As someone who has been working for almost 20 years to help parents navigate the very choppy waters of family court, I get a fair amount of calls and emails from parents who feel overwhelmed with how off track their case has become. High conflict cases snowball into unimagineable craziness and parents desperately want […]
When you devote much of your day in fear of your ex, or thinking about what your ex is doing, you are allowing them to live rent free in your head. It is completely understandable that if you have had many negative experiences with your ex and experienced a prolonged, bitter custody battle, you would become afraid of having to deal with them in the future. Still, the best thing to do is to get them out of your head and out of your life as much as possible.
I do not want to make light of the situation. I hope to help people move forward and stop giving their ex more attention than they deserve. If you have become overwhelmed with thoughts and fears about your ex, you have to work on changing your thinking. It is not going to happen over night, but it can be done. You will have to work hard at it and things may get worse before they get better. What I mean by that is the controlling, abusive, meddling ex will do their best to make you fail in your quest for freedom. That is reason enough why you must do it. When you start paying less and less attention to them and no longer cower in fear of them, they are going to get in your face a little more before they slither away and the fact remains, they may never slither away completely. You see, the problem is not with you. It is with them.
Your ex has been masterful at turning the tables on you and keeping you off balance. Because their behavior is not normal, you may be confused about why they are behaving the way they are. Worse, you may also be confused that in the real world, people view your ex as very nice, smart, thoughtful, etc. They may have a new relationship that seems just peachy and you may be questioning if you really are the problem. Trust me, you are not the problem.
Keep in mind that most people in the real world only get a glimpse of who your ex really is and when your ex wants to, he or she can really turn on the charm. The same goes for the new relationship. They must make their new partner see you as a crazy person. It helps them ensure that you will never go near their new partner and that they will steer clear of you as well. No one can talk to each other that way. The angry ex’s secrets do not get divulged. This keeps their new love in the dark about who they really are and it helps keep you wondering what the heck is going on…and they LOVE that. Remember how they treated you early on and how wonderful you thought they were. The new partner will also be charmed.
They LOVE having you fear them. They LOVE living in your head rent free. They do not even have to do anything because you fear them so much and try to anticipate what they will do next. It feeds their ego to know that they are always on your mind.
So how do you go about changing things?
First things first, you have to put your fear behind you. You may even need to get angry. You also need to retrain your brain to stop any and all thoughts of your ex whenever they crop up.
Second, have a diversion. If you are overwhelmed thinking about what your ex may or may not do about any given issue, have a friend or a hobby or even look for a new love interest and whenever you just cannot shake the evil ex thoughts, call on that person or take some time to work on it. If you choose a hobby, make sure that it is something that will keep you busy. Reading sometimes will not work because if your mind keeps wandering, you will not really be reading. Try exercise, too, and some stress reduction techniques, such as deep breathing, mediation or swinging your arms back and forth for 10 minutes. Trust me, it works.
Third, carve out “ex free” time. When you have the luxury of your child spending time at the other parent’s house or with grandma and grandpa or their friends, carve it out. Announce to yourself that you will not give your ex anymore time than they have already taken from you.
This can be done, trust me, I have done it. It takes some time and some practice, but once you master retraining your brain, the less you will think about your ex or care about your ex. It will become habit to you and you will be well on your way to a new and happier life. One last thing, it is natural to want to put your life on hold for fear that your ex will ruin anything that makes you happy, but that is just giving them more control over your life. You do NOT want to do that. Write down on a piece of paper in big letters the following:
NOT ONE MORE DAY. MY EX WILL NOT GET ONE MORE DAY OF MY LIFE. MY EX HAS BEEN LIVING RENT FREE IN MY HEAD FOR YEARS AND TODAY IS HIS EVICTION NOTICE. HE/SHE NEEDS TO GET OUT OF MY HEAD AND OUT OF MY THOUGHTS AND OUT OF MY LIFE STARTING RIGHT NOW. I DO NOT DESERVE TO BE TREATED THE WAY I AM BEING TREATED. I DESERVE TO BE HAPPY.
