Dear Chump Lady,
I know you aren’t a lawyer, or a psychologist. I also know that although your husband is an attorney (who was chumped), he can’t give me legal advice. I’m not seeking that kind of advice. I’m seeking the advice of somebody who understands the fuckupedness of this sort of situation.
My stbx and I were married 12 years, and had two children together. In that 12 year span, she had 18 affairs that I didn’t know about until after she left. When I found the list she left, it included my sister’s husband, the fathers of two of my step daughter’s boyfriends, and several men she brought into our lives to become close family friends. I worry, she has boundary issues (cue the laugh track). Also during our marriage she attempted suicide twice in one day, and on five occasions I had to stop her while she was hitting or kicking children.
I never called cps or the cops. Like a chump, I figured how can I save a marriage and be calling the authorities on my wife? So, now I am in a 2.5 year long custody fight.
My question is really more of validation seeking. My gut tells me that a person who would hit kids, lie under oath, have 18 affairs, and everything else I’m not listing, is not who I want having the majority of the care of the children (now 11 and 13). But, the attornies (I’ve had three so far), the ad litem, the social worker, and the psychological evaluator all tell me that 50/50 is best for the kids.
The ad litem went so far as to threaten that if I did not settle for 50/50, she would testify I should only have standard visitation. When I reminded her of the child abuse, she said I had no evidence it continued after she left me.
My gut tells me not to give up. How could I forgive myself if the kids got hurt again? My gut also tells me the changes in the children’s behavior since the court ordered 50/50 temporary schedule are not normal growing up. 11 year old boys dont lay on the floor calling themselves a “mistake” and crying uncontrollably for 30 minutes. 13 year old girls dont hit their fathers and leave bruises.
Yet, only my dad and a handful of friends tell me I’m doing the right thing.
My counselor tells me my stbx is borderline. The court ordered psych evaluation only said bipolar (and well under control without meds or treatment).
You can’t give me legal advice… I know. What I want to know, chump to chump, is does your gut tell you that I should keep trying?
The trial is set for November, I have to represent myself now. I’ve spent and borrowed all I can on the prior three attornies, who all wanted out when they realized I wasn’t going to settle, and that the case was going to a jury.
She sucks. You want validation that she’s a wingnut and not worthy of caring for your children? You got it. I Chump Lady validate you. She’s not worth spit. She’s a lousy mother and a lousy human being, and I understand that you want to protect your children from further hurt. I get it.
In a perfect world children would go where they are loved and cared for most. We do not live in a perfect world. I think your lawyers are advising you correctly that 50-50 is the best deal you’re going to get. Right now. Emphasis on RIGHT NOW.
I cannot speak for all your legal help there, but IMO, it’s not that they think 50-50 is “best” for children, it’s that 50-50 is the best deal you can get at this time. Those are two very different things. Sure, some of them probably think with utopian optimism that more time with a suicidal wing nut is improving for children, but I doubt it. What they realize, however, with their professional experience is that courts don’t see it that way. There is a very high threshold of fuckupedness before a court will terminate or diminish someone’s parental rights, especially if that someone is a mother.
I’m sure there are exceptions, but I would not gamble another 2.5 years of legal fees on it. I think you need to accept this arrangement and make the best of it. You cannot control her crazy. Let me repeat that — YOU CANNOT CONTROL HER CRAZY. But you can keep your side of the street clean. You can be the best father you can be. You can be that rock of stability for your kids. And you can take that money you’d throw at more lawyers and invest it in some serious therapy for your children so that they can advocate for themselves.
They need to manage their relationship with their mother, and you can give them the professional help they need to do that. To draw boundaries, to be strong, to ask for help. Your kid can call CPS on mom, or the cops, when mom does something scary on their watch. They need shoring up in therapy to know that’s an okay choice. They’re allowed to assert themselves. They’re also almost old enough (depending on your state) that they may choose where they live. So, some time with Crazy Mom without you as the human buffer zone, may be enough to tell a court they want to live with your full time. Don’t despair.
But you need to LET GO and work with what you have.
