Lessons from the Jesse Williams Divorce (Part One)

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Fans of Grey’s Anatomy will remember Jesse Williams As Dr. Jackson Avery. Now, he probably wished he had been on Boston Legal as he finds himself in the middle of a messy divorce. It turns out his situation offers valuable lessons for most couples going through divorce.

Jesse and his wife Aryn have been married for five years. They have two children, ages three and two. At the outset, Jesse filed for divorce and sought joint legal and joint physical custody of the children. Aryn answered, and she is seeking sole custody, raising two issues for that request – Jesse’s work schedule that makes him “unavailable” for the children on a regular basis, and his history of anger issues.

The first basis should give all readers some pause. Many of us have job responsibilities that go outside the typical 40-hour work schedule. Some of us work nights. Some of us travel for work. If we buy Aryn’s argument, many parents would be ineligible for joint physical custody because we cannot be “present” on a regular schedule.

In Missouri, this argument alone would not be sufficient for joint physical custody. Our courts must begin with the premise that joint physical custody is appropriate and it is the policy of the State of Missouri. We encourage parenting plans that create frequent and meaningful contact with both parents. For Aryn to win on her argument of lack of availability, she would have to show that Jesse truly is absent for the majority of the time.

Let’s break down some possibilities. If Jesse is on set filming a television show, he has regular hours, regular shooting days and a known schedule. He could work out a custody schedule where he has custody on non-shooting days and Aryn has shooting days. If the parties use the same nanny, that would assist in adding some consistency for transitions. If Jesse is shooting a movie on location out of town, he and Aryn could agree to a schedule that gives him bulk time in between location shoots. It is quite possible to make joint physical custody work in this situation.

Think about how other professions could have these issues. What about a truck driver or pilot? Work requires them to be out of town regularly, but not on a fixed schedule. But that should not deny them time with their children – schedules could be (and regularly are) designed so that in the periods when that truck driver or pilot is in town, that parent has custody, and when out of town the other parent has custody.

We live in an increasingly mobile society and our laws have changed to the point where we do not fix custody to the parent who moves least for work; rather, we accommodate as best we can the schedules of both parents to assure as close to equal periods of custody as possible.

As for joint legal custody, whether one parent is in town or not should not preclude the ability to remain in contact to make decisions together regarding the welfare of the children. Given text and email, it is incredibly easy to coordinate wherever two parents happen to be in the world.

In our next post, we will discuss the other issue Aryn raised for her bid for sole custody.

If you have questions about child custody and divorce, contact us – we can help.