Meet Marilyn York of Reno, NV the mother of four and one of the country’s top family law practitioners who leads an all female practice specializing in men’s rights.
Marilyn and Mike, her fourth husband, have been married for six years and are parents to a four year old son. Marilyn in also a mom to three other children ranging in age from 14 – 25 from previous marriages.
Marilyn was born and raised in San Jose, CA until age 13 when the family moved to Reno, NV. She
has an extraordinary and unique relationship with her dad who is a serial entrepreneur.
As you’ll learn, Marilyn is an outspoken advocate for father rights and involvement. Her TEDx Talk entitled: ‘What Representing Men in Divorce Taught Me About Fatherhood’ has been viewed more than 6.5M times. She has also created a series of rather provocative advertisements including one known as the ‘Woman Hater’ Ad.
It’s an intriguing story told from the perspective of a mom and legal expert about the importance of father involvement.
Marilyn’s TEDx Talk Entitled: ‘What Representing Men In Divorce Has Taught Me About Fatherhood – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlSwsE22nX0&t=1s
Nevada Youth Empowerment Project – https://nyep.org
‘Woman Hater’ TV Ad – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlQ608REn6U&t=2s
LinkedIn Profile – https://www.linkedin.com/in/marilyn-d-york-08967432/
Tom Couch: Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring today’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Working tirelessly to research, develop and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics’ mission at horizontherapeutics.com.
Marilyn York: We’re not used to hearing that men are underdogs and they are in family court, and children are the ones suffering. And so if we can deal with that reality and promote equality across the board, everyone wins. If you want to know where to put your effort in, put your effort in seeing your kids, even when it’s hard. They need their dads.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Marilyn York. Marilyn is a certified family law specialist who focuses on fathers going through divorce and other family issues. We’ll hear all about her unique take on helping men and more on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello to David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a Dad to Dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search Dad to Dad. Let’s listen now to this intriguing conversation between Marilyn York and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with Marilyn York of Reno, Nevada, who’s the mother of four, and a family law practitioner who specializes in men’s rights. Marilyn, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Marilyn York: Thanks for having me.
David Hirsch: You and your current husband Mike, have been married for six years, and are the proud parents of a four-year-old son. You also have three other children, a 14-year-old son, a 16-year-old daughter, and a 25-year-old son from previous marriages. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Marilyn York: I grew up in San Jose, California and then Reno, Nevada. At 13 my dad relocated the family from San Jose to Reno. I consider San Jose my home, but certainly I’ve lived in Reno longer now. My family looks like the Cleavers on paper. My mom and dad have been married 55 years. I have a brother that’s 18 months older than me. He looks just like my dad. I look just like my mom, and we act like the opposite parent.
But it is anything but normal. My dad is very strange and quirky and extreme, and my mother is very sweet and submissive and perfect, and Midwestern. And she’s a pastor and acts like the quintessential perfect mother. And my dad is anything but normal. And so he raised me in a really unusual, extreme way. Which will come in our talk throughout, I’m certain.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well thank you for giving me a little background—and a warning, if you will. What did your dad do for a living?
Marilyn York: My dad is a mechanical engineer by education. He is an entrepreneur by practice, and so he has owned multiple businesses throughout my life. When I was a little girl, he owned a flight school in San Jose and taught commercial flying for small airplanes. And so I grew up in the back of a four-seater Cessna most of my life.
He also had a manufacturing company of a couple different varieties over the years. And then he runs the legal end of my practice, the business side. Even at almost 80 years old, he still works I’m sure at least full time.
David Hirsch: Well, I thought it was an all woman’s practice, but your dad’s actually there too.
Marilyn York: He doesn’t count. He’s Charlie of Charlie’s Angels. He’s actually physically never in the building, thank God, because when he is, we all hold our breath in panic, because he’s very volatile and unpredictable. So he works from home. He invented remote work before Covid, and so we barely ever see the man, but when you get an email from him even, you hold your breath. I’m like, oh no. So we call him Charlie.
David Hirsch: Okay. But his name is Ray.
Marilyn York: His name is Ray, otherwise known as Sting Ray. That’s one of his many nicknames.
David Hirsch: Okay. So, beyond what you’ve already mentioned, how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Marilyn York: Very close. He says we have 30 different relationships. We talk about 30 subjects in 30 seconds. That’s like his joke. You know we have a very complicated coexistence, codependency there, we say. He calls himself my stage dad. He absolutely is my stage dad. He actually calls himself my stage mom. He is.
And I always joke like, if you can’t find my dad, he’s right here. And I put my hand on top of my face because he’s just embedded. He’s like a bad brain tumor. For God forbid we make a cancer joke. But he is a glioblastoma. He has like created a root in every part of my life, and if I try to cut him out, he just grows new roots. So he runs my law firm.
