Creating YOUR Reality in Court
I have written many times about how the family court system often sides with abusers when it comes to custody issues. I have heard some of the saddest stories in my life from abuse survivors who are treated with contempt by judges, and how their abusers get partial, and sometimes even full custody of their kids. It is criminal.
Part of the problem is that judges are often not educated about domestic violence. But another part is just plain human nature. When faced with two parents, one who is crying and getting angry (usually the abuse survivor), and another who is calm, confident, and speaking clearly (often the abuser), the judge will favor the calm confident one. Judges don’t know what really happened in the marriage, or what kind of parents these two people are. Unless they have some written evidence of abuse, it is she said/he said.
They can only rule on the evidence they have before them.
And part of that evidence is the behavior of the parents in court. I am not saying this is fair or right. It isn’t. But it is human nature.
I have a friend named Hattie. She was with her abusive husband for fifteen years. He was a neglectful abuser. Not loud and controlling, but he controlled her through his neglect. He would make promises that he would not keep. He would begin projects in their home and never finish them. He studiously forgot her birthday. You get the picture. Because he wasn’t obviously controlling, it took her a long time to see that he was really abusive. Hattie has given me permission to use her story here. These are her own words (edited by me for this blog). In it, she talks about the process she went through to get a divorce agreement with her husband. Hattie was fortunate enough to have a private attorney.
This whole process has been a lesson me in “What Is Reality?” It would seem that reality is actually what I or others perceive reality to be. This is weird to think about. In my marriage, reality was mostly the reality he created. His reality was that he was a hard worker, sweet to play with kids, loving and kind. But I lived a different reality. I was overworked, not appreciated, treated indifferently, talked down to, ignored or yelled at. Now that I don’t exist in his reality I can see what I want my own reality to be.
Dealing with courts and lawyers has shown me that reality can be created. All that is necessary is paperwork evidence.
During the process, my lawyer forwarded me the settlement agreement proposal created by my ex’s lawyer. This triggered me and I had a panic attack because it contained the same marriage reality I lived in. I talked to my lawyer and he laughed about the proposal. He said he always gets that same generic kind of proposal from the opponent where the opponent gets everything – money, parenting time, etc. So he encouraged me to create my own settlement proposal that fits with my reality, and he would put it into legal wording.
It’s all paperwork and wording. All of it. It’s a matter of figuring out the right words to create reality and applying them in the right legal light.
So I took all of the complaints and issues I’ve seen from other friends going through divorce with their abusers and I started creating my own reality. If he annoyed me about something, I wrote it down in my reality papers. Some of the things that he did that annoyed me were:
- Wandering through my house as if he still lived there,
- being late to pick up our kids for his parenting time,
- teaching my children that women are to be silent in church,
- ignoring previous agreements.
His reality is so strong in his mind that he can’t see any other reality. When it came to splitting the finances, his reality said it’s his money, he gets it all. I should babysit for him for free during his parenting time because I’m the mom and it’s my job. My reality says good luck with that. I have 6 kids to support and raise, if I watch the kids on his parenting time, it’s going to cost him. He was unable to see any other reality but his own – that was his weak point. The courts set a basic reality as a starting point, but they rule with the strongest reality presented. I imagine his lawyer is going to panic a little when she sees my agreement proposal. It’s very long. She is expecting a concise and simple document that deals with two topics of contention. That was never my reality. He’s going to need her to explain all of the pieces.
My takeaway is to stop living in your abuser’s reality.
I no longer see his reality as valid for me. Abusers typically manipulate the courts because they are masters at creating a reality everyone buys into. Abuse survivors keep trying to get the courts to believe and protect us in the reality we live in, but this keeps backfiring on us because emotional abuse doesn’t exist in any kind of paperwork reality. It’s basically undocumentable, so according to the courts it doesn’t exist. Physical abuse barely exists. I believe it’s all about posture. Understanding this helped me during the mediation the courts insisted we do. My posture was not about using the system to try to get them to protect me. I used the language of cooperation and working out details that were complicated. In the end my ex seemed unreasonable and unwilling to work things out! The mediator saw “Mr. Nice Guy” from my reality point. This was the first time anyone ever saw him the way I do!
So . . . there are basic rules and guidelines the courts give us. When it comes to creating a final agreement, we must know our opponent’s reality well enough to offer just enough of whatever they want so we can present the best reality for us. Documentation is crucial so the court can see how reality is unfolding. For example, I documented every date and time he arrived late to pick up the kids on his parenting day. I kept every email about the children’s schedules that he refused to acknowledge.
It may be true that we are in danger or flat losing our minds because of their actions and words. That matters to us, but it doesn’t really matter to the courts. We have to be wise and realize our abusers are trying to force us to live in their realities, and then refuse to do it. I’ve noticed that when I create my own reality, his reality no longer affects me. I no longer have panic attacks when he pulls his stunts. I think this is ultimately how I’m going to be able to help my kids side-step his emotional and spiritual abuse too. Once they understand what reality truly is, they can learn to dismiss his abuse.
I (Caroline) love Hattie’s strength and wisdom. Yes, it is true that abusers have treated us badly. We want the courts to punish them for that. But that is not what Family Court is all about. Family court is about making the best decisions possible under the difficult circumstances. Splitting up finances “fairly.” Doing the “best they can” for the children. Yes, it is a messy process, but sadly, it is the process we have to work within. Understanding this and getting the best agreement we can is the best we can do.
Question: What are your thoughts about Hattie’s use of the word “reality”? How could you use this idea to your own advantage?
In Matthew 10:16 Jesus warns us:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
We will be wise to act shrewdly when we are dealing with wolves (our abusers and the court system). I hope Hattie’s words are an encouragement to you today.
Bless you all,