Some Important Tips To Survive A Custody War

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.

 

 

 

 

 

My Survival Date

This past weekend (October 20th and 21st to be exact) marked the one year anniversary of the worst two days of my entire life.  While I am still relatively young, I am willing to bet that October 20-21, 2012 would have been considered astronomically bad by anyone’s standards – and even that seems like an understatement.  For those of you who don’t know, October 20th last year was the day that I found out my son had been murdered by his father.  It was the day I learned that I would never again see my little boy open his eyes, give me a hug, or say “Mama”.  All of my hopes and dreams for him shattered in that single moment.  A year later, I write this post reflecting over the past year.  I received more messages this past weekend from people telling me they were thinking about me than I received on what would have been Prince’s second birthday (which to me was a more difficult milestone).  My response to everyone who sent that message went something like this:

“Thank you for your kind words.  Today is not a bad day though.  I will not be spending it thinking about the worst day of my life.  I don’t care to celebrate or commemorate this day.  I refuse to allow a date that a demonic man chose to terrorize me for the rest of my life.  This day was not a good day for my son and it was not a good day for me.  I do, however, see it as a day that marks strength.”

Many people seemed confused with my response.  Maybe they were expecting me to curl up into a corner, and spend the two days crying as I forced myself to relive the nightmare that occurred just one year ago.  While I could have chosen that path, and I would not judge someone else who did, I continue to choose survival.  So instead of curling up into that ball and crying, I thought about all the things and people who have gotten me to this place of strength.  I will never say that the path I have taken in the last year should be followed by everyone who has endured tragedy, but it was my path and if my words can help someone then it is worth sharing.

1)  Find your people:  I put this one at the top of my list because without my friends and family I know I wouldn’t have survived this past year.  When my son died, everyone who knew him was devastated.  It rocked my family in a way that a family should never be rocked.  That said, many of my family members were able to rally around each other and we gave each other the strength to keep living.  In addition to my family, I learned who my true friends were.  As soon as I sent out the text message that my son was dying, several of them dropped everything and drove to the hospital just to be there with me.  One of my oldest friends got on the next plane from Louisiana to visit.  She listened to me, sat with me while I cried, made me laugh when I didn’t think I would again, and cooked when nobody seemed to have the strength to even think about food.  When chaos and tragedy strikes, find your people.

2)  Clean house on the toxic folks:  Throughout life its never a good idea to allow toxic people to hang around.  This is especially important during the hard times.  I found that there are some people who enjoy chaos.  They will gravitate around you during these times and make you feel worse.  If you find that someone is making you more sad or appears to be feeding off of your bad situation, drop them like a bad habit and move on.  In the past year, I have made no apologies about getting rid of bad people.  For example, two weeks after my son died, someone who I thought was a friend told me that I needed to “just get over it and stop talking about how angry and upset I was about what happened.”  After that conversation, I promptly told this person to lose my number and I truly believe I am better off because of it.

3)  Grieve your way:  In the past year, I can’t even count the amount of times people have tried to tell me how to grieve for my son or passed judgement on me for decisions I have made.  Many of these people have never lost a child and seem to project how they think they would feel if in my situation.  Recently, one of my coworkers lost his son tragically to a brain aneurism.  The child was six years old and he was devastated.  He asked me what he should be doing.  I told him that he needed to do whatever he felt he needed to do and that he shouldn’t let anyone tell him that what he chose to do was the wrong path.  That said, I would advise someone against doing something that was hurtful to themselves or others.

4)  Don’t be afraid to go to therapy:  Admitting that you need to see a therapist shouldn’t be seen as a weakness.  If a person broke their arm and just decided that surgery or casting it wasn’t for them, they would end up with a jacked up arm for the rest of their life.  If you find yourself in an emotionally unstable place, sometimes you just need to seek medical help and talk to a therapist.  I am not ashamed to say that after Prince died (and while I was in the throws of the custody war), I have seen a therapist regularly.

5)  Take back your happy:  Ever since I met Luc in February 2010, my life has been in some level of chaos.  He has tried to control and torment me.  While I believe he killed my son primarily for money, his secondary motivation was likely to destroy me.  He chose the first time he saw Prince after my birthday as the day he would drown him.  He intended for that day to make me sad for the rest of my life.  I will always miss my son.  I will always hold a certain sadness about the fact that he will never grow up and do the things he should have been allowed to do.  I will not, however, allow the man who killed him to destroy me.  I chose to take back my happy.  I chose to do this for myself and for my daughter.

Finally, I leave you with one of the wisest things I heard after my son’s death.  I was speaking to the priest at my church.  I asked him why so many Christian people were telling me that in order to have peace I needed to forgive the man who killed my son and all of the people who allowed my son to be killed.  I asked him if I needed to forgive these people before finding peace.   Father John looked at me and said, “Hera, hold onto your anger.  It is that anger that will help get your son Justice.”  Father John went on to explain that forgiveness should be reserved people who can understand forgiveness.  It was clear that Luc had no soul.  Forgiveness would simply allow him to feel absolved for what he did, and possibly even allow him to continue to torment me.  So I will not be forgiving Luc.  It is a waste of my energy –  energy that should be used on happiness.  While I don’t forgive him, I also don’t dwell on him either.  I stayed angry for as long as I needed to in order to get the wheels of justice to turn.

