Portraying in Film the Mythology of Child-Related Litigation1

Larry Sarezky, Esq.

The short film Talk to Strangers, which I wrote and directed, introduces a novel approach to the efforts to eliminate, or at least reduce, unnecessary child custody and access cases. The film tells the story of a sister and brother caught in a court child custody evaluation process, and portrays that process as a child’s nightmare.

I was brought to the Talk to Strangers project by Deb Grover, a Danbury CT matrimonial lawyer and my immediate predecessor as Chair of the Connecticut Bar
Association’s Family Law Section. Deb had conceived of the film after years of litigating child-related disputes, many of which could have been avoided by parents and professionals who were more cognizant of the extent to which court custody evaluations put children at risk. As a matrimonial lawyer who had written for, and directed children in film, I was a natural fit for the project.

My assignment was to make a dramatic film that departed from the videos traditionally shown in courthouses to parents contesting custody. Those projects have
been primarily of three types: (1) “talking head” formats in which judges, lawyers and therapists deliver stark warnings of the consequences of child-related litigation; (2) real or faux documentary formats in which children share divorce experiences and insights; and (3) collections of divorce vignettes illustrating do’s and don’ts of divorce parenting.

Over the years, all three formats (and combinations thereof) have been useful in educating parents. But Deb was looking for something that would reach parents and professionals who have been unmoved by the traditional fare. She wanted a story that exposed how the custody evaluation process—even when all the adults comport themselves reasonably well—puts children at risk.

After I agreed to make the film, Deb and I discussed goals for it. We agreed that optimally, the film would:

  • Tell a powerful story from the perspective of children.
  • Show in a non-pedantic way how the custody evaluation process can frighten, humiliate and compromise children.
  • Engage two distinct audiences: (1) parents considering litigation of child custody and access issues; and (2) judges, lawyers, therapists, and other divorce professionals who mistakenly believe that the custody evaluation process in American courts protects children.
  • Engage those audiences viscerally rather than intellectually.
  • End without a happy ending or closure of any kind.

1 This article originally appeared at Vol. 72 The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 2019.

Telling the Story

To my surprise, the script turned out to be relatively easy to write. I began with my main characters, nine-year-old Nick Sherwood and his twelve-year-old sister Emily. Because their authenticity was so critical, I took pains to ensure that their dialogue was true to what children in high-conflict divorces actually say. Deb’s and my experiences together with those of several other divorce professionals whom I interviewed, yielded more than enough material.

Once the characters of Nick and Emily were fully developed, the rest of the script fell into place. The story begins as Nick and Emily are about to enter the court’s custody evaluation process. The premise is that their parents, 30-something Laura and David Sherwood, are being interviewed for a documentary about custody cases. The interview, together with a post-evaluation “exit interview” six months later, bookend the story of the children’s struggle through the evaluation.

During the initial interview, David and Laura articulate a litany of myths (eight in all) that parents use to rationalize tossing their children into the cauldron of custody
litigation. Indeed, the Sherwoods have convinced themselves that their children will not be harmed by the litigation; and that in fact, it is probably the best way to resolve the dispute that they have been unable to.

In the post-evaluation interview during the film’s closing sequence, the parents are horrified by footage of the children suffering through the process their parents have unleashed upon them. The audience never learns the outcome of the battle. Our story is about the casualties left on the battlefield.

The tale told between the interviews is meant to debunk the myths David and Laura have recited. In so doing it deprives them—and similarly deluded parents and
professionals—of excuses for not being more determined to avoid an unnecessary custody battle and the attendant evaluation process.

Indeed, a bit more determination might well have done the trick, as this dispute looks to be resolvable. Laura wishes to be the primary residential parent. David seeks 50/50 custody, seeing the controversy not as a “custody battle” but rather a vehicle to resolve a difference of opinion as to whether the children need a primary residence.

