When child custody gets ugly

Today starts a new series with Katrina. This is a little different from the stories I usually feature in that when I met with Katrina her divorce was not yet final. She’s still in the thick of things and in an ugly child custody battle for her two-and-a-half year old daughter. She hasn’t gained the perspective that comes with time and yet there were elements of her story that were compelling for me, elements from which I could learn.

I’ve shared stories from women whose husbands have bi-polar: Lori, whose husband’s bi-polar broke their marriage apart and from Barbara who told she would never divorce their dad. Katrina has been diagnosed with bi-polar and although she doesn’t agreed with the diagnosis, the part of me that likes to help people, wanted to try to understand what this was like from her perspective.

Divorce proceedings started in May 2009. In August 2009, she was court-ordered into a 30-day residential treatment program for drug-use. After that she was able to see her daughter two nights a week on a supervised basis. Since this past August however, Katrina has had no access based on a court decision and she’s fighting that now. Here’s Katrina:

[contemplate1] I was court-ordered to go to a residential treatment center for drug use, which was about what I call “an episode” of six to eight weeks of drug use. For me, that was the icing on the cake of a mental disorder that escalated from the time my daughter was born, of postpartum depression psychosis. I was trying to self-medicate and feel better and I wasn’t receiving any support from family or friends or anyone.

Now, my daughter’s been removed from my care but I’ve never been investigated. I would like to be investigated. I’ve asked for a child/family investigator, I’ve asked for a parental responsibility evaluator but I’ve been denied that both times and I don’t understand how the law is working. If I’m seeking it, why don’t they provide it?

I’m going to write to my husband’s attorney and just say, he can come by anytime. Drop by and see how things are going. My apartment has never been unsafe. I had supervised visits for three months and I got perfect reviews. The lady even questioned why I was having visits.

I think my daughter’s severely depressed and I’m very concerned about her. I think my husband’s pitting her against me. I believe he’s told her to not take what I give her … food, drink, to not let me touch her, to not let me sit by her. She refuses, she pushes me away, she’s cried and cried about not wanting ice cream. I say,

“OK, I’ll put it in the freezer and if you want it, you just let me know.”

As soon as I walked away she cried,

“I want it. I want it, Mommy.”

I’m completely alone, my entire family’s gone against me. My sisters are now scheduled to testify against me. I’m just dying, bleeding to death. That’s what I feel. I’m just a shell.

I’m a decent person. I did really mess up but I am not a child abuser. It’s almost unbearable now when I look back and see what I’ve done. I have had an affair but I don’t deserve to have my child removed from me. There are criminals in this world that have children. It’s not right. If every child whose parents had an affair were removed there would be a lot of orphans in this world. Or even ones whose parents used drugs. I just want my daughter to have a mother, and I’m not unconscionable.

I would appreciate having a mother like me. I really would. I think she would be better off with me in her life, and I hope they’ll try to keep her from seeing me. I think that would be a real shame. It really would.

[contemplate2]

Katrina’s situation is complex. In addition to not being able to see her child, she’s also not working and has been unable to get a job. She has no attorney representing her and is trying to represent herself. She has no health insurance and yet needs treatment. When she gets treatment for her psychological problems, she’s fearful that will be used as evidence against her when she trying to gain shared custody.

It’s easy to jump into this and try to assess who’s right and who’s wrong but we have incomplete information and to do so would be wrong.From the vignette she gives above, it would be easy to jump to Parental Alienation Syndrome. This could just as equally be the story of a little girl who doesn’t want to displease either parent. Who really knows.

What Katrina’s story shows is that divorce can be an ugly, dirty, hurtful game where the playing field is not always level and the rules are not the same both sides. The lesson we can all take from this though is that if you love someone such as your daughter, never stop fighting for her. This philosophy can be applied to everything and can even apply to finding or remembering the activities that you enjoyed before you were married.

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  • http://www.postdivorcechronicles.com Lee Block

    That is a very powerful story and also very complex. I am sure that not all issues were touched on in this interview, but there is not doubt that Katerina is in need of counsel to help her through this.

    • Mandy

      I do agree that Katrina would benefit from some guidance. From talking to her, I got the sense that at this period, the world is moving against her and she could really do with lucky break or two.

  • http://formerlyaprildawn.blogspot.com April

    I could go into a rant about the issues of “family law” and our screwed up justice system, but instead I’ll just say that if Katrina just keeps fighting the good fight, even if nothing changes, her daughter will one day know that her mom never stopped fighting for her.

    • Mandy

      Thank you April for saying this. Yes … that little girl will know one day how much her mom loves her and how hard she fought for her.

  • http://www.LaurelKallenbach.com/lkblog Laurel Kallenbach

    So sad and maddening too! The justice system is skewed, and in cases like this, one (or sometimes both former spouses) seems to have lost their sense of human compassion amid the anger and hurt. And nobody wins! Innocent children suffer.

  • Zach

    “Parenting time” is legally different than “custody”, and far easier to acquire is my understanding.

    If she starts with supervised visits, that will open the door to further liberties in the future.

    I agree with the commenter above that she should continue fighting the good fight- knowing that one day her daughter will know she never stopped.

    • Mandy

      I really like your suggestion of starting with supervised visits and gradually increasing. This would prove Katrina the opportunity to build credibility with her ex who is probably doing what he thinks he needs to for the protection of their daughter.

  • http://www.rockstarcoparenting.com Jenn

    I agree that divorce can be an ugly, dirty, hurtful game with different rules. Katrina absolutely needs a level playing field, and I think her most glaring need is to have a great lawyer aiding and representing her. I wish we could help her with this.