking extraordinarily pleased with himself. My worries disappeared when I saw him; he was positively glowing.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“Just fine, just fine.”
“What did the mediator ask you?”
“Doesn’t matter,” he responded. “I tell her I do too much drinking, too many drugs. I tell her no more drinking, no more drugs. Not any more around the kids, either.”
I was speechless – which for me is an unusual condition. Remember, he’d promised me he was clean. He’d sworn under penalty of perjury that he didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol and “certainly not around the kids.” I’d believed him. I was mortified, embarrassed, angry – and certainly didn’t think he should be get equally shared custody of the kids when he’d just admitted to… well, he’d admitted to everything, it appeared, as the morning went on.
Oddly enough, this story has a happy ending. My client at that point did not get a good custodial recommendation: he got almost no custody. What he did get was a wake-up call. He was losing his kids. He had to have a supervisor for his custodial time. He wanted to sober up.
We helped him locate the services he needed to get clean and sober… and he did. And he saved his marriage as a result.
I got a wake up call as well. I learned not to believe every word out of a client’s mouth. “Trust but verify,” one of President Reagan’s favorite phrases, took on a whole new reality for me.
I see this client every now and then, and have his permission to share this. It’s been years, and he and his family are doing well. Most of “the kids” are out of the house – and according to him, they are all clean and sober, and doing well. This is a good legacy for a man who came to us at a bad time in his life.