This is a difficult post for me to write, but I think it is important to tell the whole ugly story of the family court. Yesterday, I re-posted an article about the importance of legal custody. If you have read my blog for a while you will know that I had my own eight year divorce and custody battle in which I fought for my rights, and for my story to be told, after going through divorce from an abusive, alcoholic, con artist. I have often said that winning is not really winning in family court. The most that you can hope for is to come through it a better, stronger person, with your sanity and your children intact. Regardless of everything that has happened to me and everything I have seen done to other people through the system, good people who are destroyed in so many ways, I still believe that in a high conflict case, sole custody is the only possibility for peace. I also believe that you have to be above board, staying honest and focused on what your ultimate goal is. Now I am going to tell you the end of the story, but in reality, it may only be the beginning.
I recently posted about my recent court hearing, eluding to a sudden change to my situation. I received the decision yesterday and as per usual in the family court system, truth is not sought, facts are not considered and laws are not followed.
A couple of months ago, my son and I had an argument about the state of not only his bedroom, but the family room. For those who have followed me in the past couple of years, you know that my life is very full and I keep quite busy so I prefer that my house stay somewhat orderly. It helps me be organized and also to be able to follow my passions for helping people. To make a long story short, I had cleaned the family room recently and within a few days my son messed it up again. Plus, his room was a mess of dirty dishes and fruit flies all over the basement because of him leaving pitchers of juice around. It was a mess. I asked him nicely for a few weeks to clean it up and as tempted as I was to just do it myself, I knew that he had to clean up his own mess, after all, he is 17. He kept telling me, “I will.” and then proceed to ignore the mess again.
The last few days my son was in my home, I was more persistent. I had a very busy schedule that week and it really irritated me that he just refused to help. “I work” he said. And did he think that I did not? Anyway, finally one day I had just had it and I yelled at him. I rarely get to that level with my kids. I have not had to. They usually listen and don’t have to be asked to help out and they both listen to reason. So this day, my son and I had an argument. He decided that he would rather go to his dads’ house than clean his room. His dad, who has hit him and even thrown him across the room. His dad, who admitted in his deposition, abuse to my son, and to the girlfriend he was with at the time. My oldest son and I tried to tell him that in the amount of time he spent packing his things, that he could have actually been cleaning his room. It didn’t do any good and so what do you do with a 17 year old, but let him go.
My son has a chronic medical condition and had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for just a couple of days later. Not wanting to interfere with that appointment, I allowed my ex to take him. My ex, the con artist. After the appointment, I text messaged my ex to tell him that I hoped he would back me up and tell our son to clean his room. The dad informed me that the teen was living with him now and so it was not a problem. I informed him that was not OK with me. I called the clinic to see if the dad had changed the demographics in the system. He had. I informed them that he did not have the right to do that and they had the custody order on file showing that I had sole physical and legal custody. The clinic agreed they would change the address, etc., back to mine, and note in the computer that it could not be changed. I emailed the school to see if my son’s information had been changed there. It had been. They changed it back and also reviewed the court order regarding custody and told me that they would not change it. Then things got a little weird.
I went through some email and text exchanges with the dad, but it was clear he was not going to allow me to have my child or to see my child. I informed him that it was not OK and that either my son and I negotiate a return date or I would pick one and then would pursue the violation of my rights, if my son was not turned over. Still, I thought my options were slim and I would just leave it alone for a bit. Then after a couple of weeks, I decided that I had had enough of the nonsense and emailed both my ex and my son to tell them I was coming to pick him up at 8:00 that night. I did go, my older son went with me, and when they did not come out, I called the police. Now, I am well aware of the fact that the police will not help, but I thought that they would tell my ex that he was violating the law. I thought they would see that I had sole custody and that the dad’s visitation was not on that night of the week and I had hoped if nothing else, I would be able to arrange a chance to talk to my son, set up a counseling appointment or mediation session or something because even if the boy was going to stay there, I never planned that I would never see my son again. Of course, the police were very mean to me. They told my ex that he could do anything he wanted and no one cared about that law. It was not enforceable. So I went home and knew that my ex would never allow me access to my son. Now you may say that a 17 year old will do what he wants and his parent cannot control him, but you have never seen my ex in action. I have. I lived that nightmare. My son should have known, but he seems to have forgotten. I have a good friend who is an attorney. She told me that I might want to consider taking it to court, but I thought it would be a waste of time since my son is 17.
A few nights later my son called me in the middle of the night, one of the few rare times that he has called me since he went to his dad’s. He told me that he had to go to the doctor again. I told him I would take him. I thought that him reaching out to me was very telling. It was also very telling that my son has only felt comfortable to call me 3 times in two months, twice on mother’s day, when he was at work, away from his dad, and this time, in the middle of the night, when his dad was asleep. Since he needed to have a follow up appointment at the doctor, the next day I called to make an appointment. A short while after making the appointment, the clinic called. When I answered, I was told that this woman was an attorney for the clinic. She went on to ask if I had made an appointment, I said that I had. She informed me that she was canceling that appointment. I was shocked. I informed her that I had sole custody. She said she was aware of that, had the court order right in front of her, but she
was going to allow the father to bring our son to his appointments. We had a very heated exchange. After this, I called my friend and we decided that I would file a motion for an emergency hearing to have my custody rights enforced and have my ex held in contempt of court.
