Aug. 12, 2013 _ I spent some time this weekend with a friend who is divorcing an emotional abuser and she wanted some advice in putting in writing their parenting plan for their 5-year-old daughter.
As I helped her navigate this complicated form, I was able to relive my journey through family court and the fear and ignorance I had back when I believed the court system would protect myself and my children from an abuser.
Standing in the shower this morning, I realized there was something here worth sharing with all those other women trying to move through family court with an abuser.
(Just a quick disclaimer: I know that don’t all abusers are men, some are women. And I know that all state courts are not the same. My journey was in Florida and it is important to understand your own state laws.)
The first thing to know is that despite any police report or other evidence of abuse, family court will begin the case and hope to stay in a place that believes that both parents are equally entitled to raise the children and that both parents have the same rights to decide how the children are raise.
That is very important to understand. No matter how much you were abused, the family court in Florida wants to believe a falsehood: That a wife abuser can be a good father.
Take a minute to yell about how stupid that sounds and sucks, and then move on. Because, you can’t change that premise, no matter how wrong you believe it to be.
The next part of that premise, is that the family court doesn’t believe that a child should spend more time with the mother than the abusive father. In fact, the family court sort of believes that the fathers in this state have been unfairly treated by mothers and their attorney’s, so they might be bias to cutting them some slack and giving them more importance.
The family court also assumes that mothers are more likely to fight irrationally for control of their babies, like a mother bear who protects her cubs, and that is not necessarily a good thing for the kids. In other words, the court is likely to assume that you are crazy, hypersensitive and unreasonable in protecting your children. They are going to assume that you think your kids are in danger being with your ex because you are an over zealous mother rather than a victim of unthinkable trauma.
And these are the reasons why you need to get it together and in an hurry for court. Because we know that those assumptions are not correct here. Just read through my blog to find one story about just how an abusive man can hurt his kids.
Nevertheless, you have two choices here:
1. Accept this and learn to work within the system or
2. Fight very hard to prove that your ex is dangerous (and by the way, courts, judges, parent coordinators, mediators and even your own attorney do not want you to do this.)
If you choice number 2, you better have a boatload of proof and lots and lots of evidence that your ex has hurt your child in the past. You will also need a lot of money to pay a willing attorney. If you don’t, and really even if you do, the courts aren’t going to like it at all and that means that they are going to question your parenting for having done it.
Courts want to believe that you are willing to finally work with the father of the child now that you are out of the trauma of the marriage.
I know, it is ass-backwards and doesn’t make any sense to a good mother, nor is it easy. And, choice 1 is completely different than choice 2. If you try to go down the choice 1 route, and then switch to choice 2, you look like a liar. If you stay in choice 2, you look crazy.
The only good news is that if you start down choice 2, let’s say with your attorney, switching to choice 1 makes you look like someone who has learned and is willing to accept her situation in the eyes of the court.
Please don’t misunderstand me … this pisses me off to no end. I think the legal system is very flawed and rewards lying and manipulations and doesn’t really deal with what is best for the children, but I learned to accept this and that helped me heal from the trauma and do my best in court.
Abused mothers have a very narrow road to walk through family court and so much is at stake. And my biggest problem with this system is that it further traumatized an abuse victims. Victims have been through hell and are not given a chance to heal and process what has happened to them at the hands of their loved one.
And then, they are thrown into an arena that completely dismisses the abuse, not because they don’t believe them or want to be fair, but because they don’t care. How depressing is that.
Instead abused mothers have to enter court with their abusers and have to wipe away the trauma without help and suddenly pretend that the co-parent on the other side of the room isn’t the guy that beat them senseless. Now that is crazy-making.
And if the mom tries to protect herself from that ass who beat her by keeping distance, she is treated as through she is putting her needs over her child’s.
So, what to do. Learn as quickly as you can to accept it so you can protect your child. It took me therapy, friends and a good lawyer to do get centered enough to handle the court process.
I will write later about how I handled the court system. But, the best thing to do is to find someone who can help you process the unfairness of all of this, because you need to be at your emotional best when facing this process. Good luck and bless you in your efforts.