As CNN and others have reported, the marriage between Joh and Kate Gosselin has terminated in divorce, but does that mean the saga is over? Apparently, they have an agreement on custody. They will have shared physical custody. Kate will have primary at the marital residence and Jon will see the children on some sort of schedule.
In Pennsylvania, a claim for custody involves a series of steps that can involve a mediation, followed by a conference, followed by an actual custody trial. There is no right to trial by jury in Pennsylvania, constitutionally. Hence, Pennsylvania the legislature can require that certain kinds of cases are always heard non-jury (by a judge), which is precisely the case in matters involving divorce, equitable distribution, custody, and support in Pennsylvania.
Plus, custody orders are always modifiable, depending upon the best interest of the children. Does this mean that Jon and Kate should be in court every few months to craft and re-craft their custody agreement to accommodate their changing lifestyles?
In every case, our firm recommends that the parties avoid court whenever possible, especially in the area of custody. In order for parents to raise their children in a healthy environment, the parents need to learn to agree to a plan of cooperative management for their children. This is especially true when parents are separated or divorced. The courts are not supposed to be a third-party co-manager in daily disputes. In fact, a judge will be quick to express his or her frustration with your case if it appears that you are seeking judicial intervention before genuinely trying to work out your issue.
This does not mean you should never utilize the courts to sort out a significant dispute. Even parties who negotiate a well written custody agreement may later come to find that their lives have changed beyond their control, which may require court intervention or a new agreement. For example, one party may lose is job through no fault of his own and find that his best opportunity for new employment exists 1500 miles away from the children. Obviously, this could dramatically impair that parent’s ability to follow a pre-existing agreement. In this scenario and many others like it, the courthouse doors will remain open to conduct a relocation hearing, to evaluate how custody rights must change.
There are a variety of other issues that call for judicial intervention, notwithstanding the existence of a well-drafted custody agreement. For example, consider the issue of legal custody. Unlike physical custody which involves the number of overnights each parent has with children, legal custody deals with each parents’ respective right to have a say in how the child is raised: health care, education, religion, and other issues involve a choice by parents. Here, even with an iron-clad custody agreement about custody, over time, there may be new issues that surface in the child’s life which require mutual input from each parent. Even happy couples can disagree on these matters.
So what does all this mean for Jon and Kate?
It means they have a long future ahead of them if they fail to communicate effectively. The number of children they have, coupled with the public way in which they live their lives, will multiple the range of custody issues they face by eight fold. For example, the direction of Jon’s career remains uncertain. He was recently ordered to avoid making public appearances for money because, allegedly, it violates his contract with A&E. Hence, perhaps even Jon does not know where he’ll be living or working in the future. As for Kate, it is rumored that she will do her own reality show for A&E (without the kids). It remains to be seen who will be spending time with these kids, which could impact custody issues. Plus, the sheer number of kids will trigger issues about how best to care for them. Again, the parents will need to agree…or go to court.
For Jon and Kate, the problems have already begun to surface.
It has been reported that Jon objected to Kate doing the future show titled “Kate Plus Eight” involving Kate and the children (without Jon). Upon receiving this objection, A&E believed it was left with no choice but to honor Jon’s objection because he has parental rights. A&E believes that the consent of both parents is needed for A&E to move forward with filming these children in the future. So, already, we’re seeing a relationship between custodial rights and the respective careers of Jon, Kate, and the real stars of their monstrosity of a TV show: the “Plus Eight.” Allegedly, the custody agreement signed between Jon and Kate allows the parent with primary physical custody (Kate) to make decisions about the childrens’ involvement in taping episodes of the show.
Still, assuming that clause exists, it will not trump the “best interest of the children” standard. Remember, custody agreements are always modifiable. If one of the children so much as whispers that the show is interfering with his eduction, the show is gone – clause or no clause. Hopefully, Jon and Kate will re-take control of their lives and come to stand for something other than making money from having outsiders film their childrens’ most precious moments. Imagine the children growing up, going on dates, and coming to learn that their most personal private moments growing up are located on DVD collection of countless strangers from coast to coast.
This saga could stop short of a total train wreck, but it will take some dramatic changes on the part of the parents. First of all, the parents will need to start putting aside some money for the children (if they haven’t already) if it is true that the children have “worked” on the show for now compensation set aside specifically for them. Plus, the parents will need to select careers that allow them to be parents first. In short, the parents must learn to put the children first to the point where they become an example of how to make good decisions in the face of great difficulty.
Unfortunately, for the public, if Jon and Kate make the changes that need to be made, the public may lose interest in them. So far, the story line has been about seeing kids on TV or reading about the parents’ difficulties in the tabloids. If the children live private lives and the parents focus on just being parents, then the plot line might fizzle out. So, ironically, if Jon and Kate finally do what they need to do, it may be too late for anyone to learn anything from it. But at least the children have a chance to learn, and the parents will ultimately spend less time in court.