Family Court – Round 3

We knew that if Bubba showed up with my family, I would lose custody.  That morning on the way to class, my lawyer called to say that Bubba dropped his bid for custody in the wake of the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) and psych evaluator’s reports.  I’d agreed to take on the debt and Bubba was willing to drop wanting custody if I didn’t pursue alimony.  I told my lawyer that we had a deal.  I also reminded him that I’d decided to change my last name.  He said he’d call Bubba’s lawyer and have him put it in the paperwork.

My A&P professor had scheduled an exam for that day.  I’d debated long and hard about asking if I could be excused and take it another day.  The week before, I went to lab early as usual to study, and broke down.  I knew I couldn’t have an A&P test the day I got divorced and a Stats test two days later.  I went to see my prof and told her what was going on and how afraid I was that I was going to lose custody. She very kindly told me to bring a letter from my lawyer stating that our court date was in fact that day and she’d excuse me from the test.  She was going to allow me to take it at the end of the week!

I then emailed my Stats professor to see if I could attend her earlier class and go to that since I wouldn’t be going to A&P that day.  She said that was not a problem.  I really did have great professors!

I was walking out of Stats class when my phone rang.  It was my lawyer and he had big news for me.  He told me that he’d heard from Bubba’s lawyer and Bubba was furious that I wanted to change my last name.  Bubba said that if I proceeded with the name change, he’d throw out the settlement and fight for custody.

I couldn’t believe it.

Even at this point, just 3 hours before we were scheduled to stand in front of the judge for him to sign our divorce papers, Bubba was trying for one last bit of control.  How dare he!  But there was no question in my mind what I had to do.  I told my lawyer to call Bubba’s lawyer and drop the name change.  I would remain with my married name because that was better than risking my kids.  My lawyer reminded me that even though I had to keep Bubba’s last name legally, there was nothing preventing me from using my new last name socially.

I had such conflicting feelings about this new turn of events.  I was furious and indignant that Bubba would block this at this late time.  I could clearly see it was all about control.  He wanted me to keep his name because it let him retain some kind of weird ownership over me.  I was sad that I couldn’t have the new name that meant so much to me.  I was also cautiously optimistic that today would be the day I got my Emancipation Papers.  It sounded like Bubba was really going to sign the papers and I would be free.  Six long months of waging this war could be about to pay off.

We all entered the courtroom at the appointed time.  I had to work over-time to stop the shaking that I could feel deep in my soul.  You see, I used to constantly shake my legs.  Liz and I used to joke that I was afraid that one day I’d just vibrate into another dimension entirely because my legs were shaking so quickly.  I’d worked hard over the months to keep my legs still.  I was very conscious of it and used it as a barometer of how I was feeling.  It took herculean effort that day, sitting in front of the judge, to be still.

The GAL asked to speak to the judge.  He said that this was highly unusual and that once a settlement had been reached by the parties, the GAL’s work was done so he was confused as to why she wanted to speak.  He was confused but he allowed to her to have a few minutes to address the court.  What I heard that day was simply stunning.

The GAL spoke of how she had recommended me for custody but that she had grave reservations about it.  She said that I was working hard to turn the children against Bubba and that I’d succeeded with Serenity and Liam.  She knew they were lost to Bubba because I was so successful in what I’d done.  She said that she was so concerned about Shane.  He was so young and there was still a chance that he could have a relationship with Bubba if I’d just not turn him against Bubba too.

The GAL expressed concerns about my mental health, said that I seemed to really hate Bubba, and that I was poisoning my children against him in my hatred.  She told of how, when she spoke to the children with me present, they would tell her that they didn’t like Bubba and were afraid of him.  When she spoke to them alone, they didn’t have anything negative to say about him.  She said that the children were obviously afraid of displeasing me and therefore said what they were expected to say when I was around.  She asked the judge to stay on our case for the next six months.  She wanted to be able to monitor ME!

I sat there feeling like I’d been sucker punched in the gut.  I’d read her report and the psych evaluator’s reports.  I know how very much they had screwed up my case and that they’d both been completely snowed by Bubba.  Even as the psych evaluator had said there was domestic violence on Bubba’s part, they both proclaimed that I was the one turning the children against their father.

Somehow Bubba’s words and actions had no bearing on how the children felt about him.  Neither the GAL nor the psych evaluator had spoken to Liz.  Neither of them had spoken to the children’s counselor.  The psych evaluator hadn’t even done her job until the week before court – she messed up the facts and didn’t even appear to have read through her report a second time judging by all the horrible grammatical errors and typos – and apparently rushed right through it.  She never met with me a second time like she said she would.

Thankfully, the judge said there was no precedent to keep the GAL on a case after a settlement had been reached and he had signed the papers.  He then sealed both reports and put them in our file.  They would follow us forever – anytime we go back to court, those reports will come out.  He told the GAL that if we end up back in court, she will immediately be brought back onto our case.

Then he picked up his pen.

It was almost unreal to watch him put his signature on those papers and finalize our divorce.  He laid his pen down on the table and gave us a stern talking to.  It was all aimed at me.  I simply didn’t care by this point.

All I could think was, “I’M FREE!  I’M FREE!  I’M FREE!  I’M FREE!  I’M FREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

We got up and left the court room.  Arcadia had come with me and was waiting in the hallway.  I looked at her and tried to contain the smile but I couldn’t.  She gave me a hug and my lawyer leaned in and whispered to remain calm and follow him down the hall.  He had some things to tell me.

All during the previous six months he’d played devil’s advocate with me.  I would leave his office each and every time feeling utterly defeated because even my own lawyer didn’t believe me.

That day, after court, my lawyer told me that he was glad I was free because he saw the level of abuse.  I asked him why he didn’t tell me this all along.  He told me that I didn’t need him to believe me, I needed him to prepare me for court.  I needed him to be honest and to work hard to achieve my goal – keeping the kids.  He knew it was going to be a fight because it always is when divorcing an abuser.  I didn’t need him to give me sympathy, I needed him to get me custody of my kids.  He said he could’ve fought for a better monetary settlement but he knew it would just prolong it and he didn’t want to risk either that or having my family come in to this.  He knew I’d lose custody if that happened.  He knew what the goal was and he worked to achieve it.

I walked out of that courtroom that day a free woman.  Yes, I knew I had to continue to co-parent with Bubba but he no longer had any claim of ownership over me.  I had my Emancipation Papers in my hands.  I could look forward to the future.

And I knew the first thing I was going to do.

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9 Comments

  1. It sounds like you had a very perceptive and discerning lawyer. I’m relieved you got custody.

    • I was relieved too! I do wish my lawyers had been less devil’s advocatey during the process but they accomplished my goal. I got my kids. I’ll be paying for it for the rest of my life because I basically bought them, but they are worth every penny!

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