My husband didn’t want a divorce. He was angry and upset and felt betrayed when I ended things so he made some pretty bad decisions based on emotion. The married friends I stayed with during the worst of it are now going through an even more high-conflict case than mine. I know, right? I didn’t think it was possible either. I felt battered and broken from the long, expensive and soul-consuming battle and after more than 2 years I settled. I let the bully win. Watching it happen to the woman that comforted me and supported me through the toughest time of my life? I’m consumed with an anger that rivals any I’ve felt before.
Another bully. Another privileged white man that thinks he can bully the mother of his children into submission, and the court system that happily and knowingly enables him. I’ve had a little time to rest and recover and I’ve decided that I simply will not let them do to her what was done to me and thousands upon thousands of mothers across this country. I don’t care how long it takes or what sacrifices I have to make to help her see this through. I’m not willing to let her make a deal with the devil out of sheer desperation, even though most days I do not regret my own choice and see the benefit of settling when I did. Her circumstances are different. She certainly has a more supportive family and the added benefit of a great paid lawyer. The hole I had to dig out of was deeper. Her hole is deep, but she has a big shovel to use where I had only a teaspoon.
Mothers are under attack, although the more crooked wing of the father’s rights movement has been largely successful in convincing the public to buy the myth of judicial bias against fathers. These wealthy and powerful men have taken advantage of society’s higher standard for mothers and used it to impoverish and alienate women who are in no way unfit to continue caring for their children. They simply don’t have the resources to fight anymore or settle just to get the nightmare process over with. Judges and social workers tasked with evaluating custody are making it easier than ever before for an abuser to continue attacking a woman long after she has left him.
I thought my situation was unique and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The only power I have is my voice and I’m going to use it to expose the Family Court system’s systematic misogyny as long as I have to in order to affect some change. I hope it comes in time for my struggling friend, but the odds are against her according to the recent data, which is unfortunately confirmed by my own personal experience.
If a woman is lucky enough to divorce a rational man that wants to be fair and civil, that is statistically her best chance at getting a fair custody arrangement and financial settlement. If she’s a stay at home mom that divorces a high-conflict spouse with more resources? He’s probably going to come out on top because in litigation, money is quite literally everything.
The myths perpetuating the injustice are everywhere. The most ridiculous among them: Women always get the financial support they ask for or more than they deserve, the most important thing a judge considers is the best interest of the child, women always lie about abuse and use false police reports to gain an advantage, the court only takes children away from mothers that are abusive and unfit, fathers are ordered to pay too much child support. Chances are that you believe at least one of these myths.
My ex admitted in a temporary orders trial that he used cocaine on a vacation he took without me a few weeks prior. I was the primary caretaker of our child and had proposed to him that we mediate an agreement that would include 50/50 custody before I’d even officially hired an attorney. He withdrew every dime from every account, changed every password, and started calling the police to report my “erratic and threatening” behavior 5 minutes before I was served with divorce papers, in order to create a paper trail that would support his claims. One divorce attorney that I spoke to said that I would be blamed for not leaving him. I thought that was crazy and unlikely. I was crazy wrong. His drug use was not an issue at all, but my poor judgment for staying with him would become the central issue of the case. I was told that any allegation of drug or alcohol use that occurred a decade earlier, years before I even became a mother, would be all that was needed to take custody from me. Even if I denied it and there was no proof, I would lose my child upon a judge just hearing the allegation? They would give custody to a guy that became a cocaine-fueled maniac in Las Vegas while I took care of his child at home? I didn’t hire the guy and left his office convinced that he was mentally ill. As it turns out, he’s not so crazy after all, just experienced with the family court system.
Admit it, we all hold mothers to a higher standard, some more than others. If they stayed at home and took care of the children to support the father’s career, a judge will look at a woman and tell her that the years she put in don’t matter anymore. He’s not obligated to compensate her in any way for that contribution and spousal support in Texas is denied 75% of the time it is requested. If you sacrifice your own career to raise your children, you had better be ready to stay with that man no matter what he does, but you will be lucky to get 5 months of temporary support payments. My friend’s judge recently said that he would order her to pay MORE child support if she even asked for spousal support again. I was speechless.
Judges and lawyers will expect women in her situation to figure out some way to immediately duplicate her former lifestyle, despite the harsh realities of starting over in life with nothing. If she didn’t work, she’s a gold digger who needs to get a job. If she did work, she’s not “a real” mother and if she made even one dollar more than he did, she’ll have to pay child support, often to a man that did not serve as a caregiver in any capacity. If you’ve ever been arrested for ANY reason EVER or simply posted something with adult language on facebook, then you’re going to be labeled an unfit mother. If you have struggled with addiction or alcoholism and you sought treatment? It will be used against you.
The guy that denies he has or has ever had a problem is a different story. The assumption is usually that these allegations are untrue, just something women say to get more of their ex’s hard earned money. Forget about even joint custody, you’re more likely to get supervised visitation and you’re going to pay your ex way more than you ever earn. The judges usually impose some pretty imposing conditions on anyone in recovery, whether they’ve been sober 10 years or 10 minutes. They will set you up to fail. If you want to divorce a big rich jerk, you had better be squeaky clean and flush with cash or you should consider long and hard how bad you want out of your marriage. Consider the cost and your resources carefully before you move forward with the process. It will be harder than I could ever accurately explain to you.
Good luck convincing the old white man on that bench that you’re not unfit. You remind him of his ex-wife and that bitch took him to the cleaners last year.