“In the past there has been some confusion about our custody arrangement.”
Thus began the second paragraph in the e-mail I sent to the head of Luca’s new high school last night, the high school he will be attending when he comes home from his residential treatment facility later this month.
I have learned to be proactive when it comes to educating schools, doctors, and therapists on the reality of our custody agreement, and specifically, that I am not roaming the streets in a tin hat trying to ward off alien invaders.
I have learned to be proactive because professionals working wtih children do not always do their due diligence when it comes to deciphering custody arrangements. And in their defense, the process of interpreting a densely worded custody arrangement is a great cure for insomnia.
Also, ex-spouses who are determined to keep you “out of the picture,” as one therapist confided Prince had told him, can quite convincingly persuade people like School Directors that you are, in fact, a nut-job who has been forbidden by the court to see your own kid.
Last year, before I understood that I had to be proactive, and spent weeks trying to get Luca’s therapists to return my calls, I got my feathers all ruffled. It is, after all, rather humiliating to have to show people papers that prove you are entitled to participate in your kid’s education or therapy, and then frustrating when you have to decipher Paragraph 2b, or whatever, which explains this provision in virtually undecipherable legalese.
Then there’s the explaining — without seeming defensive — that the relinquishment of custody was voluntary on your part and that the judge did not, in fact, take away your custody because you are “mentally unfit.” There is the patient detailing of the ramifications of the divorce in just-the-facts-ma’am language, instead of the breast-beating howls of foul play and accusations of DSM-IV diagnoses that might, in fact, make you appear just the slightest bit unhinged.
Although I don’t go to Alanon, I have adopted the Alanon perspective that someone else’s opinion of me does not define me. I now expect that Prince will pull every move in his machiavellian repertoire to undermine me. When I feel my heart pounding at the latest injustice, I detach from my white-knuckling reaction and instead take action that makes sense.
Which in this case was e-mailing the Head of the School to introduce myself and arrange a meeting to show him the custody order, explain that Prince and the school are, in fact, legally required to include me in all aspects of Luca’s schooling, and in general let him see that I am a regular mom, albeit one with just a wee bit of PTSD.
Only an hour after I e-mailed the School Director, I received an e-mail back from him at 10:00 p.m. (this guy must sleep with his iPad under his pillow) telling me that he was forwarding my e-mail to other school staff so “we will all be fully informed about the custody school-decision arrangements.” He also suggested times we could meet.
I’ve never laid eyes on the man, but I love him. He is prompt, decisive, inclusive, reasonable. Certainly savvy enough to prevent becoming embroiled in legal mishigas. Yet also doing the right thing by my kid.
Because kids deserve a relationship with both parents. And there should never be any confusion about custody arrangements.
Mikalee Byerman says
This is great — progress, indeed!
Given the ubiquitous Machiavellian tactics, I must ask: So how do you handle the manipulation with parents of your kids’ friends? In my situation, my ex and his wife are full-on recruiting allies, poisoning my children’s best friends’ parents against me. Then I show up at school functions, and I’m treated like a leper. It’s disgusting — but since I don’t play the same games, I simply sit back and have to endure. Ultimately, however, it’s affecting my kids: I had to call off my daughter’s ability to spend time with one friend of hers while in my home because her mother sent me an outrageous text message full of lies (regurgitating talking points from my ex and his wife). Turns out, she and my ex’s wife are now BFFs! Just looking to see if you’ve had any similar experiences with this…
Congrats on the small victory with the principal, Pauline!
i am living the same nightmare as you, my ex went so far as to have one of the school administrators testify in court that I went to my daughters elementary school and went inside to pick her up wearing only a tshirt, no pants, no underwear, nothing but a tshirt. Even though on cross she admitted she assumed that i was half naked but the fact that money can influence someone to that point amazes me. This is a private christian school with the richest families in the area as parents. I have been made a pariah at the school, all of the parents of my child’s friends are rude to me and won’t speak or allow their children to come to my house because of these allegations. My ex husband is a university professor (about to be name chairman of the department) and I quit my job as a high level admin asst with Saks Fifth Avenue to be a stay at home mom. In the process, there was a car wreck that left me physically disabled and a daughter that died at 26 days old. And then there is my ex who has done everything possible to alienate my daughter (she is 14 now). I have over 100 violations of our latest court order that I am filing in court for contempt on Wednesday. and i have not seen or spoke to my daughter in over 2 weeks. Money buys your children in America.
