Baseball, Life and The Law: Part 2

Posted by Michael HillerJan 17, 20200 Comments

Today's blog is a continuation of my first blog, which will likely trigger continuing blogs on similar subjects. The general theme of my first blog is how to achieve fairness in life and in the law, especially estate planning and family law. In my first blog, I discussed how the Houston Astros baseball team getting sanctioned by major league baseball for “stealing” signs. I put the “stealing” not because they didn't violate baseball rules, because I think that “stealing” signs is really “capturing” signs. Today's blog will focus on how sports should really focus on participation and not winning or losing. 

Many of you will immediately cringe because there has been such a pushback against awarding trophies to kids for participation instead of just focusing on who wins and who loses a sports game. And of course, following your local professional team and/or college team can be fun and exciting even if you don't win the championship every year. But that's the point – where should our focus be as a society – should it be on our local professional team winning, or should it be on participation.

If a sports fan truly examines oneself, he or she will discover that an obsession with a team's winning is a replacement for your own frustrations or at least a lack of joy in some area of your life. So I recommend that each of us who has this obsession to look for what area of your life you want to find more joy in and do something about it. 

James Mischner, one of my favorite writers, wrote a book called Sports in America. He concluded that sports in America need to focus more on participation and less on winning and losing. Here's why it makes sense – unless you're professional, and/or heading toward the possibility of being a professional, you are likely playing sports for a limited period of time. I played baseball, but stopped in high school; however I continue to play softball, golf, tennis and I work out every day. I have worked out a minimum of three times a week since college. I've been a lawyer for 30 years so do the math.

I recognize how difficult it is to eliminate the idea of winning a game, and I'm not suggesting that. I'm suggesting that we change our attitude toward winning and losing. I think it's very hard for most people to accept that they can't win every game every time. I'm not going to get into a long philosophical discussion about how this might happen, instead I'm going to morph this blog into family law and estate planning.

In family law, when I first got into the practice it was very difficult for fathers to become primary resident parent or “win custody”. Now it is much more common but is still difficult. The point is that fathers are participating more and more in rearing their children, which is their God-given and constitutional right, in my opinion. It's also good for kids. Whether you're a mother and father, or LGBTQIA parents, or otherwise someone who has the main responsibility for rearing a child, it is important that you participate in as many ways as possible. As long as we see children as a prize, we will continue to have a problem. 

One way to improve the situation is to look at it from the point of your participation. Very few people would argue against both parents participating as much as possible in raising their children. On the other hand, our system and culture still dictate one person “winning custody”. A colleague of mine once said “normal people don't fight over their children”. Unfortunately all it takes is one not normal parent to create a fight.

Over the last several years, my firm has handled more and more parental alienation cases. In these cases, one parent cannot handle the rejection of the divorce, forms an unnatural alliance with the children, and begins to engage in a practice of having the children reject the other parent. There are many names that are being used instead of parental alienation, because of technical issues surrounding the recognition of the parental alienation condition; however it is very clear that this situation exists, and you can call it parent-child loyalty issues, gatekeeper issues, but no matter what you call it, it still is parental alienation.

When parental alienation exists, it flies in the face directly of both parents participating as much as possible. Fortunately there are treatments that can help families with parental alienation, although they won't be successful in every case. We take the approach that we will almost for sure have to aggressively litigate to get to the point of therapeutic intervention in cases like this.

Finally, most cases do not involve parental alienation – instead the parents agree to raise the children together or at most, they find a way to deal with their anger eventually. Although it may take a little longer they ultimately figure out how to raise the children together. Regardless, if there is a message of participation as opposed to moms versus dads, one parent against the other, we can begin to solve these problems.

In my estate planning practice, I plan to use trusts to allow parents, grandparents and others to require children and grandchildren, whether grown or not, to be evaluated for conditions that may lead to parental alienation prior to getting married and certainly prior to filing for divorce. The way this would work is that inheritances and financial assistance during the trust maker's life would be held up until recipients and heirs have these evaluations and get treatment for these conditions.