Hypothetically Speaking: The Trump Divorce and Custody

On Thursday, March 15, 2018, the New York Post broke the news that Donald Trump Jr., and his wife, Vanessa Trump, are heading their separate ways after 12 years of marriage and five children, ranging in age from 10 years old to 3 years old. The couple alleged in a joint statement that their decision to divorce[1] was not acrimonious, and various news sources including but not limited to The New York Times, stated that Ms. Trump is seeking an uncontested divorce to end her marriage to the First Son.

The following day various online publications including Page Six, The Cut, and the Washington Examiner, reported that Ms. Trump hired well-known criminal defense lawyer David Feureisen to represent her in the divorce proceeding. It is interesting, that for a couple who is allegedly parting ways under so-called amicable circumstances, and for the brouhaha that is currently erupting over the fact that Ms. Trump filed for an “uncontested” divorce, that Ms. Trump has supposedly hired a criminal defense attorney to represent her in a family law matter.

With regards to custody of the parties’ 5 children, it will be interesting to see how this divorce proceeding plays out in the headlines as well as in the courts, especially considering Mr. Trump’s alleged personal embroilment in the current investigation regarding Russia’s influence in the 2016 election, as well as his colorful and arguably cutting presence, on social media.

In California, custody and visitation decisions handled by the courts are guided by the best interests of the child standard—a very subjective and fluid standard. Using the Trump case as the basis of a hypothetical based in California Family Law, how could the various allegations against Mr. Trump, as well as his online presence, affect his custody rights? This blog post will speculatively explain how:

Example #1: Mr. Trump’s tweets.

While many of Mr. Trump’s tweets from his twitter handle, @donaldtrumpjr, appear to be innocuous and merely supportive of his father, some of Mr. Trump’s tweets could arguably be construed as abrasive and controversial.

In a contentious custody dispute, it could be argued that the more caustic tweets reflect an inability of Mr. Trump to control himself, a powerlessness to put his own interests aside, and think of the bigger picture, i.e., the best interests of the children. Litigants in custody disputes must be cognizant of the fact that their social media presence will be assessed during the proceeding, and their social media posts may be used as evidence to show that their ability to make decisions in the best interests of the children is questionable. If the posts are erratic, damaging, and abrasive, it could be argued that those same qualities will be prevalent in one’s parenting abilities, too.

Example #2: Mr. Trump’s involvement in Robert Mueller’s investigation.

As Page Six reported[2], Ms. Trump’s divorce filing came the same day as special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed President Trump’s family business, demanding that the Trump Organization release information related to Russia. Mr. Trump runs the Trump Organization along with his brother, Eric Trump.

While no charges have been made, and only an investigation with much speculation is currently pending, Ms. Trump’s lawyers could possibly raise issue as to Mr. Trump’s ethics, honesty, as well as the children’s safety in arguments regarding the custody of the children.

For example, it could be argued the Mr. Trump’s controversial dealings and alleged dishonesty regarding his involvement with Russia’s interreference in the 2016 election could put the children at risk of danger from nefarious foes. In fact, just last month, a letter containing an unidentified white substance was sent to Mr. Trump’s residence, and opened by Ms. Trump, causing her to be taken to the hospital for evaluation. Ms. Trump may argue that Mr. Trump’s increasingly public persona could cause a safety concern for the children, and that the children are safer away from the public eye by being with their mother.

Conclusion

While we may never actually know how the Trump divorce pans out, as it is likely that this divorce may be sealed from the public, and the case may involve confidentiality agreements, the Trump divorce raises interesting hypotheticals as to how a public figure’s actions as well as those that are not public figures, as well as their social media presence, could weigh heavily in favor of the children having more time with the other parent in a contested custody dispute.

[1] Van Oorschot Law Group, PC is not involved in the case.

[2] https://pagesix.com/2018/03/15/vanessa-trump-files-for-divorce-from-donald-trump-jr/