Protective Mother Wanting Custody of Children Back
My children were taken from me in March of 2011 by Chesterfield County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, and the Chesterfield County Circuit Court---specifically Judges Gregory D. Carr and Harold W. Burgess, Jr.
I was married for 4 years in an abusive marriage. Three children were born, and I was a stay at home Mom. The father left twice, the second time for good. He went directly into court and filed for child custody. So did I. Custody remained for me for about a year and a half. The kids were 1, 2, 3 when he left--- all three in diapers. He then started mudslinging in court, lying about me, getting his family members to lie about me, hired a team of lawyers, and continued to ask for custody. Sole legal and physical custody was granted to him in March 2011, after a team of lawyers used legal tactics to discredit everything about me--- my character, my mental ability, my emotional stability.
- I was ordered to vacate my home, so he and the kids could move back in. I appealed it, and lost. I was then ordered to pay $1300/month in child support with no job. I quickly went into arrears, and ex started filing show causes and contempt of court charges against me. Over several months, the judge had no sympathy for me that I had no job, and ordered me to jail for a year, or pay a $3500 purge bond to my ex. My mother bailed me out of jail. My mother is a librarian, and her entire paycheck was being funneled to my ex-husband.
- Luckily, I only spent 4 hours in jail. I have been looking for FT employment for over three years, while appealing my court cases to get custody of my three children back. I appealed the court case to the Virginia Court of Appeals, and after a year of review. I lost again. I was then ordered to pay my ex's attorney fees of $18,000, the amount that he paid to defend the appeal, as I was a pro se litigant. I then had to file for bankruptcy. However, attorney fees associated with a child custody case are not considered dischargeable in bankruptcy, so now I have to pay my ex child support, and a monthly payment toward attorney fees. If I do not pay either of those fees each month, the judge will send me to jail.
- I filed for a change in custody after my ex got married again 4 months after we were divorced, and moved his new wife, and her three teenage daughters into "my" home with my three children. She quit her job, and started being the stay at home Mom that I was with my children- taking them to school, making them lunches everyday, tucking them into bed each night. I am allowed to see them Wednesdays for three hours, and every other weekend---it's about 6 days a month. He gets them the remaining 24 days of each month. The kids started to experience all sorts of health problems last year while in his care. I took pictures of all sorts of skin diseases and bruises that were unexplained and otherwise untreated. The judge said it was nothing, and said he would not give custody of my children to me.
- My lawyer who represented me basically gave up during trial, and stopped fighting for me. I let that lawyer go, and appealed that case to the Virginia Court of Appeals. The decision just came back last week that I lost again. They awarded attorney fees to my ex husband, so that is another $18,000. ( Had I known that I would be sued for his attorney fees, I might not have appealed it.). I plan to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia for one last shot at trying to get my kids back. Currently, I owe my ex-husband $36,000 in attorney fees for his lawyers in an attempt to get my kids back and have a relationship with my children!
- In the meantime the court restricted my access to the kids while they are at school and for extracurricular activities: I'm not allowed to be at the school, unless there is a school function in which PTA parents are invited to (I used to volunteer almost every day), I'm only allowed to have lunch with them 1 day a week (I used to have lunch about 4 days a week), and I cannot attend extra curricular activities (I was not allowed to go to swim meets over the summer- my kids are great swimmers!).
- I've had to move in with my mother because I just don't make enough money to pay my ex spouse all the child support and attorney fees. It's ironic that the man who used to throw me across rooms has my children, and forces me to pay him almost $1300/month, and if I don't, I will face jail time. He will not allow me to speak to the children when t hey are in his care---no phone calls, no extra visits. His new wife also had made friends with all of my old neighbors, and has spread all sorts of stories about me, so I'm not really friends with all my old neighbors anymore, even though all their kids go to the same school my kids go to.
- I have been fighting this since March 2011. I finished my Masters in the process, and started working on my PhD studying the research that is out there on abusive men who use court systems to further abuse their ex-spouses and children. In cases where abusive fathers seek custody of children, 70% of the time, the children are given to the father. I've found several groups, associations and non-profits that have dedicated their lives to this cause---battered women and their children. Apparently, it is happening to women all over the country, and many women are ashamed to come forward and talk about it. I was like that for a long time, I was ashamed. I couldn't believe it had happened to me. But things are different now. I'm learning to trust God more and trusting that everything He does has a good purpose and is happening for a good reason. There are many women out there who haven't seen their children in years, or have supervised visitation for an hour a week, not because the mothers are monsters, but because their ex spouses have used the legal system to criminalize them and destroy the relationship they have with their children. When it happened to me, when my children were taken from me at ages 2, 3, 4, it really affected my personality. I felt betrayed, not only by the father of my children, but by the US legal system. For a long time I was very bitter and angry. I felt like everyone was out to destroy my life. I went through a lot of loss and grief. However, I am starting to learn how to trust and believe in God more, and to truly believe that this is happening for a reason.
- I miss my children tremendously. They are growing, and they have been saying for three years now that they don't want to live with their father. They are 5, 6, 7 now. However, since they have been with their father for so long, and they are so young, they often identify with their "kidnappers." Prior to me losing custody, my oldest daughter, who is 7 now, told me that her father was sexually touching her during visitation. I went to the police and Child Protective Services about it, and they told me I was lying to get back at my ex-husband, which was not true. To this day, my 7 year old tells me that she remembers when her father was touching her, and she says that he has not done that in a while. She lives with her abuser. All of my children live with a man who abused me, and abused my children.