I was not sure if the court would actually hear the case or care about a 17 year old, but I had hoped they cared about upholding laws. That is supposed to be their role. Besides, the police told me they could not uphold the MN statute 609.26 and if I wanted assistance I would have to go to family court. Now remember, a trip to family court, to me, is about as much fun as being thrown into a pit of snakes, scorpions or spiders and the snakes, spiders and scorpions would show you more mercy. Still, I wanted to believe that because I had proven my case to them in 2006 and they did the right thing, that they would help me just one more time. Of course, I could not have been more wrong.
Because I filed a motion, my ex filed for sole custody. It seems absurd that someone proven to be abusive and an alcoholic would have the cojones to file for custody, but like I said earlier, you have not met my ex. Nuttier than a fruit cake, dumb as a post, but sly as a fox, especially if he has a chance to try and make people feel sorry for him! There were several loony things in his motion, but apparently, that must have made the judge pity this poor dumb fool. He even accused me of dating the judge because the judge who signed the 2006 order has the same first and last name as my boyfriend. Crazy!
A court hearing (with a different judge than the signing judge from 2006) was scheduled within 2 weeks! We had a 10 minute court hearing which was conducted very strangely. The judge informed me that he didn’t want to do anything. He also told me that custody does not matter, not surprising since I recently listened to parenting consultant trainers and attorneys discussing how custody was just a word and people “get so stuck on it”. The judge also told me cannot enforce any laws. I am not really sure what that judge thinks he is there to do with his over-bloated salary, paid for with my tax dollars, but apparently, he needs a rather large salary cut in these tough times for our nation. I told the judge that I had not been able to see my son for almost 2 months. He did not seem to care. I asked him how he thought I’d be able to trust an agreement with this person who I knew would not follow it. I am supposed to trust someone who lies and manipulates? The judge said I had probably lied and manipulated, too. Why would I lie and manipulate to not see my son? Anyway, it did not go well. Then the judge sent us into the hall to make some kind of our own agreement about what we would do. If that was what he wanted, he should have sent us to mediation for God’s sake! As a mediator, I find it rather appalling that if the judge didn’t want to act, he would not send us away to mediate. As soon as my ex was aware that I was never going to give him custody, he stormed off in a huff. My lawyer was shocked at how angry he got. His face turned all red, he stomped back into the court room to try to get the judge, who had already gone back into chambers after his long, hard day of destroying lives, you know, from 9AM-3PM. I am being sarcastic, I know. I’ll behave.
Another fun fact, when I went for sole custody, the process took over a year and tens of thousands of dollars. My son was a patient at that same clinic mentioned above and he used to tell the staff that his dad hit him, and other things like that, and that he was afraid of his dad, but given all that, they were not going to lift a finger to help us. I was going to have to subpoena the doctor if I wanted his testimony. Instead, my attorney and I decided we did not need him. We had enough from the medical records. I won sole custody without their help. For my ex to win custody now, the clinic went out of their way to write glowing letters on behalf of my ex. They also refused to give me any medical records for the hearing. Even though I took my son to the doctor there starting when he was diagnosed with this chronic medical condition at age nine, and they know me there, apparently if there is an attorney on staff and you get upset about her violating your parental rights, and call her choice names, they forget all the things that you did to help your child with their chronic illness and they turn on you. Sad, but true.
So the court order came yesterday and my ex was given temporary sole physical custody and the legal custody was changed to joint, again. He breaks laws, he violates court orders, but I get punished, because I told my son to clean up after himself. Joint custody is against my convictions so, whatever. The sole physical is based on me getting parenting time, which is not going to be allowed. No one will do anything at all about it so, that is it. Now this young man I raised has already turned into someone unrecognizable and will no doubt butt heads with his abusive Dad at some point. I will not be able to help him unless he contacts me. Lost in the equation, in everyone’s little minds, except mine, was the harm to the relationship between the brothers. The dad hasn’t even given a thought to what this is doing to our older son. Well, why would he? Life has always been all about him.
So, what now? If you think that I am going to stop what I am doing, you are wrong. I will continue to help others. I have been working on setting up some support groups at my church and that should be worked out by next month. I will announce that when the time comes. These recent events have affirmed for me that I do not want to be an attorney. After my experience with the police treating me as if I were the one who was breaking laws by trying to have a relationship with my son, I considered going to law school. I know now though that I cannot support a system that sets out to destroy families and children in that way. Not to mention that I would find it absolutely disgusting to watch judges fail to act, day in and day out. I am leaning toward getting my masters in psychology so that I can be a licensed therapist, but do want about a year break before I attempt that. I will move forward with my new role as a parent consultant for Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota ( I know, the irony), where hopefully, I can open eyes about the family court system. Most importantly, I will help all of you, as much as possible. There may not always be much that can be done, but at least you can rest assured that I believe you when you tell me what has happened to you and that if there is anything I can do, I will do it. I will still be a mediator and still take parenting consultant cases and parenting time expediter cases because there has to be an influx of people put in these positions who understand that the relationship between you and your ex cannot be court ordered. It is what it is. It doesn’t mean that the decisions cannot be made fairly. Just know that I now have NOTHING to lose and that should concern those who want the system to continue the status quo. If you could talk to those who know me well, you would find out that I am a person of action. I am someone who will tell it like it is, no matter who I am talking to. I tell my story and I tell about wrongs I hear perpetrated against other parents. I don’t sit down, I don’t shut up and I don’t back down. I am her
e and I am now unleashed and that will be an amazing thing because even though I am missing a son right now, I know that it is bigger than him and I. One day, he may have children in this system, and while he cannot see it now, one day, if I can bring some positive changes to the system, his life or his children’s lives may still be better because of it.