MAY DIVORCE BE WITH YOU

FOR BOB HIRSCHFELD---MEN'S-RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND DOMESTIC-RELATIONS LAWYER---BREAKING UP IS FUN TO DO

"Our first goal," Hirschfeld says, "is to make sure our clients get a chance to raise their children and don't get flattened by the system."
And if "dad" also wants to inflict a little damage on the psyche of his formerly beloved in the process? "Well," Jack grins, "Bob won't charge you extra for that."

@rule:
@body:Ask Hirschfeld if he hates women, and he will tell you a true story.
One woman, angry about her ex-husband's insistence on regularly spending weekends with their young son, accused the man of sexually abusing the child. To make the case stick, she somehow placed a small amount of semen in the boy's buttocks after a visit with the father, and filed a formal charge of molestation.

Hirschfeld, however, was convinced that the father had been set up, and pursued the case--and the mother--with all the energy and venom he could muster. In the end, after a bitter and tumultuous interrogation, he was able to wring the truth out of her--and the father was awarded permanent custody of the boy.

"I don't hate," he says. "But in my life, I've been given plenty of reasons not to trust women. I've seen their perfidy, their ability to be deceitful."
Hirschfeld's approach to law--and life--is based on that essential premise: Women are manipulative and prone to warping the truth for their own ends. His role, he says, is to ferret out that deceit by any means necessary.

It's a lesson he says he learned not only in the courtroom, but in his own marriage.

Trained as an engineer, Hirschfeld graduated from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963. He seemed destined for a promising career not as a courtroom general, but as a leading foot soldier in the microchip revolution.

Deemed brilliant even by his adversaries (and with an IQ high enough to qualify him to be president of the Arizona chapter of Mensa, a fraternity of brainy people who were beaten up on the playground as kids), Hirschfeld soon made his mark in Silicon Valley development circles. By the early 1970s, he was ready to open his own semiconductor firm.

"Silicon Valley was booming, and there was excitement in the air," Hirschfeld remembers. "We all wanted to start our own companies.

"But they told us at one of those seminars where they counsel young entrepreneurs, 'Watch out, opening your own shop will put tremendous pressures on your marriage.' And they were right."
By 1976, his life had become a disturbing mirror image of the movie Kramer vs. Kramer. His wife, he says, expressing dissatisfaction with their relationship, left to "find herself." After Hirschfeld moved with his children to Arizona to "start anew," his wife demanded custody of the couple's two children through California courts. To make matters worse, she began making accusations that Hirschfeld had abused the children during her absence.

"I had given up everything for my kids," he says. "I had become a superdad, always putting my children first. And I wasn't about to give them up now, just because she wanted me to; just because she was making groundless threats."
But California courts at that time were still following the time-honored maxim of child-custody cases--unless a woman is a drunkard or insane, she has a right to her kids. Hirschfeld's ex-wife quickly won custody.

Hirschfeld fought back. From Arizona, he filed a federal lawsuit against several California judges who had helped his wife, and became locked in a lengthy legal battle that stretched all the way to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. His contention, then as now, is that fathers have an equal right to be full-time custodians of their children.

"I was just outraged that the courts were willing to give my wife rights to the kids just by virtue of the fact that she was a woman," he says. "My sense of justice said that just wasn't right. And it still isn't."
Hirschfeld became so absorbed in the issue that he soon made the decision to chuck engineering and begin a second career in the law. But while other first-year students at the ASU law school were struggling with "moot court"--a dramatized courtroom trial designed to give aspiring lawyers a taste of actual legal wrangling--Hirschfeld was arguing his real-life custody case in front of a federal judge. In the end, after a fight of nearly three years, he was not only awarded custody of the kids, but also--in a victory nearly unheard-of for fathers of the time--won child support from the mother, a registered nurse.

However, the price of victory was steep. One lawyer who has repeatedly sparred with Hirschfeld in court says that the breakup of his family "split Bob into two people."

"On one hand, you've got 'Good Bob,' the men's-rights activist who loves kids and wants what is best for them," the lawyer says. "But on the other, you've got 'Bad Bob,' the nasty, self-styled warrior whose goal is to make women pay for his wife's sins.

"The problem is, they're both wrapped up in the same head. It's a lethal combination."
@rule:
@body:Hirschfeld is an unlikely looking "nasty warrior." A polite man in his 50s, with tufts of graying hair in constant disarray, he is almost grandfatherly--possessing a kind, disarming smile and gentle eyes.

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