Oh, Mikalee, that’s awful. I’m so sorry you have to deal with that crap and that the adults are dim enough to fall for it. I have to say that, miraculously, I haven’t experienced my ex’s friends dissing me…at least not that I’m aware of. I think part of this is because my kids’ stepmother appears to be a nice person who doesn’t want to get in the middle of the conflict. Which is a miracle, because I hear way too many stories like yours. I think all you can do is show up and be yourself and eventually people will figure things out.
Hi Mikalee, you can count me in! I get that so often. My ex and his wife don’t work essentially so they were at the school all the time (they moved with my oldest son recently, long story). My son’s stepmom was in with all of the PTA moms and they all acted like I was invisible. I was a member too, and chaired a committee…whatever. My ex is also extremely extroverted and works the crowd. He can’t take it if he thinks someone doesn’t like him. Most people buy his song and dance and don’t get to see the real him. So, it sucks, but I tell myself that these people come and go each year, but the important thing is that I’m solid with my son if that makes any sense. I feel your pain! Pauline, that is great about the school and I love the way you describe how you deal and the fact that another persons opinion of you does not define you. I need to adopt some better coping mechanisms like that! It’s been a rough week…
Elizabeth Aquino says
Wonderful. I admire your patience and persistence — am in awe of it, actually.
I so enjoy your blog…. well written with a bit of self deprecating humor.
I came here looking for boring old legal blogs, but I love this. You are such a good writer and tell a good story and have well, good, attitudes on life and relationships and (what other people think of you etc.) we can all learn from you and enjoy you. Proactive is a word we should carry through our day.
Thanks, Cathie! You made my day.
lisa thomson says
Another great post Pauline. You’re right that everyone should be aware of the custody agreement so one parent isn’t overlooked. I read Mikalee’s comment and can relate to those situations as I was in the same boat. I have to say, Mikalee, please don’t be silent especially with your kids. Always defend yourself against lies and innuendo’s to avoid alienation. This is one situation where the ‘high road’ doesn’t work so speak up when things are happening and let everyone know when you are being misrepresented by your ex and his wife. Pauline, I’m really happy that Prince’s wife is reasonable, that really helps. I always enjoy your blog because you write from the heart!
Thanks, Lisa. It’s a shame these turf wars exist in so many divorces. I’m glad people speak up about them, and how they handled the mishigas, because it does help others going through the same thing.
I’m new to your blog and to divorce, and just want to say thank you. I really appreciate your straightforward and humor-filled approach to a not so funny topic
Annah Elizabeth says
Kudos to you for being proactive. I am sorry you have to jump through so many hoops, but I can’t tell you how many educators will appreciate the information. Being in the education field, I see this stuff all the time and, sadly, all too often there is a legitimate reason that one parent is forbidden involvement…I can’t tell you how frightening it is to release a child to a non-custodial parent where there are serious safety concerns…
Those real life circumstances are what make your case so hard, but by providing the documentation and sitting down to say, “This is who I am; my circumstances might be unfortunate but I’m still an involved parent–your ally–who looks forward to being a part of your community.”
Keep doing what you are doing, Pauline. The pay-offs will be huge in the long run, and that is, ultimately, where your sights are set.
Happy Holidays, Journeyer!
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Tears streaming down my face while I am reading your posts tonight. I just found you and I am filled with gratitude to finally, after 10 years, hear someone else talk about the same kind of nightmare that I have endured at the hands of my ex. It is so painful to not have anyone to talk to who understands an “out of the ordinary” divorce and custody battle, and subsequent parallel parenting, with the ongoing emotional and financial abuse. Other people cannot understand, and the judgments are huge. After all, if your ex has a “perfect” public persona and the abuse all happens at the court/and friend of the court, texts, emails, and in private places, no one else sees what you are experiencing, or understands the anxiety, the fear, and the tremendous wearing down from the never-ending attacks. I am so thankful to see you here on my lap top tonight. The last month has been one of the worst in a while, with parental alienation, personal attacks, threats, and undermining of my parental (and overall adult) authority. It has been incredible and I am not doing that well. I think it is the reality that it has been 10 years this summer since I moved out of our family home with my two daughters to get away from his emotionally abusive and controlling behaviors. I could never have foreseen the abuse he would perpetrate on my girls and I over these years. One daughter has a severe anxiety problem and has been completely alienated from me, although he won’t let her live with him full time, as he told me, “I told you when you left me I would destroy you. My joy comes from knowing she hates you and she is there to make you miserable when I can’t be. How did this all work out for you?” So, she is here, with our week-on.week-off custody arrangement, emotionally beating the life out of me at every turn. She is 16 and this has gone on from the time she was a toddler and learned to speak. He has worked on her emotionally to teach her to mock me, dismiss my parental authority, be physically abusive, and it has taken an incredible toll on her, my 12 year old, and my sense of self. Thank you for being here. For being so brave and for daring to tell your story. I am going back to keep reading.
