My divorce never hit me. I was contently past all the stages of grief on the day of my divorce. I was free and so eager to start anew. (I even agreed to attempt reconciliation with my ex post-divorce, but that’s a story for another day.)
Some months later, I moved back to the town I had grown up in. My boys, then seven and eight, moved with me. It felt great to be starting fresh and to be surrounded by family and my childhood girlfriends again.
My boys and I did get the I’m-so-sorry-face from everyone we knew. But despite the catastrophe that others saw, I was relieved, happy, and shame-free to be divorced. I could breathe again, and my life was my own again. Or so I thought…
Given my move, I had agreed to my ex-husband, aka WASband, seeing our boys virtually every weekend and agreed that he could have the boys visit him at his home 400 miles away on any given weekend.
Child Visitation After Divorce
My ex abused my trust.
My WASband turned our flexible visitation agreement into a nightmare for my boys. He insisted that every visit be in Los Angeles in his world. I had agreed to this and he had a legal contract to enforce it.
So, our children traveled from San Francisco to Los Angeles and then back again three to four weekends each month during the school year.
He didn’t care that virtually every Friday his children spent four hours or more traveling to him and four hours or more on Sundays traveling back.
He didn’t care if the children were sick.
He didn’t care if they missed the one and only birthday party they got invited to.
He didn’t care if they weren’t making friends at their new school.
He didn’t care if our son cried and cried over not being able to compete in his once-a-year Tae Kwon Do championship.
He didn’t care if their Friday flight was canceled by the airline. He made them take the 6:00 am flight on Saturday morning only to fly back on Sunday.
He didn’t care if the children were exhausted from all the travel.
He didn’t care if they couldn’t join the basketball team because of weekend games.
He just didn’t care. It was a zero-exceptions contract that I had agreed to.
My WASband’s words were, I am NOT willing to spend my custodial time in Northern California. There was intense hatred towards me in that single sentence. Each time I asked for some flexibility for our children, those words were written back to me in bigger, bolder font along with, My position hasn’t changed.
I had made a huge mistake.
I had willingly given a narcissist full discretion to decide where and how he spends time with our children assuming that he would be reasonable when it came to the children.
I don’t know if he saw their tears. I wiped them.
I don’t know if he heard their screams. Some days that’s all I heard.
He denied their pain. I couldn’t.
I don’t know if he realized their isolation. I saw it.
Over and over I begged a father to accommodate his children’s needs. Each time he refused.
There came a time when my children cried, I know the answer is no. The answer is always no. Then came a time when they no longer asked.
My ex now controlled the boys with custody.
Spending his time with his children in Los Angeles trumped all else. He was blind to their physical health, their social development, and their emotions. He had to have control: It’s okay for [our son] to miss a birthday party in order to spend quality time with his father.
Of course, nothing was preventing this father from accompanying his son to this one and only birthday party that his son had been invited to all year.
And my ex also controlled me with custody.
When I mailed out a birthday card over summer break and asked my WASband to give the card to our son, my ex responded, “You should do that personally, meaning during your own custodial time.”
This was emotional abuse at its worst.
The control and emotional abuse I thought I had escaped resurfaced like a newer, stronger virus. This time, while aimed at me, it was infecting our children. The children weren’t doing well socially or emotionally. Despite multiple pediatricians’ recommendations for immediate therapy for our children, my ex refused to consent.
Since the divorce and move my older son had begun to break out crying and screaming for no apparent reason. Of course, I knew the reason; he wasn’t coping well with his parent’s separation.
He was eight-years-old at the time and completely non-verbal about our divorce. He didn’t want to talk, or discuss, or listen to anything related to his mom and dad no longer living together.
Over the course of a year and a half, even after two pediatricians independently witnessed my older son have such an emotional meltdown including throwing himself around the room, my WASband maintained that my son didn’t need therapy.
The emotional outbursts became more frequent, became more intense and shifted from crying and screaming to also verbally threatening his family and physically hurting those around him.
Family court was a game of poker.
With no other resolution in sight, I turned to the Court for help. My children were in danger if nothing changed.
That journey through Court was long, expensive, and made unreasonably longer and more expensive by my ex on the other side. (During our eight-year marriage my ex had been in constant litigation all eight years; he sued all his business partners from multiple businesses, a dentist who voluntarily admitted a mistake, and an employee of a Fortune 500 company knowing the company would pay him damages just to avoid litigation).
I should have known better. My ex had no qualms or limits in abusing the legal system. He was an eye-for-an-eye man once he convinced himself that you had slighted him.
So, my ex showed up in Court with thick, oversized, zero-prescription eyeglasses and a bow tie to complete his geekiest Caltech persona. A charming serial entrepreneur with 20-20 vision (the one I had married) now sat disguised as a nerdy engineer in an effort to explain away his complete inflexibility in co-parenting his children.