The Sherwoods seem to be reasonable enough folks. They do not exhibit the kind of antagonism that can derail settlement of child-related disputes.2 They even share some common beliefs, which at first blush seem reasonable as well.

The question becomes, why can’t these parents solve their problem? Or as Nick asks:

2 I will use terms such as “custody battle,” “child-related disputes” and the like as shorthand for the entire range of child-related controversies including, but not limited to, disputes over decision-making, custody, and access.

“My parents decide everything. Why can’t they decide this?” (23:09)3

The Myths

The answer to Nick’s question resides in the mythology that assures parents and many professionals as well, that the evaluation process, implemented by well-meaning professionals acting on behalf of children, protects those children from harm. The specific myths recited by David and Laura are the following:

1. Children benefit when parents “insulate” them from their divorce.

2. Judges protect children.

3. The custody evaluation process is designed to protect children and is implemented by professionals acting on the children’s behalf.

4. If the adults act appropriately, the children will be fine.

5. Children are amazingly resilient.

6. With divorce so common, children will not be embarrassed by it.

7. Not everything about the custody process is bad—it’s better than lawyers doing it all behind closed doors.

8. Children want to be heard and the custody process gives them that opportunity.

Before analyzing the mythology, a few words about the film and the dispute resolution process it depicts are in order.

Portraying the Harm

Talk to Strangers’ mission was not to explore in detail the harm children can suffer in child-related litigation. The film was made by lawyers, not mental health professionals who are obviously more qualified than we, to lead that discussion.

What we lawyers did have however, was years of experience with children in high conflict divorce. Thus, we felt fully qualified to portray the behavior that we have observed, which is symptomatic of the psychological harm awaiting so many children in those cases.

Accordingly, I included the following behaviors in the film:

Changes in sleep habits; regressive behavior. Nick is awakened at night by bad dreams, which trigger regressive behavior; namely, seeking comfort in his mother’s bed (20:09; 21:35). The regressive behavior becomes not only fodder for a taunt from Emily (“You’re not sleeping in my bed”: 18:52), but a line of inquiry from the court-appointed forensic psychologist. Thus, Nick’s humiliation extends beyond the relative safety of his home, to “talks with strangers” during an evaluation process that now becomes so much more intrusive and painful for this child.

3 The Talk to Strangers professional version DVD is accompanied by a Quick Index & Reference Guide containing timeline references such as this, to significant teaching and reference points in the film, organized according to the eight myths of custody litigation.

Lethargy, disengagement and declining academic performance. Nick is “really into football,” David relates during the initial interview. And he’s good at it too, as revealed in a flashback to happier times during which the family cheers Nick breaking off a long run on the football field (01:28).

Then, Nick quits the team. Interviewing him in her office, Maria Castillo wants to know why (17:30).

“I kept forgetting all the plays,” Nick explains. “I think my brain got all filled up.”

“With what?” asks Castillo.

“It’s mostly some questions I have,” he replies as he pulls a crumpled piece of paper from the pocket of his trousers.

Anxiety. Nick actually carries with him a litany of divorce-related anxieties. The piece of paper in his pocket is a list of questions he has not been able to ask until given the opportunity by Castillo (17:50):

“Are they gonna split me and Emily up?

When I play sports, can my dad come to all my games?

If my mom marries somebody else, do I have to live with my dad?

Can my mom and my dad both go to my birthday parties?

Will I be able to sleep over at my friend’s house?

Are we still going to go to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving?

Are Emmy and Daddy going to move away?

Is Dad going to be there on Christmas when I open my presents?”

Anger. Emily is angry. Her irritation builds through the story, and no one escapes her wrath. She storms into the house screaming at her mother when Castillo arrives for a home visit just as Emily steps off her school bus. She becomes increasingly intolerant of Nick. She reacts with irritation when the AMC4 expresses surprise at her apparent lack of empathy for Nick.

“When did I become the mother in this family?” Emily demands of the AMC.

