My original divorce attorney saved me and my girls. I know this is not always the case. Was our verdict perfect? No. Did it provide us with as much protection as we could hope for? Yes.
Looking back at the messed up wreck I was when I first met her, I can’t believe, sometimes, that I’m where I am now. At the end of my marriage, I was still placating the beast, drafting up an amicable separation agreement, as a last ditch effort before heading down the divorce road, because he cried, he pleaded, he promised that no matter what he was going to change for the girls’ sakes, he was going to go to therapy. So I put together a home grown separation agreement and we signed it. He was to visit the girls one evening during the week in our family home, and then I would bring them to his mom’s house for a Saturday afternoon. No overnights, because DD2 was so young, just one.
As can be surmised, that ‘amicable’ separation didn’t go well. As the weeks went by, instead of being “sorry,” he became upset, then angry. He wondered when would I “get over” the facts that he threatened to put a bullet through my head, murder my oldest in her sleep, choked and threw our family dog across the room, kicked and shoved our children, shattered their toys, threw dishes in anger and broke them. He was “done” with this, and it was time for us to move forward. I should be “over” that he screamed and shouted and swore at me and the children when they dropped a grain of rice on the floor or spilled their milk. That I should forget that he dangled the baby by her ankles and screamed in her face.
One night, after the weekly visitation in my home, I had a fever, and he wanted to hang around after the girls went to bed, and demand that I give him a timeline about when I’d be “over” all these things, that we needed “to talk,” that he had “nothing left to lose.” I remember sitting in the chair, him towering over me. He is not a big man, but at the time, I felt like he was a giant. I kept saying what my girlfriend (also an attorney, but not family law) told me to say, “please put your concerns in writing and I will address them then.” I had to repeat myself six times and then I pleaded that I was feeling so sick and could we please talk about it later.
He left. The next day, I called my girlfriend and told her what happened. She promptly put me in touch with my divorce attorney, who after hearing everything that had transpired, urged me to get a TRO and change the locks. Because it was a late Friday afternoon when I met with her, I couldn’t do it then, I had to wait until Monday. I had given her my journal, one that I’d kept for years after the birth of my oldest and when his rages began, something my therapist had advised to help me process it all. She called me the next day and again urged me to get a TRO.
On Sunday, late at night, I received an email from my Ex, demanding that he have three week ends with the girls and etc etc that he no longer agreed with our “amicable” separation agreement. The letter clearly coached by an attorney. I then called my attorney who told me to ignore it, act “natural,” and first thing Monday before work, I went down to family court and petitioned for a TRO which was granted.
And thus began the divorce journey. And every step of the way, my attorney helped me. My therapist helped me, my friends and family, as best as they could, supported me, too. My aunty flew in from the mainland to testify at the awful trial at the end. But through it all, my attorney helped me.
She helped me navigate his nasty, threatening, obsessive single-spaced diatribes. She (and my therapist), taught me “the art of disengagement,” how not to respond to the nastiness. For years, I had done so much “explaining” and “placating” and “reasoning” and “pleading,” that it was counterintuitive not to respond. It took a long time to learn and understand that it wasn’t my job anymore to explain. That you can’t explain or reason with crazy. That it was no longer my job to fix the situation or fix him, even though I understood where his crazy came from—his alcoholic father who beat him and his mother and his brother in fits of rages.
My attorney once said to me: “It’s not your job to be his solution. Your job is to take care of your girls. And you.”
Two years later, after a custody evaluation and psych evaluation and settlement hearings, attempts to settle FOUR times, and one nasty trial, it was done. Sole physical custody of my girls. Play therapist involved. Co-parenting counselor involved. All eyes are still on him, and when eyes are watching, he behaves reasonably well. (Don’t get me started on the behind closed doors, but I’m learning I can’t control that). He cannot call and harangue me. I’ve set up boundaries where he can’t come to my house. We communicate by text and email. When he gets out of line, I have the counselors to talk to and just pray that by staying neutral and loving and supportive in my home, that it’s enough for the girls.
For now, it is. They are growing and thriving and their parent-teacher conferences couldn’t be better. DD1 is in advanced reading and loves her pals at brownies and ballet and all of her activities. DD2 is a social butterfly who throws herself into everything she does, literally, as you can see from my last post—she’s on the mend from her fractured collarbone.
But I digress. My wonderful attorney is retiring. She’s only keeping a handful of cases, but long, complicated cases like mine, she has referred out. She is still available by email, I connect with her when things get really rough, like the stupid birthday party stand-off, and she always responds with helpful advice.
So the search began last fall. I met with one amazing attorney, who used to head up the domestic violence unit for the prosecutor’s office before going private, but at our second meeting, we discovered a conflict. Exie had consulted her back in 2011, but decided to go with the extraordinary douche who went on to represent him. Then I consulted with two other senior attorneys who I liked, but finally, I think I found her.
As I ran down the details of my ex’s manipulative behavior, she immediately recognized the dynamic of control. That it’s clear my ex is not really about the children, but all about him, and this was actually run-of-the-mill for her (i.e. she’s seen it a thousand times and knows how to deal with it). She offered advice on what to do with a few current situations and will only bill as we go, unless Exie decides to take me back to court. I could tell she has a human and humorous side to her, but I could also tell that she would be quite formidable in court, a force to reckon with. One of her biggest statements that resonated with me—that sometimes bullies needed to be pushed back, but to pick your battles carefully. She clearly has experience getting orders to assist with manipulators, but she said they always find a different angle. Do we want to be in court every year? That’s a decision you have to make.
She also said that because the girls are doing so well—they’ve clearly been shielded from the drama, or since we know he is emotionally leaning on them, especially DD1, that whatever drama he’s laying on them is “tolerable,” at least for now. That when they get older, they may tolerate it less, and to be ready for that, be ready to support them. That since he is all about ‘his’ time, rather than “their” time, it will likely backfire on him, if he doesn’t change his ways. It doesn’t matter if you’re married or divorced, that if you don’t give the children the freedom to grow up, they will resent you. Interesting take.
And no, I don’t want to be in court every year. But I do like that I have one more level of protection, one more big boundary to lay down to protect us should/when Exie gets ridiculous. The latest from him is that the girls have told me he “gets jealous” when they talk to me on the phone, and that’s why the phone calls from his house are short. We responded that the girls could talk to dad as long as THEY want, and they can talk to mom as long as THEY want, and the calls are for THEM, not mommy or daddy. And that we would NEVER get jealous when they talk to dad.
The next night, the girls called me from dad’s house, they rambled on and on, chirping happily, so maybe the message set in. Who knows?
I have some ideas on what to do now in the short-term, Exie has been pushing the boundaries of the decree and is out of compliance. That, we can address at the end of the month.
And in the meantime, I know and it was nice to have it reiterated again in my meeting with her—Exie will always be Exie, there’s no control over that. So I have to concentrate on my better life now, the one I’m creating with my girls and my hubby and focus my energy on that. I’m just glad I have a little gun powder in my pocket now, with my new attorney, should any real shenanigans arise.