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Meredith Baxter Took Years to Relate with Her Kids’ Father after Custody Battle Made Her Feel ‘Demeaned'

Junie Sihlangu
Sep 03, 2022
10:20 A.M.
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After Meredith Baxter's second marriage failed, she and her ex-husband got into a terrible custody battle over their three children. The actress resented him so much that she didn't even want him attending their daughter's special life events.

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"Family Ties" actress Meredith Baxter was married four times and shared five children with two of her ex-husbands. In her 2011 book "Untied," she alleged that her second husband, David Birney, hadn't treated her well.

She claimed he emotionally and physically abused her over their 16-year marriage. The former couple, who once co-starred in the 1970s "Bridget Loves Birney," divorced in 1989, and David denied her allegations.

Tina Yothers, Brian Bonsall, Michael Gross, Meredith Baxter Birney, Michael J. Fox, and Justine Bateman in a promotional portrait for "Family Ties," circa 1989 | Source: Getty Images

Tina Yothers, Brian Bonsall, Michael Gross, Meredith Baxter Birney, Michael J. Fox, and Justine Bateman in a promotional portrait for "Family Ties," circa 1989 | Source: Getty Images

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During a past "Oprah" appearance, Baxter explained how she had grown up as a "conventional girl." She was raised by a mother who got married, and she automatically thought that was the path she was also supposed to take.

The actress revealed to Oprah Winfrey that it took years after the divorce to find her life's path. The most life-changing moment finally happened in 2002 when she first realized she was a lesbian.

Meredith Baxter and her partner Nancy Locke at the "Outfest VIP Women's Soiree" on June 24, 2012, in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Meredith Baxter and her partner Nancy Locke at the "Outfest VIP Women's Soiree" on June 24, 2012, in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

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However, she wasn't afraid and wasn't confused by the discovery. Instead, the realization seemed to revitalize Baxter in a way she hadn't felt before, as if she was looking at the world through rosy glasses, with the star stating:

"I felt alive in way I had not experienced, and life was rife with possibilities. OK, I'm ready."

HOW MEREDITH WAS AFFECTED BY HER SECOND MARRIAGE

After Baxter and David's divorce, the pair spent eight years embroiled in a custody battle. Her ex-husband claimed that his former wife "conducted a relentless and brutal assault" for the custody of their three children.

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Meredith Baxter and David Birney pose for a portrait circa 1985, in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Meredith Baxter and David Birney pose for a portrait circa 1985, in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

The former couple continued to share custody of their children until the brood went to college. In 2011, the actress wrote a piece for the Huff Post where she confessed how she failed her children because of how hurt she was by her ex-husband, saying:

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"I was not a gay divorcee. No, that wasn't to happen for many years down the road. I was a very unhappy, self-centered divorcee..."

Meredith Baxter and son Peter Birney at Milken Family Foundation Hosts Pre-Opening Night Performance of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on July 31, 1990, in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

Meredith Baxter and son Peter Birney at Milken Family Foundation Hosts Pre-Opening Night Performance of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on July 31, 1990, in Los Angeles, California | Source: Getty Images

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The actress confessed to "...resorting to all the worst tactics therapists warn against using the children as pawns, bad-mouthing the other parent, and terminal self-pity." Baxter recalled an incident with one of their children in the 1990s.

After their daughter graduated from high school, she had a dinner party in her honor which David was set to attend, so the actress refused to be present to avoid her ex. At the time, the pair were two years into their divorce and custody battle, however:

"I felt demeaned and powerless; I brought all my agony and vitriol to her commencement celebration."

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Baxter demanded that their daughter has another dinner with her to show the star support because she felt she was the victim. The actress admitted that she was focused on the drama and put her children in the middle of it, forgetting they hadn't divorced their father.

The star struggled with the divorce and custody battle, and she and her ex used their children as pawns. The children saw therapists appointed by the court while their parents' lawyers sent each other "scathing" letters.

Meredith Baxter as Bridget Fitzgerald Steinberg and David Birney as Bernie Steinberg on "Bridget Loves Bernie" in 1972 | Source: Getty Images

Meredith Baxter as Bridget Fitzgerald Steinberg and David Birney as Bernie Steinberg on "Bridget Loves Bernie" in 1972 | Source: Getty Images

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Baxter had to deal with the fact that if she got sole custody of the children, they wouldn't get a chance to know and understand their father. Being co-parents meant the star and David had no choice but to make things work for their children.

MEREDITH AND DAVID FORCED TO MEET AGAIN AT THEIR DAUGHTER'S WEDDING

Years after Baxter's daughter graduated from high school; she was now an adult and ready to get married. The star's daughter's wedding was held at a historic church in Martha's Vineyard.

Meredith Baxter and Mollie Birney at the Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala dinner on March 22, 2014, in California | Source: Getty Images

Meredith Baxter and Mollie Birney at the Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala dinner on March 22, 2014, in California | Source: Getty Images

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The actress saw the event as her chance to make amends to her child. The wedding's dinner reception was hosted at the romantic Lambert's Cove Inn, where some of the event guests stayed.

Baxter's stepfather had a house in Edgartown, a short distance from the wedding venue. The star arranged for herself, her daughter, the groom, the younger children, and the bridesmaids.

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David and his girlfriend were left out of the "inner circle" as they had to stay at Lambert's Cove. It was mentioned how the star's ex-husband was marginalized, but Baxter said there wasn't room for David at the inn with all five of her children present.

She [Meredith Baxter] changed her "angry mom" routine because she wanted her daughter to have a happy father [David Birney].

Meredith Baxter and David Birney at the National Drug Awareness Chaim Benefit Convention on April 26, 1982, in Century City, California | Source: Getty Images

Meredith Baxter and David Birney at the National Drug Awareness Chaim Benefit Convention on April 26, 1982, in Century City, California | Source: Getty Images

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The actress's daughter was inundated with the pressures and anxiety of managing her special day, and Baxter didn't want her stressing about appeasing David. No one wanted to deal with the criticism that the bride's father would give if he became unhappy, with the star stating:

"I was afraid she would be sagging under the kind of intimidation that had so hampered my married years and that I, too, in my self-indulgence, had in the past inflicted on her."

Meredith Baxter and David Birney at the National Drug Awareness Chaim Benefit Convention on April 26, 1982, in Century City, California | Source: Getty Images

Meredith Baxter and David Birney at the National Drug Awareness Chaim Benefit Convention on April 26, 1982, in Century City, California | Source: Getty Images

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However, it was clear David felt excluded from the wedding party, so his ex-wife moved to the inn to equalize things and to keep him happy. Unlike the past incidences, Baxter welcomed him and his girlfriend and suggested they work together on a reception activity.

The trio drove together to the wedding rehearsal, and David and his ex-wife planned how they would walk the daughter down the aisle as a unit. The star included her ex in seating arrangements and other things to make him feel included.

Meredith Baxter at the 42nd Annual Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards on April 24, 2015, in Universal City, California | Source: Getty Images

Meredith Baxter at the 42nd Annual Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards on April 24, 2015, in Universal City, California | Source: Getty Images

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She changed her "angry mom" routine because she wanted her daughter to have a happy father. All went well, and Baxter felt like a grown-up and liked that version of herself better.

She and her ex enjoyed the wedding, and when it came to walking their daughter down the aisle, the actress changed the plan by holding back. Instead, David got to escort their daughter by himself.

The rest of the ceremony went off seamlessly, and Baxter cried a lot. She recalled the special day as "a sensational" one and that it was the only thing that mattered to her.

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