“Nicky has a mother and a father too! It’s not my fault our parents care more about fighting with each other than taking care of us. And then they tell everybody that they’re doing it all for us!” (07:04; 22:24)

The psychologist too incurs Emily’s ire when he explains that he needs to ask her questions so that he can help the judge do what is best for her.

“What would be best for me right now would be getting to ballet on time!” she responds as only a soon to be teenage girl can.

4 Attorney for minor child.

Moving into adolescence and facing female identity issues, without a mother’s presence.

At night in her bedroom, Emily stands in front of her mirror struggling to put on makeup (10:46). She has no one to guide her through this rite. In this fractured family it has become everyone for themselves.

Psychological absence of parents.

Especially in high conflict divorce, parents are absorbed by the court battle. As a result, the children are left without the stability, predictability and continuity of parenting, which they need now more than ever. Not only do these children lose the physical presence of the non-custodial parent, but even the parent with whom they reside is often psychologically absent.

A Sibling Relationship Shattered

The seemingly interminable evaluation process claims yet another victim, Emily and Nick’s sibling relationship.

During the opening interview, Laura tells us that Nick’s sensitivity is one reason that he and his sister have always been so close (01:56). And David opines that the children’s close relationship will be a “big plus” in mitigating any distress they might otherwise have experienced (02:01).

What unfolds instead is the inexorable deterioration of the sibling relationship.

“When did you get so mean?” Nick asks Emily after Emily begrudgingly unlocks her bedroom door (the locked door itself is a new development) for Nick one night.
Nick’s question resonates in light of three things; flashbacks during the parents’ initial interview demonstrating the children’s closeness (01:56); Emily’s empathy while she assuages Nick’s anxiety over his upcoming meeting with the AMC (03:30); and the following exchange in Emily’s bedroom, later in the story (08:29):

“If you go live with Dad, when would we see each other?” Nick asks his sister (08:29).

“When you visit Dad,” she replies. “Unless I’m visiting Mom that weekend. I don’t know—I guess like Christmas or something.”

“I wouldn’t see you until Christmas?” Nick asks incredulously.

“Sucks to be us, huh?” Emily commiserates with her brother; the last bit of tenderness we see her show him.

Signs that the sibling bond is unraveling begin to mount near the halfway point of the film. Some indications are quiet, as when Emily assiduously ignores Nick’s plaintive gaze up at her in the courthouse lobby (16:02). Some are less subtle, as when Emily mocks Nick while arguing with Laura (13:10); taunts him about his school problems (“I hope you like third grade!” (18:58); and informs him that she is tired of answering questions from everyone, “and the last thing I need is more from you!” (19:07)

Child-Related Litigation:
A Perfect Storm of Harmful Outcomes for Children

Talk to Strangers was created to show why child-related litigation should be avoided whenever possible.5 The reason seems simple enough; the prolonged parental high conflict present in custody cases is toxic to children.

But for this film to have the gut punch I was being called upon to deliver, I needed to understand that toxicity more fully. I began my inquiry by making a list of
what I believe children need most during divorce:

  • An end to uncertainty about where and with whom they will be living
  • A return to some degree of normalcy in their lives
  • Security in knowing that their parents will continue to love and care for them
  • An end to their parents’ fighting

Then I jotted down some descriptors of how children experience custody battles.

That list included helplessness, confusion, insecurity, and anxiety over an uncertain result of the process that will dictate so much of how they will live their lives in the foreseeable future.

Comparing the two lists, my task became clearer. I needed to show how the custody evaluation process deprives children of what they need most.

That deprivation occurs even when parents try to cushion the impact of the case on their children. For example, conscientious parents will take time to assure children of their love. But what the children see occurring may generate questions as to why that love isn’t strong enough to force their parents to cooperate in parenting rather than battle each other.6 And children wondering about that are less likely to feel secure that their parents will care for them in the future.