And then go live it. If you want to find a new love, seek them out. Your ex may try to meddle and he/she may try to make things difficult for you in unimaginable ways, but you are stronger than he or she is. Much stronger. They have a sickness that they probably cannot escape, but you will choose to get healthier. You will take steps to ensure that you never choose the same kind of psychopath as a partner again, and you won’t. Your new love will love you and because they love you so much, they will see what your ex is doing and they will stand by you no matter what.
When you see it, you will believe it and achieve it!
Image courtesy of Nattavut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I have a personal experience of domestic violence. I am just putting that out there so that people know that I know what I am talking about. I understand domestic violence from your perspective. I lived it. I escaped it. I moved beyond it, and I went through trying to prove it in Family Court. I learned a lot from it and that is why I want to help you learn from my experience. The goal here is to help others understand where it is going to be beneficial to you in Family Court and where it is not.
Let me first caution you that if you are in an abusive relationship, tell someone about it. Find someone you trust, a family member, or a friend, and tell them. Do not be ashamed or afraid to do so. It is the first step toward a better life. If you don’t have someone in your life that you can go to, find a domestic violence organization such as the Domestic Abuse Project, the Battered Women’s Coalition, Cornerstone, Sojourner Project, Alexandra House, The National Domestic Violence Hotline, or do you own search to find an organization near you. They will help you.
My second caution is to know that the above listed organizations will help you and encourage you to tell your abuse story to court authorities. That is important. I just caution you to know when it will help you and when it will hurt you so that you who should hear it and how to tell it in a way that really will help you. Knowledge is power. Domestic Violence groups want to help you, but they may not always know how best to apply it in the Family Court situation.
My third caution is that if you are going through a divorce from an abuser, tell your attorney as early in the process as possible. I know it is hard to do because of the shame involved, but this is important for your children’s sake. You have put your children first all these years so you need to be brave just a little longer and put it all out there. Ask for help from an advocate so that you can be your bravest now. It is very important.
My fourth caution is to make sure your attorney understands abuse and when to apply it to your case. Not all of them do. They have to use it for maximum effect. If they don’t, they are going to talk you into making some really bad choices, and sign on for things that are not in your best interests, for example, a Parenting Consultant or Coordinator. If your attorney is not presenting your case correctly, find one who will. The Domestic Violence groups should know attorneys who get it. I also review pleadings to see if an attorney is presenting that aspect of your case for your best interests. If your attorney would consult with me on domestic violence, I’d be happy to help with strategy, too. While I am not an attorney, I know when and where they can best use this piece of your divorce story, and protect you from getting stuck in a big mess.
When you have a history of domestic violence, you have spent all of your time living under a cloud of worrying about what the abuser wants. You have lived your life trying not to make him or her mad. You know the hell it brings when you make them mad. You are now conditioned to be hypervigilant, always reading the behavior of others in an effort to protect yourself. In Family Court, this hyper-vigilance can be misconstrued as mental illness on your part. For this reason, you need to do Family Court divorce and then be done with it. Get your judgement and decree, and then get out. Do not sign up for any court authority to manage your case. While you may think you need a professional to make decisions because you and your ex will never agree on matters related to the children, you are better off going with professionals who cannot coerce you into situations that will make you relive the abuse daily. Stay away from any professionals who can court order you to do things that will interfere with your parenting, and your healing process, and who may completely misread your actions. Any on-going Family Court actions put you at further risk of abuse, and will not benefit your children. Your best hope for healing and raising healthy children is to seek help from a therapist and/or domestic violence groups. You can move beyond domestic violence in your life, but you will not move past it in the horrific world of Family Court.
The most beneficial times to get your story across in Family Court:
With your attorney, from day one
Domestic Violence is a reason why your attorney should look out for you when trying to settle financial and property matters to ensure that you are not intimidated into giving away too much of what you are entitled to.
