Should Step-Mom Sandra Bullock Start a Court Battle for Custody or Consider a Collaborative Lawyer?

Sandra Bullock Oscar award

Have you ever believed that Hollywood stars live charmed lives? They seem so powerful, beautiful, rich, and confident. Yet, real pain and disappointment can creep into their lives – just like it does in our lives. They have choices to make, just like you and me.

Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock must have felt thrilled when she won an Oscar for her performance in the blockbuster “The Blindside”. Yet, within a couple of weeks of her big win, her husband admitted to acts of infidelity.

Wow! Can you imagine the impact; she went from being on top of the world to the depths of despair all within a few days. But that’s life. Whether you are a Hollywood or just a regular guy or gal.

The question for Sandra Bullock is whether she will be able to maintain a relationship with her husband’s children. According to a story in Jeffrey Cottrill’s blog at the Divorce Magazine website, Sandra relished her relationship with Jesse James’ three children. She was especially close to his six-year-old daughter Sunny.

Micheal in Niren and Associates Blog explains what would happen if Bullock and James were living in Ontario and Sandra Bullock sought an order for custody of Sunny in Court here:

If Bullock and James were Ontario residents and Bullock requested custody of Sunny,  the courts would look at whether Bullock provided financially for the child, the nature of their relationship and whether Bullock had maintained in both private and public life that she was Sunny’s parent and acted in such a manner. After determining whether Bullock was indeed a parent to Sunny, the courts would have to look at other factors to determine how custody between Bullock and James would play out. His behavior may not make him an unfit parent by default, but it may be considered if it hurt Sunny in any way or affected his ability to act as a parent.

Both Bullock and James would then have to make their case as to their relationship with the child, their willingness to raise and take care of the child and how they plan to do so, the stability of their homes and other factors. Blood relations are also considered, as is the choice of the child herself.

Frankly, the outcome is difficult to predict. Biological parents are generally preferred over step- parents but if the Court believed it was in Sunny’s best interests that Bullock have custody, it is possible she would win. Surprisingly, Sunny’s biological mother is rumoured to be willing to support Bullock if she starts a court battle.

The court is a battle. As a former litigator, I remember I was either “chucking or ducking”. Chucking mud at the other side or trying to duck from the lobs coming my way. Everyone hated Court. The animosity between the parents usually escalated and in the end, often the parents could not even imagine parenting cooperatively. It was a mess. The biggest loser was the children. Kids suffer when their parents are fighting whether face-to-face or through lawyers in Court.

Mr. Justice Harvey Brownstone is in his stunningly brilliant book entitled “Tug of War: A Judge’s Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles, and The Bitter Realities of Family Court“, strongly attacks the court system declaring it should be the place of last resort to resolve custody and access issues… and this is from a judge who has been presiding over family law cases for over 14 years.

Justice Brownstone asks in his book “how can two parents who love their child allow a total stranger to make crucial decisions about their child’s living arrangements, health, education, extracurricular activities, vacation time, and degree of contact with each parent?”

If Bullock and James take their case to Court with traditional lawyers, it will be a huge mess. It will take months or even years to resolve. Can you imagine the turmoil, pain and grief for their little girl? She will be in the spotlight for months as the matter creeps through the court system. Her biological mother, a former Penthouse model, is presently in jail for tax evasion. What a start to life for little Sunny. Fighting. Pain. Anger. Jail. Court. Ugh.

If Sandra Bullock came to me, I would recommend the Collaborative Team Process.

Mr. Justice Brownstone describes the Collaborative process in his book as follows:

In the Collaborative family law process, the parents and their lawyers work together as members of a settlement team, rather than working against each other as opposing parties….The parents learn to focus on their common interests, understand each others perspective and concerns, exchange information, treat each other with respect, and explore the widest possible range of choices.

I would represent Ms. Bullock’s interests and Jesse James would retain his own Collaboratively trained lawyer. We would find a Divorce Coach for them who would help both parties work through the huge emotional issues related to the end of their marriage.

I would want Bullock to work through her emotional issues with the Divorce Coach so they won’t create an impediment to the resolution of the parenting issues. Many times anger about an affair fuels a fight about the children in court. I would not want that for my client.

Bullock and James would then jointly retain a Parenting Coach who is a social worker with special training in the needs of children going through a divorce. The Parenting Coach would probably meet with Sunny to get to know her needs and meet with Bullock and James together and separately. The Divorce Coach would then discuss resolution of the parenting issues with the parties, sharing the recent research into the best interests of children in these situations. The negotiations would be difficult, no doubt, but they would be future-oriented, respectful, private and all about finding the best solution for Sunny’s future. As in most Collaborative cases, I would expect we would achieve a negotiated settlement.

If there is some aspect of the parenting arrangements that Bullock and James cannot reach an agreement on, we would jointly retain someone to act as an arbitrator who would resolve the issue. The arbitrator’s decision would be final and binding – just like a court order. No need to go to Court for difficult issues.

The Collaborative Team Practice process has many bumps in the road to settlement but eventually, like in most cases, Bullock and James would work out an agreement that they craft. It wouldn’t be decided by a stranger (a judge) but rather by the clients with the help of their team of professionals. It would be a resolution that meets both party’s core concerns. The cost would be less than if they went to court and the resolution would likely be achieved faster.

What do you think Sunny would prefer to happen: a huge bloody, drawn-out, public court battle or a private, respectful Collaborative settlement?

I think Sunny would be proud of her parents if they were able to negotiate an agreement for her sake so if you are speaking to Sandra Bullock… give her my number. I am here to help.

Brian Galbraith

Brian Galbraith is the owner and founder of Galbraith Family Law Professional Corporation. Brian is known in the legal community for his commitment to efficiently practicing family law using technology and streamlining the divorce processes.

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