Similarly, parents may tell their children that things will turn out all right, as Laura tells Nick prior to Castillo’s home visit (12:10). But such reassurances ring hollow
to children who have been told that no one knows what the outcome will be (05:22; 17:00).

Custody battles do more than expose children to prolonged parental conflict. By depriving children of what they need most, they create a perfect storm of damaging
outcomes for them. Which suggests that perhaps the first question to ask parents considering a custody or access battle is: Do you love your children enough not to fight over them?

Our Medieval Approach to Family Dispute Resolution

Litigation of child-related issues intensifies parental conflict. That seems axiomatic given the emotional nature of these disputes and their critical importance to the
lives of all involved.

5 On the first page of the Talk to Strangers Pocket Guide for Parents that accompanies the film, a distinction is drawn between unnecessary and avoidable custody battles, and those where a court’s intervention is necessary such as where children are put at risk by abuse, neglect, domestic violence, untreated mental illness or substance abuse.

6 As mentioned above, Emily expresses exactly that sentiment in her outburst while meeting with the AMC.

But the nature of the disputes is only one reason for the escalating hostility. The other reason relates to the nature of the resolution mechanism our courts apply to those disputes.

In Anglo-American jurisprudence, that mechanism is the “adversary system.” The theoretical underpinning of the adversary system is that out of the battle between combatants (lawyers or self-represented parties), the truth will emerge. And it works reasonably well across a broad range of litigation.

The problem with using the adversary system in family cases is that instead of fostering cooperation between co-parents it encourages conflict. That should not be surprising in light of the fact that the adversary system was forged in medieval, not-so-Merry Olde England from the two existing dispute resolution models, “trial by battle” and “trial by ordeal.” The adversary system was seen as a civilizing evolution of those models, and yet it retains some features of both of its predecessors.

In fact, it is difficult to imagine a worse model for resolving family issues than the adversary system. Besides depriving children of what they need most, and escalating their parents’ conflict, custody battles come with the custody evaluation process that frightens, humiliates and compromises children. Custody evaluations also  add months to divorce cases, thus prolonging children’s anxiety, delaying any return to normalcy, and thereby increasing the risk of long-term emotional harm.

And because time in divorce really is money, those extra months also contribute to ruinous legal fees!

If all that emotional and financial devastation did not sufficiently condemn our custody dispute resolution process, bear in mind that custody battles also doom or severely damage prospects for productive co-parenting after the case concludes.

Dissecting the Myths

Now let us take a closer look at the folklore that has developed around child-related litigation.

Like most myths of any currency, each of those articulated by Laura and David bears a veneer of plausibility. The story is intended to strip away that veneer.

Myth #1: Children benefit when parents “insulate” them from the divorce. (02:23)

The first of the eight myths articulated by David and Laura is popular among parents looking to rationalize unnecessary child-related court battles. “We do a pretty good job of insulating our kids…” Laura informs us. (02:23). In an exchange with Emily, Laura discloses how she and David accomplish this:

“You know we don’t talk to you kids about the case!” Laura reminds her daughter (08:19).

And it is not just parents who attempt to “insulate” children. Many courts prevent or severely limit the circumstances under which children communicate directly with a judge. However one feels about the wisdom of such a policy, it can be highly distressing to children who want to speak directly to the one who will decide their fate. And Emily is  one of those children (16:51):

“Well, the good news is that you’ll never have to go inside a courtroom,” Maria Castillo assures Emily. That’s why you’re talking to us, so that we can advise the judge and help her decide.”

“Wait a minute,” says Emily. “She decides where I’m going to live without me ever talking to her? Great! I can’t talk to the judge or my parents—the only ones who count?

The lesson for parents is a simple one: There’s a significant difference between  shielding children from the antagonisms of divorce, and trying to insulate them from it altogether.

First of all, as a practical matter, it is impossible to “insulate” children from a high-conflict divorce. Nick, for example, overhears Laura’s phone conversations with her mother about the custody evaluation (12:21) and with David about Castillo’s impending custodyrecommendation (19:17).

