Today I am finishing up my three-part series on domestic violence. If you have not read the previous two parts and would like to catch up, you can find them here and here.
My Story (Continued): Finally Free
I thought that filing for divorce would finally bring the end of the nightmare what was my life, but really it only began a new chapter of abuse. My ex-husband was angry, to say the least, that I had sought a divorce. He refused to accept the paperwork despite numerous attempts to serve him. He had added me to his health insurance (since I had lost mine) while we were separated but before I filed for divorce. I think he did it thinking it would force me to stay with him. As an act of revenge against me for filing for divorce, he told me that he was going to remove me from his insurance. (At that time I was working for a temp agency and had no option of getting my own health insurance.) On top of that punishment, he threatened to do everything in his power to take the child from me as soon as she was born. He even went so far as to swear that he would stalk all the local hospitals around my due date if I refused to tell him when and where I was giving birth. He actually drew up a “contract” that he wanted me to sign stating that he would keep me on his insurance as long as I promised to give him copies of all sonograms, keep him informed of the progress of my pregnancy, and notify him when I went into labor. Thanks to my aunt, I was able to get a good family law attorney who fought very hard for me. He came up with an idea to trick my ex-husband. The lawyer called him and basically said, “Hey, I’ll take a look at this contract you’ve drawn up and see about getting your wife to sign it, but first we really need you to accept the divorce papers and sign for them. My hands are tied and I can’t do anything to help you out until you let us serve you the papers.” My ex fell for it hook, line and sinker and was served with the divorce papers the very next day. He was rather pleased with himself, and even made boastful comments to me in an email that he had my lawyer working for him. He lost it when he opened up the papers and saw that I was seeking sole custody with no visitation and no custody for him. He called my lawyer screaming, yelling, and demanded to know what was going on. Let’s just say that it was the icing on the cake when my lawyer mentioned that I would not be signing his “contract,” and that he would be held in contempt if he removed me from his health insurance as it was a violation of the divorce proceedings. When he realized he had been tricked he was angrier than ever before, and honestly I was terrified. I had no idea what he was capable of. He swore to keep his promise that he would be stalking hospitals around the time of the baby’s birth, and I had been notified by my doctor’s office that someone had called and inquired about me as a patient. (Thank God for HIPAA!)
When served with divorce papers in the state of California, you have exactly 30 days to file a response with the court; if you do not respond within that time then you are no longer a party to the case. Basically, you can no longer have a say in what happens because you have essentially told the court that you don’t care. Those 30 days were the longest of my life, waiting to see if he was going to contest the divorce. Fortunately for me, in his mind he thought that he would hurt me more by refusing to sign and return the papers (thus making himself a party to the case). When the 30 days were up, I could finally breathe a sign of relief knowing that the odds were in my favor to get sole custody. Sure enough, things went pretty smoothly from there, legally speaking. I didn’t even need to be present when my attorney went before the judge, and my custody request was signed without issue. I chose not to go after child support because I just wanted free of him, so the divorce decree stated that child support rights were reserved, meaning that child support could be requested at any time in the future. (I feel I should note that even though child support was not ordered, he could have given money to help with the baby at any point, but not once did he ever offer to help. He wanted control of me, and the baby by extension, but he did not want any of the responsibility that came along with it.)
At that time I had an online pregnancy message board I was a member of, and I thought it was the only safe place I could vent about what was going on because he was unaware of it. Little did I know, his sister was stalking me on the group and telling him everything I put there. Fortunately I didn’t say anything too personal, but at one time I did mention that I had decided to give the baby my maiden name as her last name, since I would be returning to that name as soon as the divorce was finalized. When he found out about this, he was furious and harassed me through email for weeks. I realize now that he saw the baby as his property. Her name, in his mind, should reflect his ownership of her. He had already lost custody even though the baby wasn’t even born yet, so he was grasping at straws doing everything in his power to keep whatever control he could. Once again, he renewed his threat to stalk all the hospitals in the area the entire month the baby was due and swore that he would find me, and that I could not keep him from his child. I can see so clearly now that he was nothing more than a pathetic abuser who had lost control over his victim and was trying anything he could to regain that control. Unfortunately, being young and naive I believed him capable of far more and I was terrified every day that he would make good on his threats and somehow manage to steal the baby from me. When the time came to have the baby, I checked into the hospital under an assumed name. It’s sad that all of the baby’s keepsakes from the hospital have a fake name on them. They are usually special treasures for mothers, but for me they will always be reminders of how frightened I was in those days. I do, however, give thanks for a wonderful hospital staff. They were fantastic through the entire process and helped keep me safe. I’ll never know whether he kept his promise and stalked the hospitals, but I was able to give birth and recover in the hospital without fear of him showing up to take the baby.
