Child Custody Ruling a Cautionary Tale to Parents Who Work

Article excerpt

MIAMI -- Alice Hector thought she had found a way to be both a mother and a winning litigator at one of this city's top law firms.

Courts, of course, do not adjourn to let a lawyer tend to a sick child, and trials can stretch a workday to 14 hours. But Hector easily earned enough as a partner at Steel, Hector & Davis to hire a nanny to care for her two young girls when she was not around. And while she says she encouraged her husband, an unemployed architect and builder, to find a job, she benefited from the time he spent at home.

But now that the couple have split, a court has ruled that Alice Hector cannot have it all. Noting her long hours and the time that her former husband, Robert Young, spent at home and volunteering at the girls' school, the Florida appeals court gave primary custody to Young.

The June 24 decision devastated Hector and sent shock waves through the halls of Steel, Hector, which has a reputation for employing high-powered woman lawyers, including Janet Reno, the attorney general, and Patricia Seitz, the first woman president of the Florida Bar Association. One of the firm's named partners is Hector's uncle.

"This means that if you work," she said, "there is a danger that you could lose your children."

Added Lance Harke, a partner at the 170-lawyer firm who represents Hector and has three young children of his own, "Every moment that you're not with your kids is a moment that can be used against you."

Young counters that the appeals court simply overturned a decision that discriminated against him and other stay-at-home fathers. …