Also, many states have custody and parenting time laws in regards to proven domestic violence. While it is an uphill battle to get sole custody in the “group think” of family court, a world where everyone is equal and parents should share custody 50-50, there will never be a better time to go for sole custody and keep your family out of the court clutches than in your original divorce proceedings. Post decree it is nearly impossible to make any changes if you have not made the initial plea. Abusers do not think of their children’s best interest and so it is my opinion that you should not have joint custody with an abuser. That is the reason why many states have laws about this in the first place. However, if you find your lawyer is too wimpy about this issue, and many are, be careful with this. Many people are afraid to use the court as it is intended. This includes lawyers. If in doubt, get a second opinion. We do it with medical care and we should do it with lawyers, too, when it seems that they are not being an advocate for us. Tread carefully, but confidently, when you can prove your claims.
Also make sure to follow your gut instincts. Most domestic abuse victims know that they will never get their ex to work with them on important decisions regarding the children, but legal professionals give you false hope that your ex will change. Haven’t you hoped for this for years? You couldn’t make it happen and neither will they. Trust your gut.
With court professionals, post decree.
This part is tricky business. First off, in my opinion, you should avoid getting a “case manager” type of court professional assigned to your case. These would be Parenting Consultants and Coordinators, but may also be a Guardian ad Litem or something else. These roles are not helpful for Domestic Violence and often increase the hostility and interactions between you and the abuser, turning your life and your children’s lives into a nightmare.
I have seen many parents push the abuse claims, when they cannot prove it after the fact. As I said, the best time to prove it and use it is during the initial divorce proceeding. Post decree, there is little that can be done about it, especially by the court professional. I have sat in many trainings with professionals who say, “we don’t care about domestic violence”. Personally, they will tell you that they do care and wish there was no such thing, but professionally, there is nothing they can do about it. Nothing. There is no place to report domestic violence of an adult and no one who could do anything about it if there was. What would you expect them to do? You would think that they could, at the very least, keep the abuser away from you, but instead, the frequently force you to come together “for the children”. This shows just how little they care about domestic violence.
Police can act on domestic violence. The problem for you is that they are part of the criminal court system. Criminal courts will address it and can go so far as to put an abuser in jail. Family court has very little in the way of remedies for domestic violence of an adult. Keep that in mind. Not all court systems are the same. Family Court deals with custody, parenting time, and division of property. They do not deal with crime. Something else you need to know is that criminal courts will rarely deal with an issue when you are actively involved with Family Court for that issue. That is a big problem. Family Court sucks all issues into it over other courts. If a crime is committed related to domestic violence, it must be very blatant and beyond a reasonable doubt, to be prosecuted in criminal court. The emotional abuse and harassment of parenting time and legal custody matters typically falls to the Family Court to deal with. In their eyes, with joint custody, the parents have equal rights to the children and as such, are expected to “co-parent”. Rather than protect you from an abuser, the Family Court often brings you more interaction with the abuser because they have an expectation that you and the other parent will work together to raise your children.
What you can hope to achieve in Family Court in regards to domestic violence is direction on how to communicate and facilitate co-parenting. By telling your story, you can hope that a court authority will understand why you want little to do with the abuser, or why you are always worried about things that might happen because you have had to be hyper-vigilant for so many years, but there will not be much else that they can do for you. Many of them will ignore your claims entirely because the violence history is not relative to the role that they are fulfilling to bring about co-parenting. Even when a professional does believe you, you have to take action about it. Nothing comes on its own. You have to be the advocate for your healing and for the well being of your children. Here’s why it is your battle to fight, for example:
Parenting Consultants/Coordinators are like a mini court. You agree to use them to settle parenting disputes instead of going to the court. The Parenting Consultant/Coordinator is now basically the judge of your family to settle disputes about the children. In court, you must file a motion in order for a judge to make a decision. That is how it works. Courts are not just sitting around watching people and waiting for something to happen so they can jump in uninvited and decide an issue. In the Parenting Consultant process, you must ask the PC to make a decision and you should also give them an idea of how you want the matter resolved. This is similar to how you ask a court to decide an issue for you. You lay out the area of disagreement, tell the court how you want to see it decided, and ask the court to decide it. Since a Parenting Consultant is a mini court on their own, you want to approach issues the same way. The difference is that Parenting Consultants don’t have to know or understand the law. They are deciding the law of your family as is spelled out in your court orders, or agreements that the two parents have created over the years. In their role they are also supposed to “assist” the parents in co-parenting.
