Despite all of the red flags, I got married right out of high school and found myself pregnant, abused, and severely depressed a mere 3 months later. My life was turned upside down and I felt as if I was left without options. Twenty-seven days after the birth of our daughter, my abusive husband filed for divorce and sought full custody.
Abusive spouses are twice as likely to attempt to gain full custody during divorce proceedings as non-abusive spouses. During these said proceedings the abuser is seventy percent more likely to be awarded full or primary custody because they are able to still exercise their influence on the victim, use scare tactics, are typically able to spend more money on litigation, and will spend more time fighting.
At the time of the divorce and custody proceedings many of the women, like me, who have suffered abuse are not able to break the cycle of abuse and stand up to their abuser due to fear, poor or no legal representation, and emotional unavailability due to depression. Divorce proceedings involving custody of a minor child are an emotional trying time for women who have not faced abuse; one can only imagine what it is like for a woman who has been abused to face her abuser to fight for custody.
Breaking the cycle of abuse, especially when there are children involved, is a long and difficult process. It is not possible for a woman who does not stand up to her abuser to ever break the cycle of abuse. The abuser gaining custody of the minor children will only sentence the victim to a fate much worse than the custody battle.
Each case of domestic abuse, divorce, and the custody battle that inevitably ensues is unique. Being awarded custody does not always mean that the custody battle is over. Many abusers, in an effort to exercise control, will use the legal system to “legally harass” their victims through the repeat filing of motions and frivolous filings.
Below are the steps I found necessary to finally break the cycle of abuse and triumphantly stand up to my abuser.
Network of Support
The single most important key to breaking the cycle of abuse and triumphantly standing up to the abuser is having a network of support. Victims are emotionally drained prior to the divorce proceedings and even more so throughout them. Many victims suffer from depression, low self esteem, and have been alienated from family and friends for the duration of the abuse. It is essential to have a network of family and close friends to reinforce self worth, help improve self image, and provide emotional support.
Second only to having a network of support, legal representation is vital to your case. You do not have to hire the first attorney that you find in the yellow pages. Many lawyers will do free consultations. Visit with several lawyers before choosing the one to represent your case. Compare case history and prices to choose the lawyer best suited to represent your case. It never hurts to ask about payment plans.
The day that you leave your spouse start keeping a journal. Write down as much as you can remember about the abuse. Write down the names of potential witnesses to the abuse you suffered, the dates, times, and places. This will help you later in court.
Divorce proceedings and custody battles are often a lengthy and emotionally draining process. Victims of abuse, who are already emotionally drained, should seek counseling prior to court. If you are unable to see a certified health professional consider visiting an area pastor, mentor, or family friend that you can be completely open and honest with.
Have the counselor or mentor help you to develop a plan for your life. Include the future plans for living, working, and educating the child or children. Develop a list of goals and realistic ways in which they can be accomplished.
Keep the Children First
The parents are not the only ones being affected by the abuse and divorce. Be sure to focus on spending special time with the children involved. They are even more confused and bewildered by the situation than the mother is.
The abused victim is not the only victim. Seeking counseling with a certified health professional for the children involved can help to clear up any questions your child might have about what is going on and help to ward off behavioral issues that may arise from the stressful situation.
Stop Legal Harassment Before it Starts-Document Everything
Being awarded custody does not necessarily mean that the custody battle is over. Since being awarded custody, I have been taken to court innumerable times due to repeated filing of motions for a change in custody, contempt, and revision of visitation guidelines. There is no real way to avoid the filings of the motions, the only thing to do is follow the court ordered custody agreement and document everything.
Starting the day that custody is awarded keep a detailed record of every time court ordered and additional visitation is exercised with the non-custodial parent and any member of his family. If court ordered visitation is denied for any reason be prepared to show documentation to justify the decision. If it was denied due to the child being ill make sure and keep copies of medical reports and doctors excuses.
Keep detailed records of the child support paid, or not paid. If child support is not paid and the non-custodial parent is still exercising visitation or filing repeated motions consider having your attorney file a Motion for Contempt.
Having this information will not stop the non-custodial parent from filing the motions but it will help immensely if and when the time comes to go back to court.