Dani Garavelli: Collateral damage in parents’ dirty war
WITH Katie Holmes filing for divorce from Tom Cruise, her husband of five years, connoisseurs of celebrity split-ups are booking a ringside seat for the dividing of the spoils.
But however bitter the TomKat parting of the ways turns out to be, it will have to work hard to outdo the acrimonious divorce, finalised last week, of former supermodel Christie Brinkley and her ex-husband Peter Cook.
Their court settlement, which stipulates that they will never speak to each other again, has surely come too late. In the six-year war of words they have waged since they parted, there can be no criticism left unvoiced, no aspersions left uncast.
In their efforts to discredit one another, the pair vied to come up with the most cutting of insults. Brinkley – who numbers Billy Joel among her many exes – accused Cook, an architect, of being a “deadbeat dad” and of being aggressive.
He accused her of “publicly castrating” him and “throwing their family under a bus” to generate publicity for her return to Broadway in the musical Chicago. Words such as “fantasist”, “narcissist”, “liar” and “drunkard” were scattered over the carcase of their marriage. After all that, what on earth would they have left to say to one another?
It’s a bit late too for the “parenting co- ordinator”, who has been appointed to take care of visitation issues and, one assumes, resolve squabbles over such everyday matters as who should pay for the iPhone and whether or not the kids should be allowed to travel on commercial airlines. The co-ordinator is also supposed to serve as an “abuse intermediary”, to act as a sponge soaking up all the unpleasantness so it doesn’t drip on to the innocents.
Their children – Jack, 17 (born to Brinkley’s previous husband Richard Taubman and adopted by Cook), and Sailor, 14, however, have already spent the best part of their childhood caught in the vortex of their parents’ unhappiness.
During the custody battle, for example, Jack’s inadvertent viewing of images of the naked women his adopted father was ogling on his computer was used to sully Cook. At a later hearing, to sort out child support payments, Cook alleged Brinkley had e-mailed her son to tell him Cook was jealous of her Broadway success.
Of course, this couple’s experience is hardly typical. Even by US celebrity standards, the marriage and its subsequent implosion was quite outre. First, Cook admitted to having had an affair with 18-year-old Diana Bianchi, then he admitted he had paid her large sums of money to keep her quiet. Finally, he admitted to a $3,000-a-month online porn habit.
Still, Brinkley and Cook are far from the first spouses to find inventive ways of undermining each other or to allow their hostility to affect their children.
Leading family judge Lord Justice Wall recently accused middle-class parents of damaging their children by using them as ammunition in divorce cases. “To use the trite phrase, each parent represents 50 per cent of the child’s gene pool. If a child’s mother makes it clear to the child that his or her father is worthless – and vice versa – the child’s sense of self-worth can be irredeemably damaged,” he said.
A poll conducted in 2009 also suggested that bitter divorce proceedings left a tenth of children from broken homes feeling suicidal, while others turned to drink and drugs. A quarter of the children interviewed said they’d been asked to lie to one parent about the other, while 15 per cent said they’d been enlisted as spies.
Meanwhile, half of the parents admitted deliberately drawing out proceedings for maximum benefit, and more than two-thirds acknowledged they had used their children as bargaining tools.
It is in recognition of this potential for damage that parenting co-ordinators have been introduced in some US states. He or she will meet both parties regularly to hear and resolve their complaints and to make sure rules on visitation rights are being adhered to. Although they cannot alter court orders, they can prevent parents from discussing certain topics with their children and limit where they can take them on holiday, what activities they do with them and what food they are allowed to give them.
It all sounds eminently sensible, but unfortunately across the Atlantic this is a tool for the wealthy. Parental co-ordinators charge for their time, with the cost split between the two parties according to the court order. Ordinary people, it seems, are stuck with having to learn to deal with their anger the old-fashioned way, through willpower and restraint. Judging by what’s happened in the days since Brinkley and Cook struck their pact, even the most categoric court settlement is of little use to partners who are hell-bent on mutual destruction.
The couple may have signed a no more verbal contact deal, but they are continuing to vent their spleen online. Without a trace of irony, Brinkley announced the cessation of hostilities on Facebook by describing the last four years as “an odyssey of frustration as I have navigated the court system with one goal, to find peace and protection for my family from the various forms of abuse at the hands of a narcissist”. Cook’s new wife Suzanne Shaw weighed in, branding Brinkley dishonest, vicious and disgraceful.
In the 21st century, it seems, you don’t need to shout or scream to badmouth your partner, nor to ensure your breakdown inflicts the maximum possible pain on your children. You just need a social media account and an extensive repertoire of hurtful phrases.
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