It’s hard to breathe. I was exhausted and scared and confused when I started the week. I didn’t know it could all be multiplied. The holiday rush began and I started out behind schedule. No baking done. No cleaning done. Come Monday morning when I left the house to attend court-ordered custody mediation, the house was still in shambles and there wasn’t a Christmas decoration to be seen. For my entire life, the Christmas tree has gone up the day after Thanksgiving. Not this year. After mediation.
When our Judge determined in October that he could not change custody until we had attended mediation (for the second time) I knew it was a ridiculous dance through red tape. I prepared my negotiating chip, the money. All XN (my ex-husband, the narcissist) cares about is money. As of now he has $26,000 in child support arrears, owes me $6,000 for the medical insurance he is supposed to cover but terminated, and $3,000 for extracurriculars and child care. I decided to lay it all out in a spreadsheet I titled “The Cost of Pretending to be a Parent.” Over the next 13 years, it will cost him $426,350.88, not including basic costs of clothes, food, vacations, etc.
I never got to use it. I printed the spreadsheet. I put the sum of $426,350.88 in giant size font across a sheet of white paper. But it never came to that.. I came to mediation with multiple motions/orders. I brought a Consent Order for us to both sign if he agreed to go away if I set him free of financial obligations. I knew this wouldn’t happen, but was prepared nonetheless. I brought a motion to file on the regular calendar. And I brought a similar motion in the form of an Order to Show Cause, or emergency motion. I would use what was needed based on mediation.
The week leading up to mediation XN had used Beatrice’s name, Beatrice, in a text to me. I got scared that he was going to try to pretend to be a supportive, adoring “father” before the judge. Bea had also reported he’d bought her girl clothes. We later learned he had gone through the motions of ordering her girl clothes, letting her look at things and putting things into an online cart, but had never actually purchased them. None of this was present in mediation.
I sat in a room with the same mediator who saw us six years ago and the man who continues to try to destroy my life and listened to him say that I am forcing my child to dress like a girl, probably because I was sexually abused as a child and that has left me a damaged and dysfunctional person in my adult years, someone who shouldn’t be around kids. I looked him in the eye multiple times as I explained why I am trying to remove him from our lives all together. It is empowering to be that close to him, look him in the eye and say “he is not my child’s father.” The mediator asked what we each wanted. Based on that and the history, she sent us on our way in ten minutes
Based on his statements I knew I couldn’t wait to file a regular motion. As we left the room I asked, as he was walking away from me, if he had an attorney. Without stopping he said “no” and continued to walk down the corridor. I asked him to stop so I could give him a motion. I told him, “I am filing this Order to Show Cause today. I need you to sign this acknowledgement that it was received.” I was kind of stunned that he just left. I’m like, “HELLO! I’m doing this NOW. This is going to happen NOW.” And he was like, “eh.”
It takes a long time and a lot of running around the courthouse to file a request for an Order to Show Cause. But I got the paperwork all filed and sat outside the courtroom of a judge I’d never seen before. I don’t know why we weren’t with our own judge and the clerk wasn’t giving any answers. The judge asked if I’d notified the defendant and I pointed her to the bright orange “Acknowledgement of Service” he had signed hours before. She asked if I had a phone number for him and I gave it to her, still stuck in my memory.
He was so confused when he answered the phone and she was not having any of his nonsense. It was glorious for me to her him speak “in court” for himself for the first time. He has always been represented and therefor has never spoken for himself in court. I always knew that should the time come, the balance would way heavily in our favor. He had not even read the papers I gave to him! It had been five hours and he stammered to answer the basic question if he’d read the papers. The judge asked if he’d like to read them and that she would call back after hearing another case.
I sat through her hearing another Order to Show Cause and finalizing a divorce then returned to my table. She called him back and he read from “a report” from “a psychologist.” Two months prior XN had filed some report or letter with the Board of Education that stated there was no gender variance in this child and that whoever was forcing this behavior is causing psychological harm. I had been told nothing of this and have still not seen whatever he sent to the school in a threat of legal action to try to intimidate them into not affirming my daughter. Now he put it on the record.
In (not so) short, the judge granted my request for supervised visitation. She suspended his regular parenting schedule and put the remainder of the matter on the calendar in front of our judge the next week. I flew out of that courthouse on a clouds. I couldn’t call my husband because I knew he was in the car with the kiddo. I called my mom. I called my best friends. When I got home I got to tell Beatrice.