Even if it were possible to insulate children, they do not want or benefit from being entirely walled-off from the central event in their lives. Nick’s preoccupation with the divorce leads to him quitting his football team because his mind “got all filled up” with the list of questions he carries with him; questions he is unable to ask his parents.

Parents who believe they can blunt the impact of high-conflict divorce by refusing to discuss it with their children, need to understand that children do not benefit from such zero sum rules. Indeed, such restrictions are likely to add to their children’s anxiety.

Myth #2: Judges protect children. (02:26)

“Judges protect children,” Laura informs us (02:27).

This myth receives immediate pushback from the off-screen interviewer: “But,” the interviewer responds, “the judge isn’t involved until the very end, right?” (02:30).

It’s an important point. Judges typically do not supervise the evaluation process. By the time a case comes before a judge for trial, the evaluation has been completed. Meanwhile, the children have been subjected to a myriad of intrusions into their lives that go unnoticed by parents preoccupied with their own conflict and anxieties.

By and large, family judges conscientiously protect what they deem to be the children’s best interests. But even if they supervised the evaluation process, they could not protect children from the rigors of the custody evaluation process.

Myth #3: The custody evaluation process is designed to protect children
and is implemented by professionals acting on the children’s behalf. (02:35)

David’s statement regarding the efficacy of the process would indeed be a valid source of comfort… if only it were accurate. Unfortunately, the evaluation process is not designed to protect children. It is designed to gather information for the judge to use in deciding the case.

Collecting that information intrudes upon children’s lives and invades their privacy. And  the gathering is not done by professionals “acting on the kids’ behalf.” Emily finds that out when the forensic psychologist informs her:

“I’m not your therapist. I’m merely here to evaluate your family for the court…” (08:58).

In my experience, the great majority of professionals involved in court evaluations do try to prevent children from being humiliated or compromised. But their efforts often fall short. We expect, for example, that the professionals will scrupulously avoid putting children to a choice between parents, and nothing we see in the film suggests otherwise. Nevertheless, Nick finds himself in exactly that position when Emily emerges from her meeting with Castillo and reports to David, Castillo’s remark that the case “is a difficult one” because Emily wants to live with David, but Nick does not.

“Yes, I do!” Nick protests from a place no child should ever have to be. “And with  Mom too!” (17:01)

Similarly, when the AMC asks Nick how he would feel if he were to live apart from Emily, his answer reflects the impossible situation in which he finds himself and the impossibly heavy responsibility he feels for his parents:

“I guess it wouldn’t be fair to my dad if no one lived with him.” (06:09)

Emily finds herself similarly compromised when asked by the psychologist if her  belief that the custody battle is her mother’s fault is based on what David has told her  (09:34).

David and Laura believe their children will be protected by judges (02:26), professionals (02:35), and their own best efforts (02:23; 20:56). The truth is that no one can protect children from the intrusions, humiliations and untenable situations that lurk in contested custody cases. And that includes skilled court personnel who consistently apply sensitivity and common sense to their evaluations. But like judges, they are simply not in a position to eliminate the potential for emotional damage to the subjects of those evaluations.

Myth #4: If the adults act appropriately, the children will be fine. (02:45)

David and Laura express a shared confidence in their ability to protect their children in ways other than “insulating” them from the divorce (02:45). In fact, David does not consider the custody litigation a “battle” (03:02). But the custody evaluation process can take a toll on children even where parents are not overly antagonistic toward each other. Obviously, good conduct by parents and professionals is important. But it certainly does not guarantee that children will emerge from the process unscathed. And whether or not the parents consider the custody litigation a “battle,” children surely become its prisoners.

Myth #5: “Kids are amazingly resilient.” (02:49)

Laura’s statement would be accurate if it were amended to: “Some kids are amazingly resilient.”