When you tell a parenting consultant about a history of abuse, you need to take it further than just telling your story. When you tell a court authority a story, they can really just determine if they believe it or not. They could also, I suppose, try to make the abuse stop, but when you tell your PAST story, to them, it has already stopped. Again, there is nothing they can do about something that happened in the past.
I see victims who have learned that domestic violence has an impact on custody and so they continue to tell their story repeatedly, hoping to get some kind of action out of the court authority, whether it is a PC or a judge, but you need to know:
- the difference between criminal court vs family court
- the role of the court professional on your case
- what are the expectations of co-parenting in joint custody
- the differences between sole and joint custody
- the differences between physical custody and legal custody
- how you have to take action for yourself and your children
- what is parenting time vs custody
- constant court interactions interfere with your healing process and that is not in the best interests of your child
In Family Court, the main reason that courts stay involved with a family is out of concern for the children. They care about the conflict because of the effect it has on the children. They don’t necessarily care about you. When a childless couple divorces, there is no continuing involvement from the court. If you are a victim of domestic violence, you need to look out for yourself. You can do this with the help of therapists and advocates who understand what you are going through and what you have been through. If you are going to tell your story in Family Court, it needs to be done strategically. You have to learn to tell your story in terms of making a request for a remedy, but also to balance if that remedy is doable under the parameters of the court orders in your case. I wish I could say with any confidence that you someone you can turn to for help in Family Court, but I can’t. Even when the court authority understands domestic violence, the professional’s role, and the court orders, dictate how they make decisions. It is going to be up to you to explain what it is you are asking for and why. Your history of abuse may come into play if you want separate meetings from the other parent, or if you want to put limits on communication between you and the other parent. It definitely comes into effect if you plan to file for sole custody, however, a Parenting Consultant cannot change custody so you don’t need to try and hammer that home to the PC. You will also need to understand how professionals must try to balance your needs as a victim with joint custody and co-parenting. It is my opinion that you will do better outside of the Family Court system, but when you have to use the system, do so strategically.
This nonsense of the legal community demonizing parents who want a chance to have their day in court, has got to stop. There has been enough of this nonsense in recent years.
Any time a parent has legitimate concerns about the welfare of their children in a shared parenting situation, that parent is demonized, and their life and the lives of the children are put through hell for daring to question the legal community and their effort to bring joint custody everywhere.
In the past, custody determinations were based on what was best for the children. Even though we have family court laws that are based on the “Best Interest of the Child” standard, the courts frequently push the parents to share custody because the legal community has determined that is what is right for parents. It is all based on a gender equality agenda, and there is no consideration really given to the child, when that consideration would throw a monkey wrench in the agenda.
The reason I bring this up is because my youngest son recently moved out, which has given me the custody of my basement back! I am going through the junk that has been acquired over the years and going to do a cosmetic makeover of my entire basement.
The other day, while cleaning, I came across the nonsense bullshit that I had to deal with when I separated from my Mixed Personality Disordered (proven in a psych eval) spouse. I don’t bring this up very often because I no longer allow his mental strangeness to infect my life, and my children have learned exactly who their dad is and what he is all about. It doesn’t mean that they don’t spend time with the man, and it doesn’t mean they don’t love the man, it only means that I do not. There is no reason for me to have anything to do with him. When it comes to him and I, the relationship is toxic to both of us, and I will not engage in the toxicity. I did not want to engage in it back then either, but the court coerced and threatened me when I tried to disengage.