Shortly after her birth, I had an idea of how I could end his harassment once and for all. Distance from his control and abuse, as well as empowerment from those around me gave me courage I had not previously had. I made a deal with him that as long as he left us alone, I would never go after him for child support; if he continued his harassment, however, I would go after the maximum amount I could get – and, like his first ex-wife, I would get the child support agency involved and make sure his paychecks were garnished. He conceded immediately. For the first time I felt truly empowered and no longer afraid of him. I now knew what was most important to my ex-husband: himself. His money, his belongings, HIM. If I threatened to jeopardize any of those things, then I held the control. He kept to the promise, and I never heard from him again. My child will soon be 9 years old and I have never once been offered even a dime from him, but we have peace and freedom, and that’s worth more to me than all the money in the world.
It’s been nearly a decade since I met my ex-husband, and to look at my life now you would never guess what I had been through then. I have not forgotten though, and occasionally that man still haunts my dreams. I’m happy to say that I am no longer afraid of him. I hit rock bottom in those days. I had nothing but the mercy of others to rely on, and family and friends came through in ways I never thought possible. I realized that when I was in control of my life, I found myself crashing and burning. Once and for all, I gave everything over to God. I learned in those days that there’s a difference between being a saved Christian and being a surrendered Christian. I was finally surrendered. I gave my life over to God because I knew I could never fix the mess I made. Boy oh boy, did He ever come through!
When my baby was little over a year old, I met the man who would become my husband. It took about 9 months of knowing one another to actually begin dating, and 9 months after that we were married. The following year, he adopted her and legally became her dad, with no fight from my ex. From her earliest memories, my husband has always been there and she knows he always will be. Words can never properly express just how thankful I am to the Lord for bringing that wonderful man into my life. He’s not perfect and our marriage has normal struggles, but he loves me and he loves me daughter. I know he will never, ever leave us, nor will he ever harm us. We’ve had three more children since, and I give thanks for every one of them. It’s an incredible journey I’ve been through, and truth be told I wouldn’t change a thing. If I had not gone through that period of hell on earth, I wouldn’t have my wonderful eldest child, and I probably would have my husband either because I would never have learned to look for the qualities that truly matter in a husband.
Thoughts from a Domestic Violence Survivor
Since beginning this series, I have had several different people ask me how they can help people who are or have been in domestic violence relationships. The first thing I would recommend is to educate yourself about DV. Did you know that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence at some point in life? It’s so much more prevalent than we realize. Not to mention, there are many forms of abuse, and they aren’t always as recognizable as black eyes or bruises on a woman’s body. We cannot help victims if we don’t understand just what DV is or recognize the warning signs.
Do you know someone in a DV situation and want to know how you can help? Listen. Care. Just be there. On average, an abused woman will leave her parter 7 times before she finally leaves for good. It’s not because she wants to be abused. It’s because she’s afraid. She thinks she has nowhere to go, or she fears what will happen to her and/or her loved ones if she doesn’t go back. So often, women don’t have advocates to help them stay gone. BE AN ADVOCATE. Help her find a safe place to go. Offer your home to her, or help her find a shelter where she can be safe while she plans her next steps. She is so used to being controlled that often she does not know how to make decisions on her own.Help her understand the Cycle of Abuse, and recognize that things aren’t going to change unless she is willing to do something drastic. What she needs is someone to empower her, advocate for her, to guide her to those who can help her recover.
If you do not personally know someone who is in a DV relationship but want to help, please consider donating to local DV shelters. They are always looking for clothing, diapers, etc. The best thing to donate would be gift cards to places such as grocery stores, Target, Wal-Mart, etc. Those donations go directly to abuse victims to buy the things they need.
Lastly, talk about it. Spread awareness. Let’s break the stigma and tear down the barriers of race, religion, income, culture, etc. Domestic violence is NEVER okay, and the world need to know this.