During the first few years of our 50/50 custody arrangement, we appeared to be on such good terms that I would allow him into my house when he picked up our daughter for custody exchanges. Looking back, I can’t believe it! Had he really changed for the better?
I’ve been through the wringer over the last few years concerning my daughter's custody. Lawyer meetings, motions, cross-motions, court appearances, mediation sessions, and on it goes. Married to an angry, verbally, emotionally, and mentally abusive narcissist, I fled my marriage taking my 3-month old with me. She’ll be 10 next month. My biggest regret? Not filing for and getting full custody when we went through the initial divorce process all those years ago.
Having been separated for over a year before even meeting with a lawyer, time allowed for conflict between my husband and me to cool down. I was a busy single mom raising my infant daughter on my own, fitting in weekly therapy sessions while working full time, thanks to the help of daycare. That year seemed to last a lifetime, and while I definitely suffered from PTSD as a result of his abuse, the memories of it were dampened with the time that passed before officially filing for divorce. I wasn’t waiting for or even wanting any kind of reconciliation with my ex, but I just didn’t realize the importance of acting on the divorce immediately.
While we, naturally as human beings, sometimes make hasty decisions in the thick of things, I believe it is in the thick of things when we also act on the true emotion of a situation, thus helping us make better decisions. There’s no time for any level of second-guessing or regret to sneak in to change our minds, which best describes my situation.
Time away from him caused me to become lulled into a sense of security where there was none.
But because I let so much time pass, those instinctual feelings that led me to leave my marriage in the first place began to fade. My ex and I were cordial with one another, talked regularly. He began to see our daughter on weekends, soon taking her unsupervised for entire weekends. I guess looking back in the fog of it all, I started to feel misplaced guilt. I felt as though my daughter deserved to have her father in her life. My dad left when I was 10, and we only saw each other every few months during school vacations. I didn’t want that for my daughter. I thought this was the better decision. My ex’s anger had appeared to subside, and I, naively, thought things had gotten better, so I agreed to (gulp) shared 50/50 custody.
During the first few years of this custody arrangement, we appeared to be on such good terms that I would allow him into my house when he picked up our daughter for custody exchanges. I would spend some time in his house when I picked our daughter back up. I had a key to his house and helped with the dog. He even watered my plants for me while I took my daughter on vacation. Yes, I gave him the key to my house! My abuser, a key! Looking back, I can’t believe it! Had he really changed for the better?
The answer was no. In reality, of course, his true self, the true self that had originally sent me packing, was just lying dormant. Dormant, that is, until he met his current wife a few years later, who brought out his nasty side again; gave him the desire to start fighting with me again. His anger came front and center, this time with a vengeance.
And then, the man I was married to returned, with a vengeance!
Within a few months of meeting his wife, his brick wall was up and impenetrable. He refused to work together concerning any custody, co-parenting, or school issues. He hired a lawyer and took me to court. He wasn’t looking for full custody, he just decided he didn’t want to pay child support anymore, all $400 a month of it. He had to know this was a futile fight, his lawyer could have told him that, but didn’t because he liked the checks coming his way.
My ex stopped all communication with me unless through his attorney. Through this child support litigation, all sorts of other issues arose and fighting for my daughter became my full-time job. It took over our lives, as he threatened this and threatened that, none of which I knew would hold any water (like how he complained to our mediator that I was feeding our daughter too much broccoli for dinner - yup, you read that correctly, I rest my case), but we still had to go through the legal fight.
For him, it was all out of spite and hatred for me and had nothing to do with our daughter or her well-being, thus his narcissism. I was remarried at the time and expecting a child with my husband. Over the next 3 years as my family grew, what started out as my ex’s poor attempt to gain the upper hand, as narcissists feel the need to have, turned into tens of thousands of dollars spent unnecessarily on lawyer fees, court dates, mediation sessions, and tons and tons of stress and anxiety.
My daughter is paying for my inaction.
Had I filed for divorce as soon as we separated, while the anger and abuse was fresh in my mind, body, and soul, I would have fought for full custody and all of this later nonsense wouldn’t have needed to occur. Sure, there might have been other nonsense of his, but the judge would have known his record of abuse. During this most recent litigation, she actually thought we were both at fault for past wrongdoings. Seriously?!?!
If I knew now what he was capable of, dragging us all through the mud for naught, I would have protected my daughter better than I did back then. Everyone involved would be better off. If my attorney was worth his weight I would have won full custody and the rest would be history.
But it’s not. I’ll never know the full impact that all of this has had on her and will continue to have on her. While my daughter and I continue to have a close and open relationship, she no longer talks to me about anything that concerns her dad’s house. Once upon a time, she confided in me that she was frightened by her father’s yelling and anger, but now she dodges even the most general question, such as if I ask her how her weekend was. She doesn’t know about the court issues but knows that her mother and father can’t be in the same room together. I silently pray for her to someday know him the way I know him, but I know that’s not fair of me. Sadly though for her, I’m sure she’ll make her own judgments as time passes.
Today, he still doesn’t communicate with me and continues to ignore my emails, while we wait for the courts to assign us a co-parenting therapist. He does still pay child support, though.
I pray for my daughter's well-being when she's with him and worry every day that she is in the custody of this man, a man who may still be able to pull the wool over some people’s eyes, but not mine. I will always regret the fact that I didn’t fight for full custody way back when I had a chance. There isn’t any current substantial evidence for me to fight for full custody now. But there was back then.