I’m writing a series titled My Family Court Story for Family Court Awareness Month, which has been declared November by Tina Swithin from One Mom’s Battle. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Once a survivor decides to leave an abusive relationship, if there are children involved or a marriage, there is another bigger battle to be fought – navigating the family court system while learning how to manage post-separation abuse.
In Part One of my story (below), I tried to resolve our marital issues by going to couple’s counseling. When I realized the marriage was over, I tried to reconcile our issues in mediation. During the mediation session, Robert (not my ex’s real name) became verbally abusive to me in front of the mediating attorney. The attorney strongly suggested I get a restraining order and found an attorney who could see me right away.
Seeking Protection from Abuse
The day we went to mediation, my daughter was in school. I had my cousin on standby to get her from the bus in case I was still gone when she arrived at the house. My son was with a family friend playing with her children. Both kids were safe and had no idea of the situation that was unfolding.
I wrote down the address of the attorney awaiting my arrival, packed my bag, and stopped in the ladies’ room. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I stood 5’8’’ tall, but a scraggily 106-pound body hung on my frame. My hair was pink. My eyes were black. And I wasn’t ready for the battle ahead. I wanted peace. I wanted safety. I wanted sanity. None of that could’ve been provided for me. I had to fight for it myself.
I meekly stepped outside and scanned the street for Robert’s truck. Part of me was afraid he’d wait outside so he could continue to berate me when I walked out. But I was lucky. He was gone. I ran toward my aunt’s car, which I’d driven that day, jumped in, and locked the doors.
I was driving my aunt’s car because, of the two vehicles we possessed – both in Robert’s name – one wasn’t registered. He’d been using the non-registered vehicle but recently had gotten pulled over. If he was flagged again, it’d be impounded. That left us with one vehicle. He deemed it necessary to have our one registered vehicle, so I was left without one, with two children. After weeks of asking for rides and renting vehicles, my aunt graciously offered the use of her second car until things were figured out. Every time I sat in her vehicle, I was reminded that I couldn’t do this alone. But I was going to get through it with the help of people who loved me.
I took my phone out to type my new attorney’s address into my GPS and noticed I had four text messages and three missed calls from Robert. I read them, felt the gnawing in the pit of my stomach grow, and typed in the address for the attorney. I had to get this process moving.
The 20-minute drive was surreal. I kept wondering how my life had gotten so messed up. How did I get to this place? I couldn’t wait to see my therapist the next day. I really needed to process the situation. Until then, I knew I had to take the advice of everyone around me since I had no idea where to turn and how to free myself from the nightmare. If I could’ve figured it out on my own, I would’ve already been free.
I arrived at my new attorney’s office. I parked the car. I took a deep breath and headed into the office. I was scared. I didn’t know what the process entailed, but I knew I was striving for peace, sanity, and safety. And I believed the system was on my side. I believed it would help me.
My attorney had a standing desk, so I stood in front of him as we prepared the required paperwork. After reliving some of my worst experiences of the last six months, we had the paperwork complete.
Abuse is tricky. You don’t realize how badly you’ve been treated until you stand in front of a stranger and tell your story.
I’d been making excuses and minimizing my situation. I wanted to make it work. I wanted to remain a family. But I had a new goal now. Safety.
With my completed paperwork in hand, I drove five miles to the courthouse. This was my first time entering the courthouse in my current state of residence. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But after waiting for about 30 minutes, I was able to speak to a receptionist in the family court office. She told me I could leave my paperwork with her and check back in three hours to see if my request had been approved.
Since the text messages and calls kept pouring in from Robert, my phone was near death. I left the courthouse and searched for a phone charger. After securing one from the nearby bodega, I found a restaurant to grab some lunch at a table conveniently next to an outlet. I had to keep in contact with the people gracious enough to watch my children during this ordeal. I was reminded once again that I couldn’t do this alone, but I was going to get through it with the help of people who loved me. All I could do at this point was wait. I had to wait to see if my peace, my sanity, and my safety were important enough to get the State’s help in preserving them.