Fenway Park in Boston is the oldest baseball facility in Major League Baseball. It has a hand-operated scoreboard run by three men who huddle in a bathroomless hallway behind the scoreboard. They watch the game through small, rectangular cutouts and use hand painted signs to keep the fans informed about the progress of the game and the happenings around the league.
Have you seen the movie Parental Guidance? Artie, played by Billy Crystal, is an old minor league baseball radio broadcaster who loses his job and correspondingly the dream of being with a big league team. He and his wife, played by Bette Midler, travel to Atlanta to take care of their three grandchildren while their daughter and her husband go to a technology conference. Harper, their oldest grandson, has a Little League game. Harper is a little awkward, stutters, and is bullied at school. Artie is on the edge of his seat when the school bully steps to the plate with Harper on the mound. Harper digs in and takes the count to 0-2. The camera zooms in on the ball as Harper adjusts his grip. The catcher flashes a signal and Harper nods. He winds up, reaches back and blows the next pitch right by the bully. Strike three! Artie is stoked. “Lights out Alice!” However, in this post-modern Little League game, there are no strikeouts. In fact, there is no one keeping score either. Artie charges out of the stands to protest. This is not baseball!
Divorce is not baseball either.
I have lots of people who visit with me about family conflict in Mississippi and want to talk about how to “win” their divorce. While I am as competitive as any divorce lawyer I have ever known, let me be clear –while some divorce settlements (or judgments) are better than others, there are no winners in divorce. Everyone is losing something. I am not saying everyone is a loser, but there are no real winners. Survivor is a good word. Overcomer is even better.
This conversation often arises when working on custody matters and examining the Albright Factors the court uses to determine with whom a child will live. They are (1) Age, health and gender of the child; (2) Parent having continuity of care prior to the separation; (3) Parent with best parenting skills and willingness and capacity to provide primary child care; (4) Employment of the parent and responsibilities of that employment; (5) Physical and mental health and age of the parent; (6) Emotional ties of parent to child; (6) Moral fitness of the parent; (7) Home, school and community record of the child; (8) Preference of the child at age sufficient to express a preference [twelve]; (9) Stability of parent’s home environment and employment of each parent; (10) Relative financial situation of the parents; (11) Difference in religion of the parents; (11) Differences in personal values of the parents; (12) Differences in lifestyle of the parents; (13) Other factors relevant to the parent-child relationship.
If done properly, the Albright Factors are never to be used like the old scoreboard at Fenway. They are discussion points, not a mathematical formula. The Chancellor may give special weight to one, two or several factors to determine the outcome and often use intuition to make decisions. The Chancellor has the ultimate discretion to give appropriate weight and credibility to the things he sees and hears in open court.
Like Artie at the Little League game, we want to quantify things. We want to know if we follow instructions and do things right, we can win the game of life (or divorce). I am not trying to bum you out (read this), but divorce and child custody simply do not work that way.
There is no scoreboard.
Craig Robertson is a family law attorney practicing throughout Mississippi.