We Enter the World of The Family Court
I’ve heard it said that before you make a decision, you must first count the cost. I am here to tell you that entering family court is not a cost that can be easily counted. You can’t possibly imagine how family court can be used as a weapon of abuse by an abuser or exactly how much the family court can contribute to re-traumatizing you or your children.
I’m not saying this to scare you away from proceeding with a much needed divorce. I’m saying this because I went into the court process blindly and I’d like to warn you of my experience. I would like you help you count the cost before you decide. One can only make a truly informed decision if one has information. I’m not here to tell you what to do – you are quite capable of making your own decisions – I’m here to tell you that physically getting out of an abusive marriage may possibly be easier than getting out of the marriage, legally-speaking.
As I’ve said before, I’d been a stay-at-home mom for a dozen years. It had been a mutual agreement that I would stay at home with the children once we had more than one child. Yes, Bubba had bugged me over the years about returning to work even as he made it impossible for me to do so. When we had our first appearance in front of our judge about a month after I filed, Bubba’s lawyer got to speak first.
Bubba’s lawyer tried to justify a very small amount of child support since I should’ve gone out and found a job BEFORE filing for divorce! I sat there, trying to convey peace and calm while inside I was seething. How dare Bubba try to pin the lack of resources on me! His lawyer fought dirty from the very beginning.
Bubba’s lawyer mentioned that I’d tried to keep the children from Bubba and that he was concerned about the friends I was hanging out with. He even mentioned that I was estranged from my family because of the divorce. The lawyer said this was because of the fragile state of my mind and that they were concerned that I was close to a nervous breakdown and Bubba was afraid for his children.
I wanted to jump up and scream at Bubba that he was a lying bastard and that HE was the one destroying our children by trying to destroy their mother. I wanted to set the record straight. I wanted to be heard and I wanted to be believed. I was indignant that Bubba and his lawyer were allowed to spew these lies and I couldn’t defend myself. Instead, I was furiously scribbling notes for my lawyer.
When it was my lawyer’s turn to speak, he was able to tell the judge that I’d been the victim of Bubba’s abuse for years. He stated that I had plans to return to school and that the financial aid that I would receive would help support me and the children. He also stated that I had had to cut contact with my family because of my family’s behavior.
Nancy had taken it upon herself to tell my children about the sexual abuse that I’d confided in her about. She told my children that I was claiming their father sexually abused me and that she didn’t believe me and I needed to stop lying. My children did NOT need to know this. My children were traumatized by their aunt telling them about something so personal about their parents.
Because the judge didn’t have time to sort out the lies from the truth, he assigned a Guardian Ad Litem to represent the children. He also gave both Bubba and me a lecture about not involving the children and acting like adults and settling this out of his courtroom. The judge explained what the standing domestic orders were and what they meant. Basically, we weren’t allowed to sell marital property, speak to the children about the divorce, continue to encourage the children to maintain a relationship with the other parent, etc…. Again, I was infuriated. I’d been trying to settle with Bubba since before I filed and Bubba continued to ignore me.
The hardest part of that day was when my lawyer told me that Bubba was seeking full legal custody at this first hearing. My first thought was, “WTF?” He wasn’t trying to get immediate physical custody, just full legal custody. That would have translated into turning me into an unpaid, glorified baby-sitter to my own children. It would’ve stripped me of all decision making powers in regards to the children, even thought they were still living with me full time.
Bubba’s plan made no sense to me until my lawyer explained that Bubba would drop his bid for full legal custody (at least for this period of time) as long as I agreed to cut the email-only communication ban. Bubba wanted to talk to me on the phone. Bubba’s lawyer even told my lawyer that I could record all conversations if it would make me feel safer. Reluctantly, I agreed. What choice did I have? Again, Bubba was showing his true colors – it was all about control and he wasn’t afraid to use the children to get to me.
I retained physical custody and we had joint legal custody. I had been ordered by the judge to forget going to school and to get a job. I was heart-broken. Yet again Bubba was being successful in killing my dreams.
My first hard lesson about family court was learned. Family court does not care about what is right or wrong. Family court does not care about what is in the best interest of the children. Family court only cares that it divides everything equally between the parents and it obviously does not care if one parent is an abuser.
Divide it evenly and move on to the next case. Period.