This week I tweeted that well, I’m happy, so something must certainly be wrong because I’ve usually got something to kvetch about, right?
The truth is, I’ve been content and happy for weeks now, so of course, with my background, I began to get worried – like maybe the sky may fall in or something. Happiness and contentment are foreign feelings to many ACOA’s, which is why Alanon has a saying: Don’t mistake serenity with boredom.
So – just reporting that school’s off to a good start, we’ve fallen into the schedule of our many extra-curricular activities and I haven’t died yet from all the driving – and things are good. I don’t have any complaints. My God. Then yesterday, I got a call from my sister. Her voice sounded so far away and small on my voice mail. She sounded so…alone.
I called her back. As you may know from my last post, she got the report back from the mediator who is recommending that her ex-husband get full custody of their two youngest children (ages 14 and 17). When I called her back, I could tell from her voice that she had been crying – hard. We aren’t really criers in our family so this was unusual for her. I haven’t heard her cry – since we were teenagers. It broke my heart. As soon as we said hello her voice cracked and she started to sob.
“I just wanted you to know that I’ve decided to let them go,” she said.
So yeah, the sky fell in.
She was so upset, so crushed, that I didn’t know what to say to her so mostly I said nothing.
I just listened to her.
To the sad sound of a loving mother who lives for her three sons.
The sound of a mother losing her children.
It’s something I never thought I’d hear. Naively, I always believed that one day her abusive, alcoholic, mysoginistic, Narcissistic, sociopathic, likely drug-addicted ex-husband would lose custody, and on that day we would whoop around the place and do a happy dance – but I never imagined this.
Never. This is perverse. This is perverted justice. It’s wrong.
“On paper,” she said, “I’m not even going to be seen as their mother anymore. What am I, if I’m not their mother, anymore?”
We just sat there – in a horrified silence. She truly is living a mother’s worst nightmare.
I asked her again how this could happen? She told me again that where she lives, in Sacramento, California, the family court system is corrupt – how her husband’s attorney hand-picked and paid for their mediator, how the mediator and that attorney spend summers biking through Europe together, they’re friends, the attorney brings him a lot of business, so it only follows that he’s going to facilitate his friend’s clients winning, right?
She told me how her attorney – an insipid, meeley-mouthed woman who wants to make nice and is no match for her husband’s attorney – informed her that she can no longer represent her after the hearing, because my sister can’t pay her beyond that. Her ex has hauled my sister into court five times in as many years so she’s spent all of her money defending herself. It really is true that in America, you have to have money to win in court. Her attorney told her she basically has to agree with the content of the mediator’s report, if she wants her ex-husband to “make some concessions” – like for example, if she wants to stipulate that her sons can come over to her house for dinner once a week.
My sister was sobbing. She has lost her job as a graphic designer because she has been diagnosed with PTSD, so for the first time in her life she is on unemployment. She gets about $450 per week. She’s facing bankruptcy. She’s going to lose her beautiful house, a house that reminds me of Martha Stewart’s Turkey Hill.
And get this:
Her attorney told her that her ex will likely sue her for child support.
Yes, you heard me. Her abusive ex-husband can sue her for child support. He can garnish her unemployment checks! Her ex-husband and his wife bring in approximately $300k/year, and they can sue my sister not only for full custody of her children, but for child support thereafter. Holy fuck.
She said he has sought to destroy her for the last 11 years since their divorce, that now his dream is coming true: he has destroyed her.
I reminded her that he may be able to take her sons away (for now), and drive her into bankruptcy, he may be able to exert enough pressure on her so that she has to let go of her house, but he can’t take her dignity. He can’t take her ability to love. He can’t take her heart or her oldest son who is a living testament to what a loving mother she is. He might be able to kill her cat, but he can’t go near her little guard dog. Or her boyfriend (who wants to marry her, by the way, and is lovely). He can’t take most of what’s important.
I said, “Sell the house, it’s an albatross around your neck. Take your son, your dog, and your boyfriend and move to New Zealand for a year, maybe 10,” (we have NZ citizenship and she went to boarding school there. She loves it – it’s been her lifelong dream to move back there and live).
She said but what if my sons come back to me? What if they want to come home and I’m not there anymore? I told her I think it’s like being in an airplane – that she has to apply the oxygen mask to herself, first, before she can attempt to save her children. They will come back to her, one day. Children are like boomerangs. They grow up. Teenagers question things. Young adults move out of the house. The boys will move away from their father, they might get into therapy again and start asking questions. They will come back. They know that she loves them. It’s just that right now, they are scared.