p.s. In my excitement, I failed to include the reason I wanted to comment. Your title, “There has been some confusion over our custody arrangement” speaks volumes. When my oldest daughter was 13 she was awarded the student leader of the county, nominated by the Superintendent of Schools, a panel of teachers, and all the principals at the participating schools. The school made their last “mistake” in an 8-year battle of informing them over and over, from the school secretary to the Superintendent every school year, in writing the terms of the custody arrangement, a copy of the description and the letter from the friend of the court that all information must be shared. The Supt. of Schools sent the letter regarding her leadership award to my ex, who did not share it. I knew nothing about the award and my daughter was in my care that week. She forgot to mention it to me, and it was through Facebook that I found out about the event. A social work colleague of mine asked me why we weren’t there, at the “special table at the front of the room” and how could we miss the event when they all gave speeches in my daughter’s honor, and there was an award, etc. How humiliating. Again, I can explain that I didn’t know about it, that I wasn’t told, but unless you have been in a situation like this, how do you explain how this could happen? How you could end up letting your kid down in such a way and she missed out on the evening and the honor because her father, who told me in private later, “wanted to make sure that everyone knows what an awful, selfish person and mother you are.” Oh. And I mistakenly thought that this was about our daughter’s actual life. Her achievements, her award, her enjoyment of the recognition of her hard work, drive, and stellar academic accomplishments. She was the first middle schooler ever to be awarded this honor, it is usually a Junior or Senior. She missed out and then her father, in an effort to make sure no one thought it was his doing, pulled her out of her classroom the next day and dragged her to the Supt. office and forced her to tell him that she actually knew about the event and I had refused to take her. It never ends. Never.
Annah Elizabeth says
Please see the note I left above for Pauline. The same holds true for you: I am sorry you are having to endure this type of parental alienation at the hands of your ex. What I can tell you, however, is to keep doing what you are doing and stay involved in your children’s lives. I have a story to tell you, but don’t see how to contact you here. If you wish, message me via my website link on this reply.
I’m so sorry you have to go through this. Like you,I was so happy to find this blog. I hope you can find some peace from him sometime soon, and I wish there was an easy and magical way to make all of the abuse and the hurt stop. I haven’t figured out how to yet either.
X DeRubicon says
I’m a single dad. I’ve got custody of the kids because my ex-wife refused to share parenting as equals, so it had to be winner take all fight. Her plan was that I would visit (3 Sunday afternoons a month as a base schedule) vs my offer of 50/50. I think that in a world that valued both parents equally, I probably could have won on my own merits. But the world isn’t fair and my ex actually lost (DUI with the kids in the car led to sole custody and supervised visitation).
I actually marvel at the guys (and women) who can find a way to contiune to effectively parent in the minimum visitation arrangements. Especially with a hostile or gate keeping former spouse. I know that my ex-wife struggles with it (now that we’ve lifted the supervision requirement I’m mostly out of the gate keeping business). So much of the parental interaction (especially for dads) depends on hangtime. It’s really tough to have that same interaction on a schedule or if it has to wait two weeks to happen again.
I’ve found that as silly as it sounds youtube is a pretty big help. You can learn how to do anything there. Want to know how to do a french braid? It’s just tying knots with hair and there are a 1000’s videos out there. The other thing that I’ve been trying to do is when it is something that would have been done by mom (like buying a first bra) I try to work it out so that it still happens, rather than asking my mom or sister for help.
The biggest challenge to me has been the matrons. Women in various roles who expect that guys are morons and mom handle the kids. The school nurse who insists on calling mom when the card clearly says call me (mom was on supervised vis and had lost her drivers license), and gets mad at me when my daughter finally uses her own phone to get me to pick her up.
X DeRubicon says
I know that this is an old blog post but this might help.
I had a bit of problem with my kids school. At the time, mom had supervised visitation and had lost her drivers license. I have sole custody and am #1 on the contact form. I simply wanted the school nurse to call me first if there was an issue. In the end, I had my lawyers send a letter to clear up the confusion. Not a cheap solution, but is did solve the problem.
Our agreement also very specifically identifies rights for access to medical records (it’s also state law now, I think). If my exwife had any issues getting info, I’d be happy to help, but she could also show then the agreeement.
X DeRubicon says
What I’ve never understood is why people think that a custody order is a punishment. I’ve got sole custody, but I run into the occasional situation where people assume that I’m a non-custodial parent, and act in ways that are baffeling to me.