Lessons from the Jesse Williams Divorce (Part Two)

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In our last post, we began discussing the very relatable issues raised in the divorce of former Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams. Previously, we walked through how having a job that requires time away from home would not be an automatic disqualifier for joint custody in Missouri. Now we will look at another touchy issue.

The most recent court filings by Aryn suggest that Jesse has rage issues and has a “wild love life” that introduces the children to multiple women. More specifically, Aryn argues that Jess has a long history of a bad temper, and only recently was involved in a road rage incident where, after an argument with a neighbor, Jesse got in his car and chased the neighbor down, and the neighbor felt threatened for his life. As for the serial dating, Aryn alleges that Jesse had cheated on him with multiple women, and that this “revolving door of women” continues.

Affairs often cause the end of a marriage. But that behavior, in and of itself, will not justify denying the children time with Jesse. Courts look to the best interests of the child, and begin with the premise that it is in the children’s best interest to have frequent and meaningful contact with both parents.

However, if Jesse engages in activity in the presence of the children that could be deemed harmful, that could lead to some restrictions on custody. Dating during a divorce is generally a very bad move from a purely strategic point of view – judges do not like to see that before a person has left one relationship that person has started new ones. And judges particularly frown on introducing those new people to the children before the divorce has even become final. Courts want a smooth transition from marriage to divorce for the children, with children knowing they can trust both parents. If one parent decides to focus on a new relationship while the children’s lives are in chaos, a court could find that parent exercising bad judgment not in the best interest of the children. Courts want parents to put their children first, and if Jesse has been doing what Aryn alleges, he will have an uphill fight, particularly given his work schedule we discussed in the last post. If Jesse is not bringing new women into his children’s lives, what he does on his time should not disqualify him from equal parenting time.

The anger issues raise a different problem. If Aryn can show multiple recent instances of Jesse losing his temper in an unreasonable, impulsive and risky manner, she can demonstrate Jesse may pose a threat of harm to the children in that his lack of control could be taken out on the children. It is possible Aryn will request a psychological evaluation – or the court may do so on its own. If a psychologist or psychiatrist finds that Jesse has a serious impulse disorder, he may be ordered into therapy and successful completion of a program before he can exercise joint physical custody. But the real issue will be for some connection between temper with adults and losing his cool with his children – absent that connection, a court would have difficulty justifying the denial of equal custody.

More generally, Jesse and Aryn have taken what may at first seemed a straightforward divorce and made it very complicated by focusing on issues that may not be totally true or related to the issue of custody (though it might be relevant to spousal support and property distribution). Their struggles now should be a warning to all who may find themselves divorcing – do not let emotions rule your legal decisions.

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