He’s at my house when I come home, more than half the time in my yard backhoeing something he never asks me if he could touch. You know, he’s my best friend. He’s totally my soulmate. He’s my confidant. He’s my sounding board. He’s my accountant. He’s my CPA. He’s my business manager. He hires and fires sometimes without me knowing. I’ll come back from vacation, and I have a new employee. I’m like, what are you doing?
I buy tile for my bathroom. He exchanges it while I’m out of town, because he decided my tile was impractical. Everything about him is practical. He calls me “fash” that is a four letter word for fashion, because I only make decisions based on aesthetic, and he finds that offensive as an engineer, and so he takes over.
It’s ridiculous. I’m lucky I can even take care of myself with the amount of control he exerts and undermines me with. But he also enables me and empowers me and supports me. He’s my biggest cheerleader. He’s my biggest fan. You know, any podcast like this, he’ll watch it three times, and then give me like feedback and call all giddy and excited. I mean, there’s no one in the world like that.
That might be why I have trouble staying married, because I’ve never had a husband be remotely as taken with me as my father. And you know, I wish he’d say no. I’ve never asked him for anything in my life that he said no to. The problem is it’s yes, but there’s a lot of conditions. They usually require me to get a whole new degree and start five new businesses. But he never says no. It’s just, it’s a trap.
David Hirsch: Well, it sounds like a very unique relationship, and obviously you’re birds of the same feather. And like you’d said at the beginning of the conversation, your brother probably takes more like your mom, and you’ve taken off more like your dad.
Marilyn York: For sure. Which was much to both of their chagrin. My mother, you know, is very conservative and very mild and congenial. She’s the walking Switzerland, and my brother is meek and mild. And my dad is a powerhouse who had a horrible, powerhouse mother who was abusive. So it traumatized him to have a daughter that was strong. He thought I would come out abusive like her.
And it’s similarly traumatized him to have a son. That’s me, because that’s like the epitome of immasculinity to him. And here we, living despite his best intentions, just the way we are. Because that’s the way the world works.
David Hirsch: God’s way, if you will.
Marilyn York: Right.
David Hirsch: So where did you go to school and how did your career get started?
Marilyn York: I finished high school in three years. I was only 16 when I graduated. My intention was to go home to San Jose, and my dad said, “You’re not going anywhere. You’re 16.” I’m like, “I graduated early to leave.” And he’s like, “No one thought you’d do it. Your brother’s the smart kid.” I’m like, “What the heck.”
So I went to the University of Nevada, Reno, which was lovely. UNR was a great experience. I graduated in the normal four years and have got my undergraduate degree in writing, with an emphasis in speech. That was my minor. Imagine that, because here we are.
But my intention was always to go to law school. I was only 20 when I graduated from college, and I went to law school in Los Angeles at Southwestern University. There’s a program within that school called SCALE. It’s an acronym, which basically means, hold on, you’re about to die. It’s a two year law school. So in 21 months I went through law school. It’s 21 months straight, and then there’s a three month internship.
And so I finished law school a year early, and was 22 when I became an attorney in LA. I then practiced in LA for the first several years, doing what we call movie star Hollywood level divorce, which was a really cool job I kind of fell into. Cool, as in interesting, brutal in workload, but a really cool first experience. I mean, the stories are still worth hearing, and it’s a very, very high-level legal practice, as it should be. And so that was a really cool way to learn.
I’d been a paralegal as an undergraduate. I put myself through my paralegal certification when I was 16, when I was between the summer of high school and college. I worked about 30 hours a week, honestly, through school, to put myself through college, because my dad’s not the kind of dad that’s gonna give anyone a handout.
So my parents would pay for things conditioned upon grades. You know, I had to pay all my own living expenses, books, everything else. If I got anything less than a 3.5, he made me reimburse tuition because I was wasting his money. Which of course I never did, or I wouldn’t have been in law school. That was of course, the incentive.
But as I said, my dad will never say no. It’s just comes with a lot of strings. Most of them benefit me, but it doesn’t mean they’re fun. And so I moved back to Reno in 2000.
David Hirsch: And you’ve been practicing in the same law firm in your name, or was there a transition?
Marilyn York: Yes, and then I opened my own practice in 2001. So this will mark my 20th year in practice. Which is a pretty cool thing, because most businesses don’t see the 10 year mark. And we, I believe, are still the largest family law specific firm in the state, which is surprising, because Reno’s population is much less than Las Vegas. But because I do a niche practice where I represent men, our marketing and brand is so effective that we are, like I said, the largest family law only firm.
