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You may have missed the latest celebrity courtroom drama between movie star Uma Thurman and her former partner, billionaire financier Arpad Busson.
The case received relatively little publicity in the press here which is unfortunate because their dispute has highlighted issues which are regularly faced by separating families and family lawyers. Thurman and Busson went to court because they could not agree custody and financial arrangements for their daughter, Luna (4).
Family Dynamics – Communication Is Key
Difficulties were encountered as a result of the family dynamics at play. Busson, a French national, maintains a home in London where he works and also in the Bahamas where he lives alongside his ex-partner, supermodel Elle McPherson and their teenage sons. Be Cool and Kill Bill actress Thurman lives in New York with Luna and her two children with her actor ex-husband, Ethan Hawke.
Busson wanted to increase his visits with Luna from two days to two weeks so that he could travel home to the Bahamas with her – he had to avoid being in the US for tax reasons. Thurman objected, complaining that Busson left Luna in the care of other people, did not change her clothes during visits, and returned her unwashed with matted hair. He claimed that Luna refused to change her clothes and he merely indulged her.
If the parties were capable of communicating effectively with one another, then these issues might not have arisen. Thurman would not assume the worst and Busson might be able to offer a reasonable explanation.
He Said, She Said…
Thurman also alleged that Busson was addicted to prostitutes. He questioned her emotional stability as she was prescribed medication for anxiety, depression and sleeping problems and suggested there might be a drinking problem too.
Allegations of an unfit parent are common and sometimes there can be no way to satisfactorily prove or disprove such allegations. A lack of trust and communication only fans the flames. It is a matter of perspective and common sense. It is rare that such behaviour will be so seriously bad as to merit the complete exclusion of a parent from a child’s life.
Judges Are Not Magicians
The presiding Judge took a measured approach to what unfolded before him. He warned them that if he had to make an order, then they would not have flexibility to take into account the arrangements that they had to see their other children. This was something that both parties said was important to them because they wanted Luna to be able to spend time with each set of siblings.
Judges do not have magic wands to solve every problem and there is a degree of uncertainty as to what will end up being put in place.
He pointed out that in the two years he had been dealing with the case, no one had ever mentioned Thurman’s drinking habits as an issue before. He said that half of the people that come before him are prescribed medication and if that alone were a bar to having care of your child then no-one would have custody. He was assisted by the court appointed psychologist who criticised their hostile behaviour toward one another and said Luna should not be permitted to see them together as a result. She recommended psychotherapy so that Thurman and Busson could be educated about the damaging effect their behaviour had on Luna.
People unconsciously let their feelings get in the way so that they lose sight of what is really important – the welfare of the child.
Mediation – Issue Resolved
The psychologist was of the view that two weeks at a time in the Bahamas was too long for Luna who, at age 4, was still getting the family dynamics organised in her head. Such visits would be appropriate when she was older. She advised them that they could not rush into things and to accept that there was no perfect solution.
After five days at trial, Busson and Thurman reached an out of court settlement after the Judge requested that they have a mediation session before making a decision. He said that they should have one last stab at mediation because it is best that the parents who know, care for and love the child reach their own decision rather than have him impose one on them.
These are wise words that we often hear our own sheriffs repeat in court.
It is a shame that the parties could not come to the table sooner and had to go through the process of besmirching one another in other in court; thus damaging their fractured relationship even further and exposing details which their daughter will no doubt come to read about one day. Sometimes court action is inevitable but we would always recommend that consideration is given to alternative methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation which empowers people and helps them identify their own solution.
Upon signing off the agreement, the Judge added that if parents can put aside their anger and are able to co-operate and work collectively – then a child will have everything that any child could want.
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