He claimed he was an engineer who was scrambling to make ends meet and whose employer had been loaning him money for personal expenses. The fact was that he owned the company he worked for!
He showed virtually no income and no assets all the while affording private flying lessons, affording aircraft rentals, and paying his parents and extended family from business profits.
And so, a game of poker with the judges ensued. The first judge had enough common sense and provided temporary relief for the children from all the travel. This judge saw the thousands of pages of written communication between my ex and me as a complete breakdown of communication.
But he retired. Then a second judge with a completely different common sense, had me pay my ex’s attorney fees and didn’t bat an eye at the amount of travel our children were doing between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
This new judge wanted proof to correlate sickness to excessive travel. Common sense wasn’t good enough. This new judge saw the thousands of pages of written communication between my ex and me as normal negotiation.
This judge saw my wealth against my poor Caltech-graduate WASband with his fake glasses and bow tie, who had no car in his name, no property in his name, who for years had paid his company’s profits to his extended relatives.
In retaliation to me going to Court, my ex had convinced himself that he needed $30,000 per month to support our children. And since he could afford neither a car nor housing, he wanted me to now support a new lifestyle for him, complete with private jet travel, five-star hotels, and much more.
A third judge put an end to my ex’s non-sense; my WASband got his child support but an amount which I proposed to the Court based on facts instead of exaggerations. Disappointed with this outcome, my ex filed two more cases trying to get exorbitant amounts of money from me.
Those cases, while dismissed, still took an emotional and financial toll. I’ve learned now that it’s a matter of time before my WASband sues me again.
Court was a two-year war. And war is never good.
One of my sons got therapy after two years of jumping through all the Court’s hoops. My children’s travel was slightly reduced and many smaller issues were resolved. Yet the Court was fooled by a narcissist.
The Court didn’t approve therapy for my younger son because I didn’t have any evidence for its need. So, now a year later when my younger son says, “I will kill myself,” and my WASband still refuses therapy for him, am I to return to Court?
The Family Court that deals with divorced families and children couldn’t see this coming? I could.
This Court that also ordered my ex to spend the first weekend a month in Northern California because it coincided with the Tae Kwon Do schedule didn’t think to make it an order that my WASband actually take the children to these Tae Kwon Do events.
The Court couldn’t catch the narcissist in disguise. How am I to point out this mistake to the Court? With another trial and 2-year battle? No thank you.
Life, Uh, Finds a Way.
For nearly three years now, my children have been traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles nearly every weekend. Yes, it’s hard and unheard of, but the one weekend each month we have together is better than ever.
We miss most of the special school events, but we did go to one dance last year and I caught my boys on camera doing the Floss with their classmates!
We do miss most of the special Tae Kwon Do events, but every now and then the stars line up and we get to go to the one we get to go to!
We do miss most family get togethers, so now many of my nine first cousins go out of their way to have our children meet.
For over two years now, my WASband has been telling our children: Your mom is a liar. Her entire family lies. It’s her fault; she’s the one that divorced me. He shows them snippets of court documents to prove his story with evidence.
Sadly, my nine and ten-year-old children are versed in court vocabulary including evidence, exhibits, credibility, and legal contracts. My WASband tells my older son: You go to therapy because you have mental problems. Your mom forced you to go to therapy.
You’ll be in therapy for your whole life.
You need to lose weight. You need to get in shape.
Are you trying to gain weight?
He tells our children: Do you have any Indian friends? I’ll arrange a playdate [on my visits to San Francisco] if your friends are Indian.
This type of abuse attacks every aspect of their lives. There may never be a respite from this.
My children began coming back to me on Sundays, especially after long holidays, and telling me: You’re a liar. A big fat liar because you don’t have any evidence. Daddy has evidence. I was caught off-guard, hurt, and defensive.
My co-parenting counselor (not to mention others) advised me to open up to my children, but mostly all I could say was: These are adult issues. Children shouldn’t be worried about these things. I will tell you when you’re seventeen or eighteen. Your Daddy loves you, but some of these things he is doing and saying are wrong. And he may never change. You have to be stronger.
After two years of this, there are still new frustrations, more confusion, and deeper wounds but my children are finding their way. They tell me: Mommy, you have to be stronger!
And I am stronger because I chose to be free. My marriage was bad and the aftermath of my divorce worse, but I am free. I’ve begun to learn to allow myself to resign all outcomes to a higher power when I need to.
I’ve learned that there’s nothing that can break me. I’ve been shattered more than once, and I’ve gotten up to collect and put myself back together each time. I don’t hate my ex; it’s as if my body or mind or soul has decided that this person doesn’t deserve even my hatred.
I pray for his peace of mind, I tell my children to send love towards Daddy, and I’ve never been one to pray. Whenever I remember, I tell my children to say something nice about someone else each night.
I’ve learned to hug and cuddle. My children wonder: Why have you gone all lovey-dovey. I suppose it’s because love is all that remains for me.