David Hirsch: And other than your dad, it’s an entirely female firm, if I remember.
Marilyn York: Yes. There are 12 females that make up the practice. And then my dad, like I said, who runs the business end from behind the scenes.
David Hirsch: And you’re very open about the fact that you’ve been married four times, and you joke a little bit about…something to do with the type of work that you do is a lived experience.
Marilyn York: Yeah. Work study. I call it work study. Always stand fresh on the topic. It really does give me empathy and an inside perspective that I think is really important. I frankly wish that we could require family court judges to have at least one divorce under their belt. I mean, it’s a really horrible thing to wish on anyone.
Unless you’ve exchanged a child on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with someone that treats you like they’re a sworn enemy, you cannot possibly understand the stress of that, as just one tiny example. And so if you know, then your court orders reflect the realities of emotions in the human world, you know, and that’s important, or the logistic concerns.
I just emailed a client and said, “Don’t micromanage your wife. She has primary custody of three children. I’m not gonna email her and get mad at her because she pulls the kids out of class to go to the orthodontist. Like you don’t understand how hard it is to get three orthodontist appointments, juggle your own job, their after-school sports, and drive them all over town when you live a state away.”
You know? And those are practical things. I understand because I’m a mom and I have to drive my three kids to three orthodontist appointments, and it’s a disaster. I want to put them in an Uber, but that would actually be illegal.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. We’ll come back to the law practice, but I’d like to switch gears and talk about special needs, a little bit on a personal level, with some of the challenges you’ve faced as a mom, and then beyond for that matter, to the extent that you’re comfortable with it.
You had mentioned in a prior conversation that your son Dalton, who’s 13, has had some challenges. His father, if I remember the story, was a professional bull rider who sadly committed suicide. And as a result, or indirectly, Dalton’s experienced some issues with insomnia, depression and suicidal ideation. I’m wondering, how have you been able to help him overcome some of these challenges?
Marilyn York: That is an accurate statement. His father committed suicide when Dalton was seven. He is 13 currently, but will be 14 this weekend. So it’s been almost seven years since we lost his dad, and to this day, I could not tell you whether his dad had any chemical depression, on top of situational, having been diagnosed with concussion syndrome as a result of his professional bull riding career.
But all of his manifestations appeared as though they were concussion syndrome related, and most people are currently familiar with that concussion syndrome, unfortunately, due to professional athletes having it. It unfortunately can culminate as homicidal suicidal ideation, which his dad was at the end.
It was hugely traumatic, hugely. And my son was too young to know. He didn’t show those signs to my son, but my daughter was his stepdaughter when we were married. He was very close to her. He was very good to her. She is about three years older than my son, and so she was old enough where she knew something was wrong with him, for lack of a better way of saying it at the end. And she refused to visit with him anymore even though he had always taken her. She just said he scared her.
And I didn’t of course force her, and neither did he, fortunately. Nor could he legally, but it’s a separate issue. So my son obviously has a lot of residual emotion about that. To me, the death was as hard as him living away. So prior to him passing, he’d moved away. We got divorced when my son was four.
He left the state, and he moved to various states throughout my son’s minority, and then he moved back to Reno only nine weeks before taking his own life when my son was seven. So for three years my son would travel to see his father whenever we could make that happen. That was as traumatic for my son as the death. Pulling my kid off his dad in the airport and having him scream and bite and kick me and scream, “No, Daddy!” Running through airports chasing him was horribly traumatic.
So I don’t know to this day what to attribute my son’s struggles to, and it doesn’t matter. He absolutely has depression. He’s been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. I had a neuropsychological evaluation done on him, wondering if he had ADHD.
So for those of you listening, major depressive disorder manifests almost identically to ADHD or ADD. He has the same problems: trouble focusing, trouble finishing tasks, disorganization, thoughts of self-harm, thoughts of self-hate. It looks very similar. He has horrible insomnia. And the insomnia, again, is similar with ADD kids sometimes. And so I had him tested because his teachers were saying, “I think he has ADD.
And they were unable to technically diagnose whether in fact he has ADD. To this day, the diagnosis is that he absolutely has major depressive disorder. He may have both, but until we treat the depression, we can’t tell. We’ll have to retest him once we treat the depression.
His intelligence is very high, which is a gift, but it’s also a curse. His IQ is about 146, and so it makes it harder to treat him. He’s smarter than me. It also makes it him harder to raise and harder to keep stimulated, challenged, you know, the things that matter with a child with depression. And so it’s a constant challenge. It’s a constant worry.
In being interviewed with the therapist recently that he went to, she said, “How often do you worry that he hurts himself?” And I said, “Every single time I knock on his door, I think I’m gonna open it and find a dead body. This is part of my PTSD from his father having done this. So it is, it’s a constant struggle. It’s a constant worry.