I wasn’t sure how the news would go. Sometimes you want something so badly and then when you get that thing it’s not so great. When I told her the judge said she didn’t have to go to XN’s house for awhile, her face lit up. She jumped into my arms for a giant hug. She stamped her little feet and clapped her little hands. She was disappointed to learn that she still had to see him, but felt better when I told her there would be someone there to make sure she was safe, so she could wear whatever she wanted and be whoever she wanted to be and XN couldn’t hurt her. She immediately began to plan what she would wear.
The next day we planned a celebration. Our best friends, Bea’s favorite people, came over for a celebration of mac ‘n cheese and rotisserie chicken. Not super celebratory because I came straight from the office, but when you have great news, wonderful people, and peace of mind you don’t need fancy food. It was beautiful. I have never seen my daughter so relaxed and happy. She really brightened up after she started her transition, but this was different.
On Wednesday morning, we skipped to school. She told me “this is the best Wednesday ever! I get to come home and sleep in my bed!” Normally, she is gone on Wednesday nights. We made plans to get the Christmas tree decorated. I stopped at Target to get a couple of things and picked up an ugly sweater decorating kit. Bea was going to be home for our annual festivities and she was excited to participate.
My balloon popped in a big way when I checked my “XN email” at 2:30. I found an email from opposing counsel with an attachment. His smarmy, sleaze-bag of an attorney was back The email was delivered to me at 1:12 and said he would go before the same judge to have the Monday order vacated at 1:30. I immediately called judge’s chambers and asked to be called in. I was preparing to go into a meeting when I got the call.
Opposing counsel had filed 95 pages and stood on a two year old report from a custody evaluator that was flawed in so many ways that our judge had not used it when he decided to disestablish XN’s paternity. He told the judge that I had willfully misled the court and lied repeatedly. He told the judge I had twice filed motions when being explicitly Ordered to not file motions during the evaluation. (I had not. Probation filed enforcement hearings because his client was tens of thousands of dollars behind in child support.) He presented me as a conniving, insidious sub-human out to bankrupt his client. Because I didn’t have the time or opportunity to provide evidence of his lying, he knew he’d get away with it, and he did.
There was nothing I could say. I didn’t include the custody evaluation because my emergent request was based on more recent events. I had papers to prove that I didn’t file any motions. I fumbled and cried and responded but she wasn’t hearing me. She bought the nonsense that I had lied to the court about XN not being represented, despite his signing in for mediation as pro-se and telling me he didn’t have an attorney. Just like that, she ripped the peace and safety out from under us and vacated her previous Order.
I sobbed and pleaded. It was 3:55 when I hung up and had to call my husband to tell him that XN would be there to pick up our little girl in five minutes. They weren’t home. They were at the playground, thinking she had all the time in the world. I told Oliver the awful news and asked to speak to Bea. She could hear in my voice that something was wrong. When I told her she had to go to XN’s she was confused. She wanted to know why the judge had changed her mind. She began to cry. She asked, “Did you tell her I want to stay home with you?” I told her I did. “What if I talk to the judge? Can I talk to the judge and tell her that I don’t want to go to [XN]’s?” I told her she couldn’t and that I was so sorry I couldn’t hold her and tell her that everything will be ok.
It was hard to come home that night. It was so easy to get used to the idea that my little girl would be in her bed, where she belongs. I didn’t want to decorate our tree without her there. I didn’t even want to be home without her there. I was stunned. I cried like I’ve never cried before on the floor of my office. I cried off and on for most of the next day.
I don’t understand. I don’t understand how a judge can one day rule that this man is a risk to my child, or even enough of a potential risk to my child, that she would suspend his overnights and give him a few hours of supervised visitation and then two days later completely throw that out the window and decide that I am a liar and expert manipulator.
I don’t understand how on Monday I sat with my abusive ex-husband and he tells the Court and me that he is no longer being represented by an attorney, and then two days later a lawyer is in front of the same judge I saw on Monday, arguing that my Order to Show Cause is all a part of my grand, elaborate scheme, while I am on the phone with the Court trying to process what is happening.
I don’t understand how two and a half years after we learned that my abusive ex-husband is not my child’s father that nothing has changed. I don’t understand how he still has legal custody of my child. I don’t understand how he gets to spend more time with my child than I do because most of my scheduled parenting time happens on weekdays when she is at school and I am at work full-time.
What I do understand now, more than I did before, is that I am doing the right thing. The relief I saw in my daughter’s face when she learned she didn’t have to go to XN’s house anymore, the happiness that filled our home in the 48 hours we were not anticipating her departure, and the anguish learning she had to leave again all told me that we are on the right path. So we will carry. I don’t know how yet, but I know that I have to get back up and jump back into the arena and that is going to require faith that is hard to come by right now. I promised my little girl that I would do anything to keep her safe, so this is not the end of our story.