Fleishman is in Trouble is the newest divorce centered entertainment and it’s very entertaining! Unlike A Marriage Story and many other tales we see on the big and little screens, Fleishman is in Trouble tells the story post-divorce with flashbacks of how Dr. Fleishman (not to be confused for Mr.) ended up where he is, which is divorced from his theater talent executive wife and suddenly with sole caretaking of his two children.

Without giving away any major spoilers (okay, there will be spoilers so you can move on if you wish to avoid), the show starts with Dr. Fleishman’s wife suddenly becoming absent without a word other than that she needed time at a yoga retreat. When she fails to return or respond in any way, Dr. Fleishman goes through what many of us do when a loved one is missing – think the worst, ponder what could be happening, until he realizes this is just her now.

So, what does this mean for him? He has a son and a daughter home in NYC on their summer break from school, perturbed that they cannot be in the Hamptons at the second home their mother kept in the divorce, and a medical career to manage.

Thus far, here is my post-judgment (post-divorce) advice to Dr. Fleishman, assuming he wants to remain primary caretaker of their children given his ex-wife’s sudden abandonment:

  1. Do not act. Do not run to court. Do not demand a ‘lawyer letter’. We see this general advice in a brief attorney-client meeting and I agree. Let’s expand. Running to court or having your attorney send a letter could bring Ms. Fleishman out of the woodwork. Depending on the length of her absence, and whatever excuse she will make up, this could negate the impact of her absence and cause things to remain as they are or perhaps rebuild back to what they were on a relatively quick basis. After all, their children still want to be with their mother if possible. Staying silent, however, will extend the period of Ms. Fleishman’s abandonment until she decides to show up again. That is when the attorney or court should be Dr. Fleishman’s first step. Until then, our general saying – When you are winning, the best advice is to be quiet.
  2. Keep a journal. Dr. Fleishman should keep notes of each day that he attempted to contact Ms. Fleishman and her response or lack thereof. He should retain the messages on his phone, iCloud or another trustworthy electronic storage device. If he chose to make a call, then he should screenshot the call log.
  3. Note the milestones. In this show, since Ms. Fleishman’s abandonment, their son went to sleepaway camp for the first time, their daughter exhibited some teenage girl behavior that caused her to leave camp and which she may feel more comfortable discussing with her mother and, before we know it, school may be here. Dr. Fleishman should note each of these critical moments that Ms. Fleishman missed out on. They are moments that shape children and she was not present.
  4. Temper expectations. There is a scene in which Dr. Fleishman is honest with his children about the fact that their mother is not returning any time soon. He does not disparage her despite, what I imagine is a strong desire to do so. He does not raise things he has discovered about her since she disappeared. He simply lets them know that they will be with him for the time being. This is absolutely the right approach. In the event that Ms. Fleishman returns and demands to return the custodial arrangement to what it was, and Dr. Fleishman disagrees, chances are an expert will be involved. No matter the circumstances, you never want to be seen as an ‘alienator’. Personal interests aside, it’s harmful for children to hear ‘adult’ things about their other parent regardless of the situation. While it may be cathartic for the other parent, it’s damaging to children and children do not forget.
  5. Go about your day. This is the new reality. You cannot force a parent to be a parent. But you can be the best parent for your child and that seems to be Dr. Fleishman’s focus now.

The show has also brought to light some common misconceptions, such as:

  1. Our laws (custody, alimony, equitable distribution, child support), are gender neutral. Many people assume that mothers have more parenting time, receive support, or otherwise favorable outcomes in divorce cases. We know from Kramer v. Kramer that this is a misconception, and here we are again. I, and I am sure many of my colleagues, have had cases involving mothers who wanted less parenting time or who were more absent from the children’s everyday lives than their father. The title of a parent can be interchangeable in that way, even though it may seem shocking to a general audience. In fact, I would be interested to know if the show would have the same impact if Ms. Fleishman was dealing with Dr. Fleishman’s abandonment (and potential affair, business/societal perspectives, and so on),
  2. Transferring title to a piece of real estate really means it’s transferred. In one episode, trying to appease his children, Dr. Fleishman takes them to the Hamptons and he goes into the house at one point without them, choosing to go into the pool. He gets out of the water with police around the pool, there because of a trespassing call made. He was, in fact, trespassing. While it may seem like second nature to drive to a marital home – primary, vacation or otherwise – if the house is transferred to one spouse, then it’s theirs without question and you are no longer able to come and go without their consent, like anyone else. Seems harsh but this is a reality.

Finally, for a fun one, getting a puppy during or post-divorce is not a novel idea. Intact families often try to make their children happy with a puppy and so do separated parents. This can sometimes be a problem when the parent’s intent is to not want their child to go to the other parent because they are so attached to the dog, but that’s not the implicit intent here and often. There is a reason for pet therapy. Sometimes, dogs will even travel with the children for parenting time. So, if you have been waiting to get a dog but it wouldn’t have worked in your marriage that has since come to an end, then there may be no time like the present.

I will continue to provide insight on the intricacies of divorce/custody issues raised by the show. I am not an authorized entertainment reviewer, but I also give it two thumbs up!


Lindsay A. Heller is a partner in the firm’s Family Law practice, based in its Morristown, NJ office. You can reach Lindsay at 973.548.3318 or lheller@foxrothschild.com.