And you know, I think he’s doing better because of the MeRT [?] and I don’t know what. But it’s always a matter of when…what those of us that live with depression or know people that do. I’ve never had depression other than the year after his father committed suicide. I had situational depression that I’ve since worked through. So I have a hard time relating or understanding how to help. And as you know, that’s difficult as a parent.
I don’t have another parent to help me, and I find myself occasionally getting mad about that. You know, like, where’s your stupid dad? I get mad. I’m like, you were supposed to be here. Like, you understand this? What? You left me with this alone and now I don’t know how to help my baby. So it’s really, really scary, and my heart goes out to parents that suffer with children of any mental health issue. I don’t have answers. I just know that we all want our kids to be well.
So my son is gonna go to boarding school in England in the fall, which is a hugely scary decision for me. It seems more flagrant for me to consider it in light of his challenges, but I also consider him more vulnerable because of his intellect. He’s gay, he’s a theater kid, and he’s super, super good at math and science.
It’s a very hard scholastic combination to provide in a city the size of Reno. We have a really good high school that’s private, and that was a consideration here, but frankly, it’s less expensive to send to the world renowned theater school in England than it is for me to send him locally.
And that school has already called me. They had a huge meeting with me at 6:00 a.m. my time on Zoom, asking me how they could academically, socially, and mentally support my son. They had read his entire neuropsychological evaluation. A psychologist met with me and spent an hour going through all of the ways in which they could support him and all the services they provide.
And my mind was blown. I’ve never seen a school do that in all my years of practicing family law and certainly raising children. And we’ve paid some for some pretty fancy private schools over the years. You know, my eldest son, who’s 25, went to the fancy private school here that was $25,000 a year. Not one time did that school ask me how they could help my kid. In fact, they insulted us as parents pretty much every other day for being too harsh, or too this.
So I’m already really thrilled with the support that it appears the school is going to give him. I’m so excited for the opportunity. There’s nine students per teacher there, so that’s another really cool thing that’s hard to obtain in America.
So there are things to do out there. Unfortunately, all the ways I’ve been able to help him cost money, and that’s not fair. You know, that doesn’t feel fair to families that don’t have the resources. It shouldn’t be like that. So that was my long winded answer, David.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for sharing. Thank you for your transparency. It’s very enlightening, and you’ve expressed things that most parents have expressed, just in summary, which is you want the best for your kids, and you’ll do whatever it takes. And you don’t want to dope them up. You don’t want to medicate them, and sort of dull their senses, right? Because that’s not addressing the root cause in most cases.
Marilyn York: And it causes permanent negative things to their brain, I understand from smarter people than me.
David Hirsch: I’m wondering, still under the banner of special needs, if the work that you do as a men’s rights attorney has included any work in the special needs community as well.
Marilyn York: There’s certainly an overlap in divorce and children with extra needs. Frankly, the divorce causes a lot of emotional issues for kids. Like they’ll end up looking like my kid, because of the divorce, or the parents are such jerks, frankly, that even if they stayed married, these kids don’t do well, you know?
And so we have a huge amount of mental health problems in both the parents and the children. And that is another issue. And then there are beautiful stories too, beautiful stories of parents coming together in divorce because a child gets harmed or develops some condition post divorce, because that happens too. And I have lots of love stories, which I find really cool to see them connect in a way they weren’t able to.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing that they’re not all bad. They’re not all good, but there’s a balance, right? So I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the issues that you see on an ongoing basis. Do you call it father court?
Marilyn York: Family court here. Yeah, it’s called family court. Literally that’s the title of it. It’s a branch of our district court here. And I don’t know in your area if you guys have district court, or they call it superior court, but essentially it’s just under the appellate court level.
There are some states in the United States that have a specific family court. Texas is one of them. Nevada is one of them. California is one of them. It’s unfortunately not true in every state. I wish it were. I think it’s a gift. I think it attracts the right type of personalities to the bench.
It’s not for everyone. You know, you’ll hear lawyers that you meet and they’ll say, “I would never do divorce.” And they’ll say it either out of admiration, because they know what we do is emotionally trying on its best day. Or they say it out of judgment, like we’re just playing pretend law, because what they do is real. I don’t care why they say it, but it’s true. It’s not for everyone.
Similarly, it’s not for every type of judge. It takes a certain disposition, tolerance, interest, high level of compassion and intuition. And so when you have a family court, I find that the judges that it attracts know what they’re getting into, and they choose to run for those departments or ask for those appointments on purpose, because they care, and they want this work done. And families matter. You should have someone that cares.