Our observation of the Sherwood children reveals little indication of a “resilience gene,” nor the skills or support system to compensate for the lack of it. And the children’s deteriorating behavior reflects as much. For Nick, that includes sleep pattern changes, regressive behavior, and inability to concentrate on his schoolbooks or football plays. With Emily, it is irritability. Even Emily’s bedroom, which Laura notes in the initial interview Emily “picks up her room” (01:10), becomes increasingly untidy (11:30; 18:51).

When we last see the children, they are walking dejectedly (and separately) away from us, down a long courthouse corridor to… a fade to black (23:05). Hardly an affirmation of resilience.

Myth #6: With divorce so common,
“children won’t be embarrassed” by the process. (02:51)

It may well be true that most children today are not embarrassed by the fact of their parents’ divorce. But the process, including the custody evaluation, can indeed cause significant embarrassment. Nick is mortified when Laura takes him from a football practice to meet with the AMC (04:47) and again when he returns to pick up his new uniform only to find that the only jersey remaining is much too large for him. “Nice dress!” taunts a teammate (07:41).

Nick’s humiliations mount when Castillo arrives for a home visit during a nasty argument between Laura and Emily, which Nick tries lamely to explain away (13:30).

As the visit moves to Nick’s bedroom, he becomes ashamed again, this time by his teddy bear peeking out from under his pillow (13:21. Finally, Nick becomes defiant, glaring at Castillo as he repositions a toy dinosaur that she had examined (13:37).

But Nick’s worst moment comes when the psychologist asks about his sleep woes and visits to his mother’s room at night (10:22).

For Emily too, humiliations lurk. As mentioned, she becomes enraged when Castillo arrives for a home visit simultaneously with her school bus. Even courthouse security procedures (15:30) and being packed into a courthouse elevator (16:09) cause her discomfort.

In isolation, these events are not calamitous. But their cumulative affect, especially when combined with some more serious incidents (see e.g., Myth #3 above) clearly have the potential to be so.

Myth #7: “Not everything about the custody process is bad—
it’s better than lawyers doing it all behind closed doors.” (03:15)

In the “exit interview,” even before she watches the footage of her children thrashing about in the grasp of the evaluation process, Laura dials back her claim that custody litigation has gotten a bad rap, conceding that the process was “a little more  difficult than I expected” (19:56).

The other part of this myth is just as inaccurate. Lawyers don’t negotiate parenting plans “behind closed doors.” Most matrimonial lawyers would prefer not to 11 negotiate them at all, preferring to concentrate on financial issues while the parents, perhaps with the help of a therapist, court mediator, or divorce coach, work out parenting plan details.

And that preference is not simply a function of disinterest. Rather, lawyers know that parents are much better able than they are in tailoring parenting plans to a family’s unique circumstances, and that the most successful parenting plans result from parents investing their own efforts to forge a new co-parenting relationship.

Myth #8: “Kids want to be heard and the
custody process gives them that opportunity.” (03:22)

This assertion by Laura concludes the parents’ litany of wishful thinking. Like the other myths, it is dispelled in the scenes that follow. Children do want to be heard, but first and foremost by their parents, not strangers from the foreign world of courts and lawyers. For parents like the Sherwoods who believe they need to “insulate” their children from their divorce, the “custody process” inhibits the parent-child communication that is so vital to reducing children’s dread of an uncertain future.

For children like Nick, “being heard” can be particularly compromising and humiliating. And the emotional overlay often accelerates as the process grinds on. A disastrous meeting such as Nick’s with the psychologist fuels his apprehension in the courthouse lobby (15:50) and reluctance to go into Maria Castillo’s office (17:17).

Delivering the Message

It was clear from the outset that to fulfill its mission, Talk to Strangers would have to be more emotionally compelling than many of its predecessor productions.

Emotion in film is dictated in large part by music. Thus, we needed something that had not been previously seen in any other work of the genre: an original score  written and arranged specifically for this film.

