Mel Gibson, Child Custody and What You Can Learn

Mel Gibson, Child Custody and Lessons You Can Learn

Mel Gibson, of the films “Bird on a Wire” and “Braveheart,” is expected to go to court to seek child custody of his 4-year-old daughter, Lucia. You might recall Gibson’s family troubles from a few years ago when he famously threatened his significant other’s life and well-being.  It’d be reasonable to imagine that courts would shy away from assigning custody to a parent that had made such inflammatory remarks.  But… despite those threats, Mel stands a fair chance of winning custody of his child.

 This situation is important because it exposes some often overlooked aspects of child custody and court orders.


Currently, Mr. Gibson pays around $20,000 in child support each month for the child who’s being raised by his former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva.  Reportedly, that money is some of the only money Mrs. Grigorieva has coming in each month.  Outside of that money, she has substantial debt.


Another unfortunate aspect of the case is that Mrs. Grigorieva has gigantic legal bills.  She is reported to owe over $250,000 in legal fees and costs. Luckily, most divorce cases get nowhere near that kind of cost, but by looking at how Mrs. Grigorieva approached her case, we can find easy ways to avoid excessive attorney’s fees.

First, she hired, then fired, somewhere close to 40 attorneys.  It’s perfectly understandable (and expected) that you might disagree with your attorney and their strategy at times. It’s also reasonable to seek other representation, but to do so that many times could indicate that Oksana may not have had realistic expectations as to how the case would turn out.

(Read this post on The Top 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Attorney.)

Next, Oksana reportedly turned down several settlement offers, possibly for around $15 million dollars. Considering the fear and stress in a situation involving her child, it’s understandable that she may have been apprehensive about taking  a settlement, especially considering there may have been restrictive clauses (see below).  However, it’s important to try and think objectively, when possible, about settlement offers in family law cases.

Settlement isn’t always what you’d expect or 100% of what you want. However, it is important to remember all alternatives and risks, and to settle for what’s best, given the scenario.

Terms of the Agreement – Confidentiality 

One contributing factor to Mrs. Grigorieva’s difficult financial situation is that she is no longer receiving compensation under the agreed-upon settlement agreement.  Hers and Mel’s separation agreement had a confidentiality clause.  Though such a clause may not be imperative in most family disputes, it’s reasonable to think that some parties may not want information about the dissolution/separation/settlement to be discussed in public or online.

By violating the clause (thus violating a court order), Mrs. Grigorieva and the court ordered that Gibson no longer has to pay $375,000 remaining on their settlement.

The court’s decision to waive Gibson’s responsibility brings me to another often overlooked aspect of separation and divorce agreements.

Following Court Orders

The provisions detailed in a settlement are extremely important.  Many times people will become lax with the provisions and guidelines, coming to an agreement with the other party outside of the agreement.  Doing so can put you at risk of being accused of violating the court’s order(s). This can have a disastrous effect of your chances in subsequent court proceedings.

If you ever begin to change the terms of visitation beyond simple accommodations, it’s best to be safe and go to court to make an update by requesting a modification.

Keep in mind that each agreement will be different.  Though most agreements might not have a confidentiality clause, they could have restrictions on legal decision-making or use of property (among other things).  Just because you have a copy of key and you think your ex won’t notice doesn’t mean they won’t find out if you go into the house when s/he’s not home.  It’s best not to take unnecessary risks when the ones you love are at stake.

Living Situation

Another aspect supporting Gibson in his possible attempt to seek custody is the fact that the living situation with Mrs. Grigorieva may be unstable.  Mrs. Grigorieva’s other child, 17, also lives with her and Lucia.  And, according to reports (that lack specific detail due to the son’s minor status) and statements made by Mrs. Grigorieva, it’s thought the living situation has become possibly unsafe for the daughter.

Any and every child needs to have a safe place to live. Courts across the nation, but especially in Arizona, do not take kindly to the possibility of danger in the home that puts a child at risk. Keep this in mind as you co-parent your children with your ex.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that Gibson would be able to get custody when you look over his prior reckless behavior.  However, in looking at the financial stress and possible danger within Oksana’s home, the court might be inclined to place the daughter in a more stable environment.  Neither Oksana’s financial situation nor her living environment taken alone might move the court to make a change, but when coupled together, it’s hard to imagine the court not considering making a child custody change if it were requested.

I can only hope that the child gets the care and attention she needs and deserves.

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