I find when I go to the general jurisdictions—because here in Nevada, I go to the rural counties, those are what we call general jurisdiction judges and they hear everything—that they are impatient at best with us. “Go out in the hall and work this out, can’t you babies figure it out?” I’m like, “No. Our clients couldn’t figure it out when they were having sex. They can’t now.” Like, “No. Do your job.” It’s crazy how impatient they are. And then it hurts kids, and it hurts adults too.
David Hirsch: Is there an imbalance in these family courts like there is in the general courts that skews toward moms, or not?
Marilyn York: There absolutely is. The laws are getting better. I am thrilled to say in that amount of time I’ve practiced, the laws have substantially improved to help fathers. But their interpretation and their application is still not applied evenly. And some of that is for good reason. I mean, I will fully own the fact that statistically speaking, women are financially worse off seven years after divorce, and men are better off—and our courts know that.
And so do they give higher support awards to women in the same exact factual circumstances they would men? Yes. Is that fair statistically? Probably. But it’s not fair about children. The statistics do not support disproportionate treatment of parents. And currently, as of 2017, the laws of Nevada prefer joint physical custody, and that’s a huge change for both out of wedlock and in wedlock children.
It is a preference in our state now that if someone asks for joint physical custody, the court must give it to them, unless they can find a reason why that child wouldn’t particularly thrive in that environment. I believe California is the same, although I haven’t looked lately. I am licensed there. I just don’t practice currently.
So I do think the laws are improving. I think that’s a benefit. It hurts some cases. I’ve had a few cases where joint custody doesn’t make sense, and it’s almost impossible to get anything else. But that’s just an overreaction to a new law. But it’s still not applied evenly.
I mean, I have a client, for example, who has a horrible criminal record, but it’s more than 10 years old. And he has physically been assaulted by his wife to the point of police arrest intervention. She was charged with a felony because she physically hurt him so badly, three times in six months. And she’s out on bail, and she has joint physical custody.
I’m like, if my man did that, he would never see his children again. Not without supervision, which is too extreme too, by the way, probably. Although she’s really violent. And she’s not on drugs, so she can’t get sober and stop hitting him. She’s this violent, you know? And I’m like, this is absurd. And all the judge said was that she didn’t hit the kids.
I’m like, it doesn’t matter. They’re tiny by the way. The kids are one and two years old. I hope she doesn’t hit her kids that hard yet. That doesn’t tell me anything. But she beats their dad in front of them. It’s horrible. And he won’t defend himself because his criminal record will put him in prison for life if he even gets a sniff of another crime.
I mean, those are the kind of cases. And the statistics show us unequivocally that children have to have doubts in their lives on a substantial basis to have any shot at doing well in life. I mean, that’s the reality—that dads are absolutely necessary. As are moms. But no one denies that moms are necessary. That’s why it’s frustrating.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. You touched on another issue, at least tangentially, and it has to do with paternity, or I should say the lack of paternity that’s taking place today. And I’m wondering, how does that look from your perspective?
Marilyn York: So 50% of children are born out of wedlock every year now. Fifty percent. And so that’s fine, I mean, that’s the reality we live in. But again, until 2017, it was the assumption of the statutes in Nevada, and I believe California as well until recently, that a child born out of wedlock is in the primary care of their mother, period, unless and until the court orders otherwise.
So that gave women a distinct advantage, and it put men at such a disadvantage that I have a hundred stories of men not even being allowed to meet their child when born out of wedlock, until I go through court, prove paternity, ask to have them added to the birth certificate, and then get court ordered visitation. And it takes me up to six months, because I legally can’t even file a lawsuit for paternity until there is a live born child.
And so this puts children in the womb in harm, because in these two states, you can file for divorce if someone’s pregnant and married, and ask the court, “Hey, my wife’s using methamphetamine, and she’s pregnant with our child. Will you court order her to go to rehab and stop using?” And they will.
But in a paternity case, there is no legal action you may file until a live born child. So that baby in the womb is at risk every day until it’s born alive and now hooked on meth or something, as just one example. And then it takes me six months to do anything. By then the child’s named and sometimes named after some random father. Sometimes she puts the wrong dad on the birth certificate, and then presumptively, that’s the dad, legally.
I actually had the fake dad put on the birth certificate, and get custody in court, when the court knew it wasn’t the dad. I had to go to Idaho and win in Idaho to get the kid back for Nevada, just because the child was born in Idaho. Did I even have that chance? Otherwise, that child would, to this day still live with some fake dad that’s literally infertile.
I’m like, how’s that not fraud? He knows he’s infertile. She knows he’s infertile. They just put his name on a birth certificate, and they kidnap my client’s child. And you sanction it through a court? And biology doesn’t matter to this judge. What do you mean it doesn’t matter? Like, you kidnapped my client’s kid.
