O’Reilly And His Not-So-Traditional Values

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Child Custody on Friday, April 12, 2013

Bill O’Reilly, noted host of The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News and author of multiple books, including several dealing with the virtues of strong traditional marriages, finds himself in a case of “do as I say, not as I do” in an epic custody battle with his ex-wife.

Bill O’Reilly and Maureen McPhilmy had been married for fifteen years and had two children together (now teenagers), when they decided to separate in 2010, presumably because Maureen began dating a Nassau County police detective. During the divorce and even after, O’Reilly attempted to have the detective fired and otherwise sought to sully his name. He even used his connections to have the detective charged with the “crime” of sleeping with his wife. Apparently, Bill did not achieve the desired end, as Maureen subsequently married the detective.

Bill and Maureen drafted a separation agreement whereby they would share joint custody of their children, and they agreed to the appointment of a neutral therapist who would decide any disagreements regarding any parenting disputes. The parties or the court selected Lynne Kulakowski, a social worker and therapist, as the neutral. The divorce became final on September 1, 2011.

Despite the salacious details with regard to the detective, a normal celebrity divorce. But that soon changed, thanks to O’Reilly trying to game the system. It came to light that O’Reilly decided to hire Ms. Kulakowski as his nanny – problematic not only because he now paid a six figure salary to a person designated as a neutral arbiter of disputes, but also because he delegated nearly all of his parental responsibilities to Ms. Kulakowski. The longtime champion of free markets and traditional families decided to combine the two in a strange way and outsource his parenting, and he did so without disclosing the patent conflict of interest.

Well, as so often happens, the retention of Ms. Kulakowski by O’Reilly became part of an attempt by Maureen to modify the custody agreement. Despite Maureen placing all of this information in an affidavit, the trial court refused to hold a hearing on the matter. But the appellate division reversed, not only ordering a hearing but also appointing an attorney to independently represent the children, given the conflict problems created by O’Reilly.The case now returns to the trial court to determine if Maureen should have sole custody of the children.

Should a similar case have arisen in Missouri, what might have happened? First, a court could have held O’Reilly in contempt for violating the appointment of the neutral. Indeed, because the neutral had been court appointed, the prosecuting attorney could consider criminal charges against O’Reilly for a variety of offenses. Beyond contempt, the family court would have considered the outsourcing of parenting as evidence that O’Reilly lacked the ability to co-parent, or the willingness to parent at all, and find that it would be in the best interest of the minor children that they spend more time with Maureen rather than a nanny. In short, the courts in Missouri would frown upon the perversion of the justice system by O’Reilly and consider all of his actions as highly detrimental to the physical and emotional welfare of the minor children. The court would likely award Maureen sole legal and sole physical custody.

While the story has many takeaways and morals, readers should pay particular attention to the respect given the role of neutral in the family court. If the court cannot trust the neutral to discharge his or her duties without conflict or undue influence, the neutral cannot perform his or her function and the court will decide to place all decision making authority, and perhaps the bulk of the custody time, in the hands of the parent who showed the most respect for the process. In short, play fair and do not try to “game” the system – it will only catch up with you in the end.

If you have questions about a custody modification issue, contact us – we can help.

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