So back to the bullshit I found in my basement. When my husband and I separated, the man did some really freakish things. I knew he was an alcoholic. I knew that he was abusive to me, and the children, for that matter, but I became very concerned when the threatening phone calls came at all hours of the day and night from pay phones near where he lived, and the mysterious letters, and a package that I received in the mail started coming. The man actually stalked me for a summer. It was all very frightening.
He lived an hour away from me, yet, he would show up near my home, in places that did not make sense for him to have driven an hour to, and to be “coincidentally” there at the same time I was.
I received letters implying that I was a lesbian, with flyers from lesbian groups. I one time received a metabolife brochure, after my ex’s girlfriend had told me how fat I was (I weighed 135 at the time). I also received an odd joke printed out, something about a person who is lazy and can’t stand on their own two feet. The package though, that was the kicker. The package had deodorant, mouthwash, tampons, soap, etc., and it contained a note about what a filthy, smelly person I was and included a comment about me at “that time of the month”. I was very frightened to open that package. I seriously thought it might have a bomb in it.
There is much more to this story, and much I can tell you about why there is no doubt in my mind that my ex was behind all of this, but it would take a very long time to tell the story in full. One day I plan to tell this at a training event, but what you need to know now is that I did involve the police. The police did very little. They really did not care about it, or the fact that I was scared, or the fact that I was stalked by my ex husband. They told me flat-out that they could not really do much unless he injured or killed me. Isn’t that comforting? This is what Domestic Violence victims live with all the time, especially if they have children, and are going through family court.
Anyway, in the end, I could not prove that it was him. It might have been his girlfriend, I was told. True, but again, all of this gave me reason to be concerned about my children spending time alone with their dad and/or his girlfriend, but to bring that up in court, no one wanted to allow it, not even my own attorney, who I paid a sizable retainer to be an advocate for my children and I. As a matter of fact, this attorney told me not to include any of this in my affidavit because it would make me look stupid for having chosen such a man to marry.
The problem with not being able to have my day in court on the matter is that my ex’s bad behavior continued, and even got much more disturbing, as time went by. After hundreds of thousands of dollars, and eight years, I finally had to have my day in court anyway. Once I was able to prove my case, I won sole custody, which I should have had all along!
I find it deeply disturbing that family court and the legal community do everything in their power to keep parents from having their day in court and to explain why they should be an exception to the joint custody rule. It creates a hellish childhood for the children in these families, and it prevents the entire family from moving on with their lives and accomplishing their dreams.
We demonize any parent who doesn’t readily embrace joint custody. Why the need for such demonization? We don’t demonize mass murderers, but we will demonize a parent who just wants their children to be safe???
Back in 1993, a man opened fire on the Long Island Rail Road. There were dozens of witnesses. Passengers held him down until police arrived and handcuffed him. There was no question that he did it. Still, he was entitled to his day in court. No one was demonizing him for pleading not guilty and wanting his day in court. No one. He had his trial, represented himself and was found guilty. Justice worked, as it should have.
Why then, do family courts try to deny parents their day in court and to raise questions important to their child’s future? Why does the legal community treat a mass murderer with more respect than they do a parent in family court? It doesn’t make sense and it needs to stop.
And by the way, this is not only happening to parents who experience domestic violence. There are many parents who know that their children will not be taken care of by the other parent for numerous reasons, not only suspect, but know it. They should have a chance to be heard and a chance to present evidence to back up their claims. That is our right here in America. We need to fight for it.
Let’s take the Family Courts back to the rule of law and the role they are really supposed to play, and kick them to the curb on pushing their activist agendas on our lives.
If I Had My Child to Raise Over Again
If I had my child to raise all over again,
I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I’d finger paint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less and know to care more.
I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I’d do more hugging and less tugging.
I’d see the oak tree in the acorn more often.
I would be firm less often, and affirm much more.
I’d model less about the love of power,
And more about the power of love.
Great song! It got my attention. Enjoy!