I mean, it was insane. And the judge threatened to put me in jail. I mean, it was insane. And this was not very many years ago. So the laws in the area of paternity still need a lot of work. It’s really traumatic what happens. There’s a high, high percentage of paternity fraud in the world. Hospitals estimate as much as 30%. I think that’s probably high—I hope.
But there are a lot of married men walking around this earth thinking that their kids are their kids, and they are not. And the only person that can know is the mother. And hopefully we know. But you know, there’s some instances where women have been drugged or intoxicated and don’t know. But it’s still not okay that dads don’t know who their kids are and that kids don’t know who their dads are, and that kids are being kidnapped and judicially sanctioned for kidnapping without any recourse.
It’s not okay. You can’t kidnap a kid known. It’s a felony. But you can do paternity fraud, and there’s no recourse. I’m like, why is that not a felony? Why can’t I sue? I did sue a woman in small claims court in anger for naming my client the dad, and my client moved back from Japan and believed this to be his child, and found out eight months later it’s not. She had to actually paternity test eight dads to figure it out.
I’m like, okay, good job Montel Williams guest, you know? But I sued her for his attorney’s fees, because once we found out it wasn’t his kid, they dismissed the paternity case. I can’t even sue her in that case. I had to take her to small claims court, but I did because I was that mad, and we won.
It was a small, pathetic victory, but it was just…that client deserved it. It was too traumatic. She wouldn’t even let him say goodbye to his fake child that he’d been raising for eight months. It was awful.
David Hirsch: Well, from what you said, it’s more the principle of the matter, it’s not the money involved.
Marilyn York: Yeah, absolutely. And trauma to this poor baby that had this great guy. I mean, the guy’s great. Of course she wanted him to be that. He’s a great guy. I wish it was his too. But the trauma…
David Hirsch: I’m wondering, if you’ve had any experience with prenups.
Marilyn York: I’ve not only had experience, I’ve drafted several of my own, as you can imagine, David. So we deal with prenups quite often. I have a lot of experience with them. One of the things I hear a lot from people is they’re not worth doing. Nobody enforces them.
I don’t know where that myth comes from. They’re quite readily enforced. It is important to hire a family law specialist, in my opinion, to do a prenup. Those of us that litigate them know how to write them. Unfortunately I see state attorneys write them a lot, and they do a decent job, but unless you litigate a prenup, you don’t know what makes penetrable. And so that’s what you want to know.
Whenever I have a case where we litigate a prenup, or I see a Supreme Court case come out, I rewrite my form. And so you want it tight, because they’re not fun. I always say, prenups are not foreplay. If you want to piss off your future spouse, do a prenup.
It’s really hard to do a pre-up emotionally with someone that you’re in complete love with. I mean, that’s the best part of marriage is the pre-marriage. Let’s be honest. And telling them what it looks like in the event it doesn’t work out is not a fun conversation. It’s a great conversation. You will absolutely see A) the true colors of the person you’re marrying, and B) who’s really in charge of their life.
Because I assure you, if there’s an overbearing father or mother-in-law, that’s where you find out, “well, my mom said I have to do this prenup, or she’s not gonna leave me any money.” Or, it’s good to know who’s in charge of your real finances. My dad certainly is. He likes to put his opinion in there.
So yeah, I have a lot of experience and I do generally find that courts try to uphold prenups, all things considered, and so they are worth doing. You can actually do as much or as little as you want in a prenup, for the most part. There’s what’s called a Universal Prenuptial Agreement Act that’s nationwide throughout the entire United States.
So when I say that it’s true for every state, there are a few limitations in each state about how much you can affect alimony. You can’t cap child support. You can’t talk about child custody in the agreement and have it matter, because best interests always prevail.
But for the most part, you can literally undo the effects of community property, for example. I do in my prenups, I literally undo the effects of my marriage. So my marriage effectually is a tax benefit and a party.
David Hirsch: Well, the reason I ask is that I don’t view the concept of a prenup to be overly negative or manipulative. But if there are significant assets involved, and you’re talking about high net worth, or to high net worth investors…not investors, individuals, sorry. I slipped as an advisor, I think of them as investors.
But you know, if you think about high net worth, ultra high net worth families, it just gets things out on the table, I think, like you said, so that it’s in plain view. And you know, I think there’s something to be said, something positive to be said, about discussing these things and just being black and white about them. And they don’t have to be heavy handed or manipulative.
