When Marjorie told her husband she wanted a divorce she agreed to his request to hold off filing until after the first of the year. She thought he just needed time to adjust and she was happy to give him that, if it meant they could work civilly through the divorce. With hindsight, she realized he was using the time to figure out how to manipulate her, how he could get custody of their daughter. That became apparent when she was arrested for domestic violence and then faced a restraining order. Here’s Marjorie:
[contemplate1] It’s about 8:30 in the morning and I have to stay in jail for 24 hours.
Finally, I call my eldest daughter at the house, and she is just so upset. I said, “Look, go to school. Try to concentrate.” This is her senior year. I do not want her distracted. I said, “Call a couple of friends and I will be out in the morning. Don’t worry. Check on your sister.”
But once my daughter left for school, she never went back to the house. She said she couldn’t stomach it. I spent the night in jail…that’s a whole story within itself, but when I came out the next morning, my husband had closed all the bank accounts.
Not only that, I couldn’t go back to my home. He had filed a restraining order, not only to keep me away from him, but away from our daughter because I “was a danger to her.” He had filed this injunction that said that I had mental illness problems, that I was an alcoholic, I drank a bottle of wine a night. All the accusations were so sickening, so sickening, and for thirty days, I did not have phone or person-to-person contact with my child. Thirty days! My youngest daughter, one day her sister and her mother just disappeared, just disappeared.
When we went to court, which was the early part of December, the judge granted him the injunction because he shows up to court with pictures of injuries. I looked at my attorney and I said, “I didn’t do this!” The police asked him clearly, “Do you need a paramedic, are you injured?” and he said, “No.” And then there are injuries?
He had to self-inflict them when he was closed up in the bathroom or after everyone had left. After they’d taken me away, he had taken my daughter to school, he came back and took pictures of injuries.
Now, I’ve never been in court before, I’m sitting there without hardly any clothing, because I can’t get any of my clothing, I’m probably looking a hot mess, I’m probably looking the way he’s accusing me of looking.
This judge grants the injunction for one year. My husband asked for supervised visitation, based on the fact that he said our daughter witnessed what happened. What saved me, was that my oldest daughter was in the home, and she kept our youngest in the other part of the house and helped get her ready for school, and kept her away from it. She came on the stand and said, “No. She was nowhere near there. We heard some of the shouting, but we didn’t see anything and she was with me the entire time.”
With that, the judge didn’t grant him supervised visits, but he cut my visits down to where I see my child once on a weekday right after school until 8pm and then every other weekend. The minimal amount of time. To go from being a stay-at-home mother from the time she was born to that?
The judge also ordered that the only way my husband and I communicate is through an email system called the “Our Family” wizard.
When he said that, I was happy, because I said. “OK, what’s going to happen is this man, the way he’s been with me verbally in person is going to show on paper, I know it’s going to show on paper.” So I thought this is going to be a good thing. And I’ll be darned, if it hasn’t shown. His verbal abuse has gone on paper now. The anger, even after a year, you would think that you would come to a point where you would reason with each other, you would understand that, “We need to do what we can that’s in the best interest of the child.”
Not at all. The things that he has said, showing clearly not only his anger towards me, but the verbal abuse, the attacks, the threats and the alienation that he’s trying to do between me and my daughter, that’s exactly the thing we’re using when we go to court.
We’re finally going to court next month. We have gone to mediation twice already and he refuses to do a joint custody agreement. He wants to keep primary, major custody of our child because he knows how much this would hurt me.
On top of all of that, I was homeless.
When Marjorie was telling me this, I tried to imagine what it would feel like to have your life change dramatically, quite literally overnight. She’d been arrested for domestic violence, she’d spent a night in jail, lost custody of her child, had no money, and was homeless. No access to money means not being able to hire an attorney to defend you. Remember that Marjorie was also a stay-at-home – it isn’t easy to just go out one day and get a job. This has to be rock bottom.
Granting an injunction for a whole year seems unreasonable to me and it’s hard for me to understand why a judge would not see through this. The best I can conclude is that when you deal with these situations all day, it is hard to know the real truth and so you err on the side of ultra-caution because you don’t want to be the person accused of failing in a domestic violence situation.
Marjorie is an amazingly strong and resourceful woman and in the segments that follow she’ll be sharing how she got pro bono legal help and how the loss of her custody rights hasn’t stopped her from being actively involved in her youngest daughter’s life.
I read recently a quote from a law firm that they always tell couples to go through counseling first and that the lawyer’s office is the place of last resort. While I do agree that couples should try multiple avenues to try to work through their marital issues, I also believe it is critically important to know your legal rights and I would start researching that as soon as I felt divorce was a likelihood. Knowing your rights isn’t sufficient either – Marjorie had consulted with a lawyer before she told her husband she wanted a divorce – you have to take the steps necessary to protect your rights and yes, sometimes that’s a hard emotional decision.
Photo credit: 401k