She brought the mediator’s report to the psychiatrist at the children’s hospital where her son was treated and had him read it. The psychiatrist told her he did not say the things that are written in the report, and that the mediator twisted his words. One of the things quoted in the report was, “I saw no evidence of warmth between the mother and her son during our visits.”
To give you some perspective, this would be like me sitting in the carline at school barking at my kids to get out of the car so we can keep the carline going, and the assistant reporting that she saw “no evidence of warmth between mother and child” during that time-period. Well, duh.
This was in reference to a therapist who had moderated family sessions between my sister, her son, her ex-husband, and his wife. My sister said that each time she came into the room, she would find her son sitting between his father and step-mother, and there was no way she was going to go up to her son and try to hug him – and risk getting rebuffed in front of all of those unfriendly people, or risk embarrassing her teenaged boy who might not want to be hugged in public by his mommy, for God’s sake, and who by the way has PAS!
My sister is, like me, an overtly affectionate and loving, kind mother – when she sat with her son in the dining room at the hospital, having moved mountains to get there as often as possible which was sometimes daily, having lunch with him – she always hugged him, always told him I love you.
She said in the state of California you pretty much have to be a mass murderer to have your kids taken away from you – and here she is, one of us, a regular, loving mom – and the system is awarding custody to her abusive, sociopathic ex-husband. WHY????
I just sat there listening to my big sister sobbing over the phone, asking what she’s going to do with her life without her beloved boys. She hasn’t been able to see her youngest since he got released from the hospital (even though she has 50% custody) because her ex has kept him from her. She called her middle son last week and to her surprise, he picked up his phone and said, Hello. She said, “Hi Sweetie – it’s mom–” and he hung up the phone.
This type of rage is typical of kids who suffer from PAS. She keeps talking about her dream of getting them into this place called Family Bridges, a family reunification retreat for parents and kids of PAS – but it’s expensive and besides, how would she even manage to get them there when she can’t even see them? And even if the hearing were to go to trial, and she could call the psychiatrists who support her as witnesses, the pediatricians who have documented for pages that they believe her children have been abused by their father as witnesses, or even cross-examine the mediator who in the report acknowledges that their father bought them alcohol and cigarettes – she wouldn’t have the money to pay for the attorney’s fees. She had represented herself once, and I asked if she would be willing to do that again.
“I just don’t think I have it in me, anymore,” she said.
Some Myths (courtesy of National Organization for Women)
- “Good mothers don’t lose custody of their kids.”
- “The system is set up to help you.”
- “Courts operate strictly on legal processes.”
- “Courts protect children from abusers.”
- “Kids lie about abuse; mothers make them lie.” can happen to mothers in family law courts.
My sister is crushed. This man has taken away everything that matters to her – everything except for her oldest son, who was has been shunned by his father also. My heart hurts for them all. It hurts beyond hurting, for her – and for single mothers everywhere, who are abused by their husbands, and then get abused yet again, repeatedly, by the family court system. My sister said she’s reading a book that’s helping her, called Divorce Poison, about how to protect your family against PAS, but that it’s too late for her. She had no idea it even existed until it was too late and her ex already had influenced the minds of his sons against her. She said that I should look at the National Organization for Women’s website on how many thousands of women there are in the world just like my sister – loving mothers who have lost custody of their children to their abusers. Apparently, this bullshit happens all the time.
This is not equality. Or Democracy.
It’s fucked up.
You know – I’m so angry right now that I’ve had to restrain myself from getting on an airplane and showing up at my ex-brother-in-law’s house with a baseball bat and giving him a piece of my mind (and, frankly, giving her two sons a stiff kick in the rear-end for the brutal way they have treated her – despite being brainwashed, they have got to know how much she’s suffering – there is a pretty big part of me that thinks how dare they treat their mother this way). I am so angry right now I have fantasized about showing up at her ex-husband’s attorney’s office and making a scene. I have fantasized about revenge. Our cousin writes for the New York Times and has said he has friends who would love to do an expose on the corruption in the family court system in Sacramento, and in particular on her ex’s mysoginistic attorney who I am just dying to name here but won’t. For now.
I’m going to do something. Once the hearing date passes – if she loses custody of her kids, I am going to do something. I’m not sure what, but it’ll be something. I just cannot sit back and watch while this kind of bizarre, unfair absurdity takes place in what is supposed to be a fair and balanced democracy – a civilized country where women have equal rights. Well, no they do not!
Sorry for the rant, but there you have it.
My sister said it’s like being in the movie, The Godfather. There’s a scene where Diane Keaton learns that her awful ex-husband has full custody of the kids and won’t let them see her. He brainwashes them and when she finally gets to see her son she hugs him and…he just goes limp – like he doesn’t even know her. And Michael Corleone has won.
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