Somewhere, deep down, I had thought that once I had the courage to serve John that everything would start getting better. I would see the light at the end of the tunnel and I would feel as if I was working towards a better life. And then I was introduced to the court system.
What an impossible, terrible system it is. John and I were not able to negotiate on friendly terms. That is the reason we ended up in a divorce. John was not a reasonable man. If you recall, he told me that compromise was not a real thing… and that was when our relationship was good ( or at least what I had believed was normal at the time). We were not going to be able to compromise as part of a divorce.
I thought I would get to see a judge. I thought I would be able to tell them how abusive John had been to me and to the kids. I collected binders and binders of data showing a paper trail from doctor’s visits and school meetings where the common theme behind our son’s outbursts was John. And then I was put in a room with John and a Family Relations counselor.
They told us that the purpose of this process was to help us “negotiate” the parenting schedule together. John wanted the kids half the time and was not budging. He didn’t even have them half the time now and we all lived in the same house together! The kids weren’t even safe with him when I left the room to go to the bathroom. Literally every time I returned to the room someone was hurt, or crying or in crisis. Every….. single….. time. John was toxic and it was hurting our kids mentally and physically.
Here’s the thing. I was afraid of John. I was still living in the same house with him. And when we left these “negotiations” I left to sleep in a house where this man could snap and do something to me at any point he wanted. I was also suffering from the effects of years of his mind games and control. And the court system wanted us to “negotiate”. I had moments of strength… but it was fragile… it wavered … and the court system was literally forcing me into a very unsafe situation that encouraged the continuation of abuse. Who do you think was going to be the person who gave in to things even though it would harm the kids? Who do you think was going to over power the other person?
You likely guessed correctly. I sat down at that table on multiple occasions. I expressed my concern for the safety of the kids. I told them that I was afraid he’d hurt the kids again. They responded to me by saying if he does, then the parenting plan could be revisited. When I looked at them in shock and said, but that means my kids got hurt…. they would shrug or say “well… yea”. What the heck?!
I pulled out the binders of data I had. The counselor wouldn’t even look at it. I offered to show the videos I had of John hurting the kids. No one would look at them. At one point, the Family Relations counselor reached out to James’ counselor to get more feedback. Then at our next meeting she told me the counselor had told her that I had a “heavy hand” as a parent.
What did that even mean? She used this comment to bend me and make me sway. John got more parenting time and I felt uneasy that the kids would get hurt. But John’s years of abuse made me question myself and this counselor used that to her advantage. I ended up asking James’ counselor about it at his next session. I asked her to give me feedback on my parenting and if there was something she thought I could do to better support James, I would like her to tell me. “What?! They said I said what?!” was her reply.
She then shared with me the letter she had given the Family Relations counselor. No where in that letter did it say anything negative about me as a parent. The words” heavy handed” did not appear. The Family Relations counselor had lied in order to get me to agree with her suggestions…. so that she can say she got another couple to agree on a parenting plan. James’ counselor attempted to call the woman from Family Relations and straighten out the “misunderstanding”…. but she never returned the calls.
As an end result of this process John ended up with much more parenting time than he can handle…. much more than our kids can handle… and much more than I feel comfortable with. One of the children ends up in emotional distress every time they go there. The system failed my kids. It manipulated me and used the damage that was left over from the years of abuse to get me to agree to things that would ultimately be damaging to my children. No one ever looked at one piece of evidence that I had collected showing how abusive John is to the kids. They didn’t care.
If I have one piece of advice to anyone in my situation it would be not to attend these sessions without your lawyer present. If you are getting out of an abusive relationship then your strength is fragile. The Family Relations counselors will prolong that abuse… they will unintentionally prey on it… some of them might intentionally use it to manipulate you…. and your kids will be the ones who suffer in the end. Bring in a support system that will speak up for you and your kids for when your voice waivers. Be strong.