- Sometimes I have to ask God, why is this happening? But I trust in his divine will to bring about good from this situation. There are times when my children get angry at me, and get upset that I am not always there for them. I try to explain to them the truth, the reasons why I cannot be at their swim meets, and why I cannot eat lunch with them everyday. When we are together, we pray and pray about it. We don't ever give up on our prayers to God about being reunited again as a family. I hope you do not mind me writing so much about it!
Some of the women that I know through mothers of lost children groups have started a new phenomena called court watch, where we all attend each other's hearings, and alert the media of the hearings. We have found that the more judges know that mothers have support, and that the community is watching what they are doing, the more judges are accountable for making rulings with integrity and fairness. I've been to dozens of hearings, both criminal and civil in my case along, throughout the last 4 years, and most of the time, I have not had a large group of supporters with me. One friend of mine recently was facing 90 days in jail (she has not seen her child in 4 years), and when she went to court, she showed up with about 25 supporters. The judge dismissed her jail sentence. This gives me hope. However, when I was sentenced to jail, there was no one in the court room. It was just me and the back chamber of the court room. My lawyer did not even do anything about it, didn't talk to me behind the glass or anything regarding a plan of action, and I haven't heard from that attorney since. Luckily, the attorney told my Mom what happened and she quickly bailed me out. I was placed in a jail cell with two young girls, one of which was very angry. I thought she was going to beat me up in jail! I talked to her lovingly for the 4 hours I was in jail, just so she would not get angry with me and try to beat me up. It was scary!
My ex husband has made about $60,000 from me and my family so far. He has been collecting my mother's paycheck as a librarian for over 2 years now. My mother is 66, and I am 38. My family is supporting him and his new wife and family, who do not work (my ex husband works, but his new wife does not). My mother is getting ready to retire on January 1st, and she has been paying my child support payments so that I am not hauled off to jail again. However, I do not know what is going to happen after January 1st. And there will still be a pending trial regarding attorney fees from my last appeal, if I do not stand a chance in the Supreme Court of Virginia. I've been told by several attorneys that even getting the Supreme Court to look at cases is extremely difficult. I'm not a lawyer, but I have to represent myself, just because I do not have the funds to pay an attorney. If I had known that I would be punished for appealing a court's decision, I may not have appealed. No one told me I would be sued for attorney fees. Most people in the courts told me that if I do not agree with a court's decision, I have the right to appeal it through the proper channels. No one told me I would be monetarily penalized for it if I did. And of course, my ex hired one of the most expensive attorneys in Chesterfield, and an appellate attorney who wrote the manual on appellate law for Virginia lawyers. It's been tough.
I'm asking my friends and acquaintances to write letters on my behalf to the judge just to make him aware that people are watching his decisions in my case, and that the community is calling on him to make the right decisions for fairness and equality, and ensuring that I have an ongoing relationship with my children. At least the judge will be made aware that he is not making rulings without others being aware of it, and being affected by it. If your net work would be able to mobilize a lot of mothers and supporters to write letters on my behalf to the judges that see my case, I hope that will help!
This same thing (with exception of the physical and sexual abuse) has happened to celebrity Kelly Rutherford. Kelly Rutherford's story has made this issue more apparent. In many cases, mothers were portrayed as crazy, unstable, psycho (all this happened to me in court---the judge told me I was delusional for believing my ex threw me across a room. The judge tried to tell me that that never happened to me and I made the whole story up! That was after I tried to show him pictures of the bruises....) But Kelly Rutherford is beautiful, glamorous, a celebrity, with self-confidence, and is a good spokesperson for this cause. In many cases when a woman has been abused, and then are further abused by a court system after she escapes the abuse, by being told she is crazy, with mental illness, psycho or an unfit mother, it wears away at her self-confidence. In the past some mothers were at wits end with the way they were being treated by professionals in the community and the court system. During one of my court hearings, I had one attorney glibly say to me, "Why don't you go get a job at Wawa?" when I told the Court I was unable to find a job, and they also said, "Why don't you live in a weekly hotel?" after I thought I'd be living on the street when they kicked me out of my home when I had no job. No one really cared what was happening to me. And the more they took away----my dignity, my house, my kids, my assets, my possessions, the stronger their case was about how the children were better off with the father because LOOK! I was virtually homeless, bankrupt and unemployed. It was all done through legal strategy......legal kidnapping and legal seizure of property. I had to sign the deed of my house over to my ex husband, or they were going to throw me in jail if I didn't.
- I am a very good person. I have a Masters degree, and am working on my PhD. In recent years, through all of these unfortunate events, I have experienced a lot of loss which has put me in a place of living with my mother, being bankrupt, and being without my family. My children bring me so much joy, they are amazing little creatures. They light up my life! But when I am not able to see them, I often get discouraged and isolated.
Soooooo, I am still fighting. Any help you can provide would be soooo appreciated!! Even friends that check in with me once in a while are a god-send. It lets me know you care. So, thank you!!! .
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