Marilyn York: They don’t have to be. And one of the basic requirements of a prenup is full disclosure, which most people don’t do when they go into marriage. Which is horrible. They want to know why their marriage falls apart. You’re like, you literally never had a conversation about the fact that she doesn’t want kids, and you do? You know, that’ll come up in a prenup discussion because we put paternity plan in them, for example.
And one of the places I see them be most beneficial is in second marriages or later-in-life marriages. If you have children from a prior relationship, they’re very helpful in aligning your property such that you can leave some portion or all of your property to your own heirs and not his heirs, or vice versa. So that’s a place where they make a lot of sense.
They also make a lot of sense when you’re a business owner as opposed to an employee because it’s just very complicated then. And so this at least specifically delineates the expectations. And you know, then you’re comfortable. Because people sometimes seek divorce out of fear. And if you had a prenup that said in the event of a divorce you get $2 million, you wouldn’t think every time he goes to the store or spends too much that you’re not secure.
So they provide a level of financial and emotional security, and knowing, like you said. And hopefully you find out the person you’re marrying is not heavy handed and manipulative, that they really care about you and they want you to be well. And when you’re going into a marriage, trust me, they’ll be nicer to you then, than they will if you get divorced—because they hate you at divorce.
So please, let’s negotiate how much money I get while you love me. Of course, we’re mostly broke when we go into prenups, so then it’s the hope for being rich later, you know? And so that’s the other thing, the upside’s a guess sometimes. So anyway, I think they’re worth considering, particularly, like you said, in high net worth, in trust fund baby situations, where you have someone that has an inheritance and that’s the substantial wealth, and in cases where there are children from different relationships. Those are the cases that make the most sense.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for pointing that out. I’m thinking about advice now and I’m looking for advice in two categories. One, what are the most important takeaways you can share with dads to A) avoid divorce, and then B) make the most of the situation afterwards?
Marilyn York: So avoiding divorce is the same for men and women. Literally do the work. Like people come in here, and I ask them, when’s the last time you made any actual active effort to make your partner happy, find out what they needed, find out how satisfied they are in your marriage, or how you can make adjustments to make sure they’re more satisfied?
The answer is usually a straight zero if they’re being honest. If we went to work every day and did nothing, we’d be fired within one week. But we’re in a 25 year marriage, and we’ve done nothing in 15, and we’re shocked that she slept with a personal trainer. Oh my God. God bless her. You know?
And so it is mutual. This isn’t picking on one side or the other. So make the effort. There are really great programs out there. I frankly am not a huge proponent of marriage counseling, even though I, wish them well and I hope, I’m glad marriage counselors exist. I’ve done plenty of it. I frankly think that like save the marriage programs are a lot more effective.
And there’s a book that comes with a workbook called Getting the Love You Want. It’s actually from the seventies. It’s a PhD couple. It’s brilliant. It’s beautifully done. It gives you a really cool workbook that step-by-step teaches you how to connect, how to reconnect, how to talk to one another, how to empathize. It’s beautiful, and it’s so different than any marriage therapy I ever did.
Marriage Encounter. It’s done through most churches, frankly, and I’m not religious, but I love Marriage Encounter. I did the weekend program. I thought it was really enlightening. I actually learned I should divorce my husband, which isn’t the point of it, but it was real.
It’s like, if you might as well find out in a hurry—that was my first husband—and it was correct. I should not have married him. But I really liked the format. I thought it was really intense and quick. It’s a long weekend, and it’s worth its weight in gold.
So I encourage people to actually make a valid effort to heal their childhood wounds and not continue, because we’ll just keep marrying the wrong guy. I’m proof positive with that in case you didn’t know. Like I’m on the fourth husband, brilliance. So that’s my good advice on the front end.
If you should find yourself in a divorce, my best advice is to take the high road. Literally. I know it’s hard, I know it hurts, but as a man, you are going to be under bigger scrutiny than you are as a woman. Is it fair? No. But you are the physically dominant sex. You are usually financially making more money than her. And so all of your actions will be perceived as more threatening than hers. So you have to stay on the high road. Don’t engage.
Make it a game. I did. I mean, I just cracked up. When I get these horrible texts from my ex-husband, I’d just write, “I’m so sorry you feel that way. Do you want to talk to the kids?” And then he’d be like, “Oh, I’ll f’ing call when I f’ing can.” And I’d write, “That’d be awesome.” Like, I literally look like an idiot. But it was like funny to me, because if a judge read my text, they’d think, “Maybe she’s on antidepressants. She’s too cool.”
But so what? And then he quit. He’d find someone else to punch, because it’s not fun for the person trying to get a reaction if you don’t engage. And always know…like pretend a judge is reading your text. Pretend your mom’s reading it. Write it as though it’s gonna be used against you in court, because it’s gonna be used against you in court.