Please don’t think I don’t understand the seriousness of her illness or her malevolence. My son’s father is a hoarder. I had to call CPS on him last year — and like you, I only wish I had done it years sooner. I have had to send my child since he was 4 years old to a guy who cannot open his mail. Who would leave him in a car unattended. Who let strangers move in as renters and under court oath didn’t recall their last names. I endured over a DECADE of this shit, Chumpattney. My heart breaks for you. I know it’s hard. Only very recently did my son start opening up to me about the conditions at his dad’s. How there was no functional kitchen, a fridge of rotting food, how dad would buy him a 75 cent pot pie to eat, how he spent most of his time being dropped off at friends, whose moms fed him. I GET IT.
And while I won’t bore you with my 12 years of court battles, let me tell you from first hand experience, the courts don’t really give a shit. Now, at very great expense (over $100K in legal fees to date), I have full decision making authority and physical custody. He has generous visitation (which he doesn’t exercise). And my son, is finally at an age — as a teenager, where he calls the shots on how much he wants to see his father. And when this summer he wanted to see him for a week? His dad canceled on him at the very last minute.
Chumpattney, I get it. You want to protect your children from the hurt. From the chaos. From the mental illness. You’ve saved yourself, now you want to save them.
You cannot save them. They have to figure out that relationship for themselves. They have to fight that fight. Yes, even as minors. You just have to document, document, document and be the best, sanest parent you can be for them.
There is a terrible price to pay when you breed with a crazy person. I know it, my husband knows it, most of the people who post here know it. It’s not fair — but I want to give you hope — the kids turn out okay anyway. I swear they do.
My son is a great kid, an honor roll student, and other than the usual pain in the ass teenage stuff (how many aps does a 16 year old “need”?) — he’s turned out splendidly. Despite mindfuckery and physical neglect from his father. Your kids are going to turn out okay too.
Empower them. You won’t always be around to protect them. Mom lays a hand on them? You tell that kid to call CPS or their school counselor. You document it. Don’t raise them to be chumps, passive in the face of this. You can start the paper trail on her now — I promise her crazy isn’t going away.
I worry that if you tilt at windmills, Chumpattney, if you go in there pro se (representing yourself) a judge is going to think you’re just full of scorn because she cheated on you. That you are dragging your children through a custody battle, and every child should be spared such a nightmare. They’re going to think you were offered a decent deal by three attorneys and you turned it down. Judges like to see settlements. They don’t like to be stirred. They’re like sleeping dogs — grouchy, ill-tempered sleeping dogs. You’re bothering me with THIS?
To you it is EVERYTHING — I get it. I so get it. To them you are another disgruntled parent in a grudge match. Family court sees such horrors every day. You’ve got a litany, absolutely. They see worse. Much worse. Sexual abuse. Terrible physical abuse. I was told by the cop investigating my son’s dad “Yeah, it’s bad, but it’s not like roaches are crawling over your kid. I’ve seen that.” They see WORSE, Chumpattney. You roll those dice, you’re going to have to live with the consequences — and it might not be as good as the deal you are rejecting.
I think you’d be in a much better position of attempting to be the Cooperative Sane Parent for a year, and then document her crazy and revisit it. Get a court order and watch her violate it. Let her do something abusive with the kids, and have the backing of the shrink, the school counselor. That stuff MATTERS to judges. Your word against hers? Not so much.
A mental illness diagnosis? That’s something — but I’m telling you from personal experience, the court didn’t weigh it that much. No one wants to stigmatize the mentally ill. I knew of a woman that had to share custody with a paranoid schizophrenic in Virginia (where I used to live), because they passed a law in the 1990s that a parent’s mental illness couldn’t be disclosed.
I’m sorry to be such a bummer, Chumpattney. Please know I am still your cheerleader, but I think you can do a lot more good with a moderated approach. Get the 50/50 deal and NOW do all the things you didn’t do before — counseling, documenting, calling in the big guns when she loses it. I think you’ve got a better shot at this later — and your kids are nearly teens and can decide.
Fighting her keeps you mentally locked in this nightmare. You need all your healing energy for yourself and for those kids. So many men would love 50/50. They’ve been chumped and they don’t even get that. Please reconsider the trial in November, Chumpattney and take the 50/50 now. It’s not defeat. It’s playing smart. You aren’t a bad parent, and it’s not “giving up.” I know it’s a big shit sandwich and it’s unjust. Focus on what you can do — and IMO, that’s throwing your time and resources at therapy and quality time with the kids. (((Big hugs)))