Long hours on Simpson case lead prosecutor into child-custody fight

March 03, 1995|By Bettina Boxall | Bettina Boxall,Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles -- Her prosecution of O. J. Simpson has made her one of the best-known working mothers in America, and now it has landed Marcia Clark in a bitter custody battle with her estranged husband, who contends that her grueling workload is harming their two young sons.

In court papers recently filed in their divorce case, Gordon Clark argues that he should be given primary custody of their children because his estranged wife, with whom the boys live, is rarely home these days.

At most, he contends, Marcia Clark sees their sons, ages 3 and 5, an hour a day during the week. "I have personal knowledge that on most nights she does not arrive home until 10 p.m. and even when she is home, she is working," Gordon Clark maintains in a Feb. 24 Superior Court declaration.

Mr. Clark, 36, a computer engineer with regular hours, says he is usually home by 6:15 every night. "I was always there for our children and assumed at least equal responsibility for their care," stated Mr. Clark, who now sees the children on two weekday evenings and cares for them on alternate weekends.

"While I commend [Marcia Clark's] brilliance, her legal ability and her tremendous competence as an attorney, I do not want our children to continue to suffer because she is never home, and never has any time to spend with them."

In a statement released by her attorney, Richard Bloom, Ms. Clark said Wednesday: "I am devoted to my two children, who are far and away more important to me than anything.

"I feel it is inappropriate of me to discuss details of my marital dissolution case or child custody issues in the media."

The custody dispute highlights the intense and conflicting demands that haunt many working parents -- particularly mothers, who traditionally have assumed greater child-care duties -- as they try to juggle the rewards and responsibilities of family and career.

And it illustrates how, yet again, the Simpson case has become far more than a murder trial. It is a primer on our society, whether the topic be race relations, the justice system or working women.

Evidence of a strain

The tug between work and children has already emerged in the trial.

Last Friday, Marcia Clark said she could not stay late for a proposed evening session because she had other obligations.

This week, defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. suggested that Ms. Clark may have used child care as a ruse to delay the testimony of defense witness Rosa Lopez.

Ms. Clark retorted indignantly that she was "offended as a

woman, as a single parent, as a prosecutor and as an officer of the court."

Ms. Clark, 41, filed for divorce June 9 -- just three days before the double slaying that would catapult her into the national spotlight.

The Simpson case has touched the Clarks' divorce proceedings in ways that reach beyond the custody issues.

In December, Marcia Clark, who employs a housekeeper,

contended in a court declaration that she needs more financial support from Gordon Clark because her child-care costs have ballooned during the Simpson trial.

"I have been working a six- or seven-day week for as many as 16 hours per day," Marcia Clark stated. "As the court well knows, this is probably the most sensational and watched proceeding in the history of the Los Angeles judicial system. . . . I now need baby-sitters for the weekends while I work and someone to spend the evenings with my two children."

Ms. Clark's divorce lawyer did not return phone calls and Gordon Clark's divorce attorney declined comment on the case. Edward Blau, his personal attorney, said: "This divorce was going on before the trial started. It has its own life. . . . His major interest is that nothing be said or done that affects the children in any way."

As divorces involve more and more working couples, the issue of job demands is playing an increasing role in custody battles and prompting litigation around the nation, say family law lawyers.

"We have new issues and new times and certainly two working parents is one of them," observed attorney Joan Patsy Ostroy.

'Both ways'

"People want to have it both ways," Ms. Ostroy added.

"Men want high-earning, professional wives. And women want nurturing, caring, participating fathers. And then when they split up, the men often complain about the hours and stresses and demand of the [woman's] profession and the women complain that the men aren't happy just seeing the kids on the weekend."

The arguments over work hours cut both ways, Ms. Ostroy said. In one of her recent cases, a mother was fighting a father's request for 50 percent custody of the children because her ex-husband was often away from home on business.

Similarly, family law attorney James R. Eliaser commented that in cases involving preschool children, "The reason why men traditionally haven't gotten a 50-50 share [of custody] is the argument that he's working and . . . [in effect] giving the housekeeper 50 percent of the child care."

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