The other thing is do the same thing to the other side. If someone’s mistreating you, just say, “You know, I’m gonna use these texts in court. Please stop talking to me this way.” Or videotape them. Welcome to 2021. If someone’s screaming at you or screaming at your kids, just say, “I’m gonna videotape you. My intention is to document your behavior and to get you to quit.”
You know, most people will quit when they’re videotaped. That’s what you really want, is to have them stop. And those that won’t really have a problem. And then you can use the documentation. But do not engage. It will not help. It never helps. It just escalates. It doesn’t help. Walk away. It’ll feel good in the end.
It’s hard in the moment because it feels really good. Write the email and then burn it. Don’t send it. Those sort of practices, they matter. And get support for yourself, because divorce is hugely traumatic. It’s one of the most stressful events you can go through in your life.
So find a men’s group to support you. It’s really important to have people of the same gender support you. Find a church group, find a counselor. Call your sister. It’s really important to take care of your own needs. Men are unfortunately taught socially not to have emotion, and that’s not fair. It’s not real, and it’s not healthy.
And then you guys will end up blowing up or becoming drunks. You know, that’s the last thing you need is to depend on substances to dull the pain. Don’t listen to your doctor. Every doctor I know in divorce loves to prescribe anti-anxiety and a sleep aid. You’ll lose your kids because you’ll walk around sedated.
Then you become an addict because they’re all addictive. I mean, I wish doctors would just be a lot more cautious about that. It never helps the person or the cases. If you truly can’t function. I understand, but it’s real. I’ve seen so many sad stories come out of doctors thinking they’re helping. It’s just a band-aid.
So those are my quick advices. And see your kids. If you want to know where to put your effort in, put your effort in seeing your kids. Even when it’s hard, they need their dads. I can’t make that point hard enough.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. I’m wondering if there’s anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up.
Marilyn York: Just that I help fathers because fathers need to be in kids’ lives. I do what I do every day because I love children, and I know that children need both parents. We don’t hate women. My commercials might look like I do. I’m trying to get men to pay attention so that they know to hire good counsel.
But we don’t take children from good moms. That isn’t why we’re here, and that’s not what courts do. We just do what we do to advocate that children need both parents when they’re good parents. That’s real. That’s a real cause. And you know, feminists out there like to attack me as though I’m not a feminist. That’s not true at all. You know, if you want to talk about equality, you need to talk about men too.
It’s just we’re not used to hearing that men are underdogs, and they are in family court—and children are the ones suffering. So if we can deal with that reality and promote equality across the board, everyone wins. Moms win, because we actually have help. Kids win because they have both parents. You know, this is not about oppressing good moms at all.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well stated. Thank you. I also wanted to ask about the Nevada Youth Empowerment Network, because I know this is a pet project of yours.
Marilyn York: Yeah. NYEP, we call it. The Nevada Youth Empowerment Project is a homeless girls program for 18 to 24 year old girls. We help girls get out of poverty and homelessness. They’re literally living on the street or aged off foster girls. We house about 15 girls in our main house, and then we have an affordable housing site where they can go to as graduates and live on a subsidized rent. It’s a really great program. It’s confusing to people, again, that I represent men and I run a female charity.
Do you know that only 2% of giving in America is given to female charities that benefit females? It makes no sense. We’re 50% of the population and that 2% of giving only goes to reproductive health. So it’s really helping babies, not women. It’s horrible that that is the case.
And we are hugely disadvantaged. Females are disadvantaged, just like males and family court. We’re disadvantaged in other ways. And so I help underdogs. That’s what I do. And so these are the two areas I choose to focus on, and it’s really rewarding every day.
David Hirsch: Well, I admire your commitment in both those areas. I’m wondering, if somebody wants to learn more about the Nevada Youth Empowerment Project, your work, or to contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Marilyn York: So I have a website for me. It’s just marilynyork.com. And we have a website for NYEP and that’s nyep.org, or.com. I believe we have both. So either one is a great place. On the web is the best place to learn. Thank you so much. I really appreciate this.
David Hirsch: We’ll make sure to include both those and some of the things like your TEDx talk in the show notes, so it’ll make it as easy as possible for people to follow up with those resources.
Marilyn, I just want to say thank you for your time and many insights. As a reminder, Marilyn is just one of the individuals who’s part of the Special Father’s Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support.
Marilyn. Thanks again.
Marilyn York: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast presented by the Special Fathers Network. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers. Go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad. Also, please be sure to register for the Special Fathers Network biweekly Zoom calls held on the first and third Tuesdays of every month.
Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story, or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stcenturydads.org.
Tom Couch: The Dad to Dad podcast was produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at horizontherapeutics.com.