I would never tell someone else NOT to forgive someone who has hurt them.  I simply offer you an alternative.  If forgiving the person who has hurt you allows you to heal, then do it.  Just don’t allow that forgiveness to let them continue to hurt you.  For me, what was more important was learning to forgive myself.  This remains the hardest part of my journey.  While I know how hard I fought and how much I loved my son, there is still a level of survivors guilt and victim guilt that I will likely face for a long time to come.  As I continue on this journey, however, I will focus my efforts on life - on the legacy of my son through telling his story and helping to try and protect other children.  Soon, I will also focus on raising my daughter.  I am starting a new chapter of my life and Luc is not a part of that chapter.

So next year, when my daughter is about a year old and the anniversary of Prince’s death approaches, I will think of strength and survival.  I will have survived one more year, and I will be thankful for all the wonderful things life has given me.  This is my survival date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unrealistic Expectations

I couldn’t stop shaking.  I knew that every word coming out of my mouth would likely not make any sense.  This was the last time I would testify in an attempt to save my son’s life.  As I walked to the stand, I felt as if my legs would buckle beneath me.  Judge Algeo watched me closely and I knew this was going to have to be the show of my life.  Sadly, no matter how much I tried to “keep my emotions in check” as I had been coached many times by my attorneys – this was my son I was fighting for and I couldn’t shut off my maternal instincts.  I hadn’t eaten in a week, hadn’t slept in days, and probably should have been on some sort of anti-depressant medication (if, in fact, there are meds that can help a mother not feel as terrified as I felt in that moment).

My testimony went by in a blur.  Everything I had planned to say didn’t come out right.  I begged Judge Algeo to wait until Prince was old enough to speak before he would consider unsupervised  visits.  As I sat there terrified and shaking, Luc sat back and smirked.  He knew he had checked all of the boxes (or at least lied his way through the court’s tests) and he appeared to enjoy my very visible pain.  Prudence Upton, Luc’s very aggressive attorney, seemed to also enjoy my suffering.  She spent a considerable amount of time chastising me for not making plans for Luc to spend time with Prince at chuck -e- cheese on his first birthday.  I remember thinking to myself, ‘seriously woman?  You are worried about chuck-e-cheese and I am worried about my son living to see his second birthday.’

Unfortunately it appeared as though Chuck-e-cheese was a bigger deal than I thought it was.  Judge Algeo and Prudence seemed to expect that it was my job that week to make sure that Luc didn’t have to lift a finger in order to spend time with his son.  I was supposed to contact the supervisor and request more time, plan for a party that Luc would enjoy, and make sure everything was rolled out on a red carpet.  Luc never lifted a finger nor requested extra time outside of court.  That day, however, Luc was the calm and collected father who could shed a controlled tear on the stand and I was the mother who had been painted as a basket case – a scorned woman – and over dramatic.

 

A reflection of myself:

 

A couple of nights ago, I received a frantic phone call from a mother who is going through a terrifying custody case with an abusive (soon to be ex) husband.  She has a two year old son whom she is fighting for.  As I spoke to her on the phone, I thought to myself, ‘this woman sounds like a basket case.’  After our conversation was over,  however, I realized that I may as well have just been speaking to myself  about seven months ago.  This woman had a right to be frantic – act crazy – be terrified – or whatever emotion her body allowed her to have.  She was in the fight of her life struggling through a thankless and helpless system that fully intended on harming her son for the sake of “parental rights”.

 

To give you some background, the father in this case had assaulted this two year old boy and this abuse was documented by Child Protective Services.  In fact, the CPS worker came into court to testify in the hearing when this mother tried to get a protective order against the father for her son.  After hearing the testimony of the abuse, the judge denied the protective order calling the bruises found on the boy “merely negligence” vice abuse.  The judge admitted that he called it “negligence” because he did not want to end all visitation.  This judge chose to  protect the father over this two year old little boy.

 

Upon hearing that the protective order for her son was denied, and visits with the abusive father would begin, this mother broke down crying in the courtroom.  The judge reportedly called her out publicly and told her to “put on [her] game face.”  He continued to tell her that he was watching her every move and that this sort of “behavior” would be used against her in his future rulings.

 

Unrealistic expectations:

Ever since I have gone through my own Custody War, I have learned many tough lessons.  One of the toughest lessons that I have learned is that the courts have turned into a war zone.  In this war zone, women are expected to stop being mothers who worry about their children.  In fact, showing fear in the courtroom could be one of the very things that will label you as a “parental alienator”.  We are supposed to forget about having been abused, turn our children over to men we know have abused and will abuse again, and we are supposed to do all of this enthusiastically and with a smile on our faces.

 

To expect a woman who has lived through the chaos created by a psychopath to “remain calm” in family court as the abuse continues, and while she is trying to protect her innocent child, is asking her to leave her humanity at the door.  Any woman who could walk into family court when the stakes are that high and remain calm – I would question her mental state.  I have heard that the family court used to be slanted toward women.  I sure wish I had been going through the system at that time. When I went through, I experienced what seemed like a war on motherhood.  I was told I wasn’t allowed to be a mother to my son, but that I was required to make sure that Luc could be his father despite what he had done that proved he was not capable of being a real father.

 

As absurd as it sounds, I am still waiting for the day when I get a call from my family attorneys telling me that Judge Algeo has requested that I provide Luc with some time to visit Prince’s grave.  I can also imagine that in this same phone call I would be asked to provide Luc with a car, since he doesn’t have one, and a packed lunch for the long trip.  Some of you might be thinking that sounds absurd, but not as absurd as the moment when I stood over my son’s dying body listening to nurses discuss how they wanted to create a hospital “visitation schedule” for the man who had just murdered my son.

While nurses were discussing allowing this man to visit, I was told that if I said a word to Luc that I would be taken to a psychiatric ward and kept away from my son in his final hours.  That – ladies and gentlemen – is the state of our society.