Fortunately, Grammy-award winning film composer Brian Keane agreed to co-write with me and arrange the film’s score. Now I knew we had the chance to produce a uniquely powerful film. The potency of Brian’s music drives the most poignant scenes, such as when a disconsolate Nick watches David and Emily drive away for a visit without him (14:05).

To be sure, other filmmaking techniques were brought to bear on the story. Shooting the film in southwestern Connecticut allowed us to portray all four seasons during the four month period from September to December. And that was important. The progression from spring as the evaluation begins, to its conclusion in winter was intended to demonstrate more than just the longevity of the process. Spring lushness at the outset yielding to stark and colorless winter exteriors by story’s end, mirror the draining of spirit from the Sherwood family. The children’s progressively dulled down wardrobe and Emily’s increasingly messy and bare bedroom add further to a mise en scène of demoralization.7

No Free Passes

It might have been more exciting to produce a 25-minute version of Kramer v. Kramer or War of the Roses. But my co-producer’s instincts when she conceived of this project were sound. A narrative of high-conflict parents would have served only to obscure the travails of the children—and to give too many viewers a free pass to avoid responsibility for their failure to avoid the process by which our courts resolve child-related disputes.

Parents who expose children to avoidable custody/access litigation, and professionals who minimize its toxicity, do not need (or deserve) free passes. What they need is to recognize how the mythology surrounding child-related litigation conceals how it can traumatize children and put them at risk for substantial and enduring emotional harm.

Talk to Strangers
www.childcustodyfilm.com


For Mental Health Professionals – “Why Choose Talk To Strangers”?

 Parents considering or involved in child-related litigation are exposed to a variety of materials designed to dissuade them from battles that are so damaging to children.  Talk to Strangers and its companion Parents Guide are meant to add a valuable new tool in that effort.

1.  Taking the focus off misbehaving parents.  Videos and other materials offered to parents litigating children’s issues often focus on parents behaving poorly.  Many in the audience quickly lose interest in parents acting worse than they believe they ever would.  Thus, many parents who need to hear the message aren’t listening.
Talk to Strangers’ perspective is that of the children, not their parents.  From that perspective viewers can experience in an intimate way how children in custody disputes are compromised and humiliated even where the adults “behave.”

2.  A more visceral approach.  Many appeals to parents bent on custody battles rely upon logic and statistics.#  We professionals may be jarred by emotional disorder statistics for children in high conflict families.  But for parents, the emotional pitch of custody battles too often drowns out the voice of reason.
Talk to Strangers was written with input from divorce lawyers (including the screenwriter), family services counselors and mental health professionals.  Yet it employs a visceral approach, told as a dramatic story enhanced by poignant details of two children’s lives and set to a powerful original score.

3.  Early intervention. Parenting education programs and courthouse presentations usually reach parents too late; often months after parents’ agendas have taken precedence over children’s best interests.  As divorce cases wear on, “bunker mentality” and thousands spent on lawyers’ and experts’ fees reduce chances for compromise.  And even in cases that eventually settle, the custody evaluation process has already taken its toll on the children.
An appeal to parents’ better instincts must occur earlier and in a more conducive setting.  Mental health professionals treating children and families have a unique opportunity to intervene.  That’s why we are making the film and its companion Parents Guide available to them.

4.    Show, don’t tell.  Film has a unique power to touch emotion.  Judging by focus group reactions, we believe Talk to Strangers does just that.   And once it does, its companion Parents Guide provides a nuts and bolts guide crafted by veteran divorce

* Some cases, of course, need to be adjudicated.  Where there is family abuse, uncontrolled substance abuse, or untreated mental disease or emotional disorder, a judge’s rulings may be the only way to adequately protect children.  Talk to Strangers is meant not for those situations but for the many high conflict divorces that can and should be resolved long before children are subjected to their destructive impact.
Show Comments