This past weekend, I took Stela for a walk after we went to church. My church is located relatively close to the courthouse that I describe as ground zero of the Custody War that was fought against Lucifer. Until recently, I wasn’t even able to drive through that area without breaking down into tears and shaking hysterically due to the painful memories of the things that took place in that courthouse. This past Sunday, however, I decided it was time to come face to face with some of the memories that I had been avoiding.
As I walked past the courthouse, I noticed that it had almost doubled in size since the custody war. My stomach twisted in knots as I looked at the millions of dollars of taxpaying dollars that had been pumped into this broken institution. While I didn’t break into tears, I don’t think I will ever be able to walk past that place without thinking of the pain that I associate with that time. I know I will never be able to look at Family Court as a place that cares about the protection of children as it should.
As I reflected on this broken system, and Stela sang her made up baby songs in sheer blissful unawareness, I thought about how my thoughts on Family Court have changed since I have had some time and distance from the legal abuse. In the past year and a half since my son was murdered, I have spoken to many parents who are in the throws of chaos. They are enduring their own personal hell in Family Court. Here are some things I have learned, that you won’t hear from your attorney. These tips won’t help me anymore, but I wish that I had heard them when I was in the trenches.
You are allowed to fire your attorney: Legal counsel is expensive, and it’s important. Bad attorneys don’t have angels on their shoulders telling them not to waste your money. If you find yourself in one of the below situations with your attorney, run out the door as soon as possible and do not look back.
1) A Jerk: If your attorney speaks to you like you are a moron, and get’s mad at you when you get emotional – this will only get worse. While your attorney shouldn’t be your therapist, a good family attorney will understand what is at stake and be experienced in dealing with emotional parents. You should never feel like you have to apologize to your attorney for crying or being frustrated with the situation.
(Note: While crying is completely fair during times of great distress, try and save these emotions for your therapist. You want your attorney to be able to focus on the legal issues, and not your emotions.)
2) Distrustful: Your attorney is your advocate. I recently spoke to someone who made the grave mistake of employing the same attorney who represented Lucifer. She noted that she was confused as to why her attorney was pushing for her to roll over, and allow her ex more unsupervised access when the man hadn’t established himself in the child’s life (by his own choice). She wondered why iy seemed like her attorney was working for her ex husband. Sometimes when it appears as though your attorney has an agenda that doesn’t jive with your child’s best interest, it is because they do. Bottom line – if you don’t trust the person, you shouldn’t give them a dime of your money.
3) Inexperienced: My first attorney was a disaster. He was a business attorney who had a previous relationship with my parents. When I initially realized that I needed an attorney, I didn’t know who to turn to. Having never been in a situation like this before, I had no idea how specialized law really was. While this unethical business attorney claimed he knew family law, he entered the courtroom like a five year old who just stepped through the doors of a University. Sadly, before I realized that he had no clue what he was doing, he had already spent 30 thousand of my hard earned dollars. Mistakes like this will cost you. Before choosing an attorney, ask around for recommendations and go see them in action on another case.
Work to be the best version of yourself: I will be the first to say that going through Family Court can make a sane person feel crazy. It is an emotional experience that really cannot be compared to anything else. Many of us feel as though we are being asked to send our children across a battlefield completely unarmed, while we watch him/her try and dodge the land mines in the field. Just as you would go to the doctor to get a cast if you broke a foot, you must get counseling if you are going through a Custody War. When you walk into the courtroom, you need to be the best version of yourself. You need to be as calm and put together as possible, and you need to think clearly. This is the fight of your life. Your children need you to be sane for it.
In addition to going to a therapist, find a good friend you can talk to. Go for walks, go to the gym, and do things that help to relieve stress. So many people talk about being too busy to take care of themselves. Realize that you are not helping your children if you are constantly stressed out. If Mama ain’t happy – ain’t nobody happy. (Note: this can apply to Dad’s too.)
Work on things you can control: One of the hardest things for people to do in Family Court is accept that you have a very limited amount of control. You cannot stop your ex from lying. You cannot stop him/her from paying professionals to lie for him/her or from channeling their inner actor and crying on cue. And ultimately, as painful as it is, you cannot control what the courts decide. You can appeal your butt off and spend your entire life savings, but most people leave Family Court unhappy. I would never advocate for giving up on your child. NEVER give up fighting for your child’s best interest. That said, for the time you have with your child, make it count. Even if you only get every other weekend to see your children, make that time special and let them know how much you love them. Enjoy those moments with your child because you really never know when they could be your last. And even if your children have the long life my son never had the chance to have, you don’t want to look back at their childhood and realize you never enjoyed any moments with them due to the custody war.
I had 15.5 months with my son Prince. While he spent 99.9 percent of his life with me, it wasn’t enough. Now that I have to live with the fact that his father chose to end his life, it makes those times when I had to leave him for only three hours much harder to think about. I can never get more time with my son now, but the memories that I have of him keep me strong. I am thankful that, even though much of his life was spent in the horror of Family Court, I took the time to make his life wonderful.
Two days before Prince had his first birthday, we were in court. I was a horrible day, and I left afraid of what would happen to my son. For hours after the hearing, I felt like I was living in a complete fog that I couldn’t see through. I was paralyzed with fear. Even though I had planned a weekend at the beach, we almost didn’t go because I was so upset.
Luckily, my family was able to help me through that hard time. They forced me to come to the beach to celebrate Prince’s birthday. This was the last birthday Prince would ever have. I am so thankful I was able to take him in the sand, and spoil him that weekend. If I hadn’t gone that weekend, it would have haunted me to this day.
I will never know what it is like to be stuck in Family Court for 18 years. I can only imagine what that kind of sustained terror can do to a person. In my short experience, however, I have learned that the best thing you can do is be the rock that your children need. Don’t let the terror ruin your ability to make your child’s life wonderful.