Mention increased child custody to your attorney and he/she may quickly launch into a lengthy, gloomy, discouraging speech and rightly so. Custody battles are ugly. Chances are that your STBX won’t give up custody easily and courts are very reluctant to give increased custody unless there is overwhelming evidence that a child is in danger. With lots of evidence of domestic abuse against both her and her eldest daughter, Two Kids And a Fish had good reason to seek sole custody but it wasn’t easy. Here’s Two Kids And A Fish:
[contemplate1] He fought me on custody, so we had three hearings and it was a horrible experience. Awful, even though I had an attorney and he didn’t. It’s just very nerve wracking.
Emotionally, I wasn’t very strong at the time when we started the process. I was still very much afraid of him, still very timid, still afraid to say things about him, in front of him and you do have to say it in front of him.
It wasn’t a very large courtroom, at least here at the family court setting. It’s very intimate but there is a witness stand and I had to take the stand and answer questions for my attorney and questions from the judge and face him and say things.
In the first two hearings, I was so scared that I held back and I didn’t say things that I should have. By the third hearing, I was ready. I wanted out. I told the truth, even how horrible and damaging it was to him but that was my last shot. If I didn’t find the strength to say what I had to say in that third hearing I was not going to get sole legal custody and I was going to have joint 50/50 custody with him and that was going to be bad.
At the first hearing he was in default. He didn’t file any of the necessary paperwork. He didn’t file his fee and then he claimed not to know that I was actually asking for sole legal custody so he refused to continue. He just outright refused to ask any questions, refused to go further at that point.
The judge warned him and said, “There’s responsibilities that you need to take care of. You’ve had more than ample time to review the paperwork. You were served. So, you should have known that your soon to be ex-wife is asking for sole legal custody, but OK, we’ll reconvene in a month for all our sakes for a second hearing.”
So we reconvened in a month. In that hearing, I had to take the stand and because he didn’t have an attorney he had the opportunity to question me. During that questioning he started berating and arguing and verbally abusing me while I was on the stand and the judge, just like you see on Law and Order started banging with his gavel and told my ex that he was not to use his courtroom as the forum to pick a fight with me, that he had anger issues, that he had communication problems and he was ordering him to a high conflict resolution class.
Because the judge was ordering my ex to go to the class, I also had to go to the class. He couldn’t send one and not the other. We could not go together and the judge said that if by chance the court screwed up the scheduling and both of us showed up we were both to leave. But, my ex never took the required parenting class and he never showed for the high conflict resolution class.
By the third hearing, we had a new judge and I had an audio recording of my ex. In my state, it’s legal to record a phone conversation if at least one of the parties is aware of the recording and that party can be yourself. So, he had been just calling me and berating me and cussing me out, and cussing me out. My attorney had been advising me over and over and over to buy an audio recorder and I wouldn’t. Finally, I did and that very same day he called me. He cussed me out.
I have a protected address and during one of the weekends when he had our youngest daughter he passed by our neighborhood. He stopped the car near the street where you enter into our neighborhood and said to my daughter, “That’s where you live right?” She was on the spot, and said, “Oh my God, who told you? How did you know?” And he said, “You did. You just told me. Thank you.”
I told this to my attorney and she wrote him a letter saying that this is considered threatening behavior and that if he continued to do this, we would take him back to court. When he received the letter is when he called me, cussing me and pretty much admitting that he did it. So that recording was played in the third court hearing.
At the end the judge kept asking, “Right now you have ninety-nine days a year with your daughter. Do you want more days?” And he said, “No, that’s fine.” The judge said, “Wait a minute. You’re fighting the custody but you’re not fighting for more time?” And he said, “Yes, that’s right.”
The judge went on to ask him five different ways if he understood what that meant or if he wanted to reconsider and still he said he was fighting the custody status but didn’t want more time. To me that was such a pivotal moment in the whole process.
I was furious with the whole process. I felt that I was playing by the book, I was playing by the rules and he could just disregard every obligation and still continue to fight me. I was absolutely furious! There were nights where I would just cry myself to sleep. I was just beside myself on some days and some nights. I don’t get a penny from him. I’ve always been the breadwinner and in the last five years or so of our marriage, he refused to work, used every excuse in the book.
At the custody hearing he was still not working and even when they would use minimum wage to work up child support I’d still end up owing him money. It was worthless. I would owe him 27 cents a month. So I get nothing.
Here I was being the sole breadwinner and him just wasting our money and then being in this child custody battle. I had to pay the attorney, pay all these fees, these court fees and the classes. And he’d walk in the court almost with a very big ego, and cockiness, like, I don’t need an attorney and I don’t need to take a class, and don’t have to pay anybody and don’t have to pay anything. It was just infuriating.
Now I’m a single mom. I was doing it on my own before but I’m really on my own now with one in college and one in grade school. He doesn’t have any of those responsibilities. It’s just like he washed his hands of everything and it’s just infuriating.
Fighting for custody takes courage and conviction. I’ve known some women, like Julia who wanted increased custody but wouldn’t go to court for fear of ending up with less. Others, like Swati are able to negotiate full custody by settling for less financially. I still don’t understand the ex in this story – why fight custody if you don’t want more time with your child? It isn’t rational or logical. What am I missing?
Fighting for custody is rarely fair – as this story demonstrates, Two Kids And a Fish was the one following court procedures. Her ex, perhaps because he didn’t have an attorney was given opportunity after opportunity and with each opportunity came more legal fees for Two Kids And a Fish. Where is the justice in that? Why are courts so reluctant to follow through on missed deadlines and requirements?
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