How do I cope and have best outcome for son in viscious custody battle?
November 19, 2009 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Horrible custody battle about to begin. How do I cope and have the best outcome for my son?

I'm shaking at I type husband and I have been fighting for 10 months straight since my son came home. Im' not sure if it's just general stress, post partum anxiety, etc. but we just immediately hated each other. Divorce has been thrown around on and off by both of us but each time it's mentioned, my husband threatens to take my son away from me. Now he's saving emails and being clear of "well I"m not taking him away from you but no man will raise my son and you can have him on weekends."

This guy can't afford his own place, healthcare, etc. (I make double). He's using my mental state against me as ammunition. I'm at an unreasonably high stress level with the new baby (possibly post partum anxiety), my husband always picking a fight with me, and my mother has 3 months or less to live and I am in charge of her final plans. I've been in therapy on and off and currently since May. We've been in marriage therapy but it's to no avail. He refuses individual therapy for himself. He's on Cymbalta for anxiety/sleep issues I need to go on something because I'm ready to crack.

It tears me up and disgusts me that he is always saying I won't have our son. I'm scared of his threats. A lawyer told me that it won't happen, that the courts will decide. But that leaves it open to chance and I'm terrified. My son is my world. For my husband he's obviously someone to use against me to hurt me. It's sick.

I want to make sure that this process doesn't hurt our son but the way my husband wants to play it's going to and I don't know what to do? My therapist said don't divorce now because of my mom but I can't take the threats and the fighting anymore.
I'm at work now crying my eyes out at my desk because I'm so scared.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you're anticipating a legal battle, ask the mods to make this anonymous.

Can you separate now so you won't have to deal with a divorce until later?

You can't control your husband. You can only control yourself and hire the best lawyer you can. Listen to your lawyer, do what she says, and take care of yourself and your son. Your therapist can help you cope with the parts of this you can't control.
posted by Mavri at 9:47 AM on November 19, 2009

First, I think this question should be anonymized.

Second, big hug to you - you're going through a lot right now.

Third - clearly you're not in a supportive environment right now, while dealing with a new baby and a parent dying. Is there someplace safe you can go stay for a while, with friends or family? Your home situation is toxic, and not helping you or the baby.

I understand where your therapist is coming from - but what about a legal separation? This lawyer that you spoke to, was it in a professional capacity, or just friendly advice?
posted by HopperFan at 9:47 AM on November 19, 2009

Don't apologize, no need. You're doing everything right - you've tried marriage counseling, you're in personal therapy, and you've spoken to a lawyer.

DO NOT be intimitated by these threats. Just take them as more proof that you need to start documenting, documenting, documenting - and even if you don't go through with a divorce, please consider the separation, at least while you're going through this stuff with your mom.
posted by HopperFan at 9:53 AM on November 19, 2009

You poor thing.

Is there any way that you could just for NOW, until things resolve with your mother, move out? It strikes me that no matter what you ultimately resolve to do with your husband, you need some breathing room right NOW, so maybe just finding a friend or relative you and your son can stay with until things settle. And couch it to your husband that way -- "look, this is just for now, because you and I are clearly getting under each others' skin and we both need to calm the hell down, let's both catch our breaths and work things through a few months from now". Not being in the same house as him will probably give you a hell of a lot more calm right away -- I mean, he'll probably still be nuts, but at least it won't be in your face all the time while you're trying to deal with everything else.

Then in a few months you will be better able to cope with what to do with him directly, once the dust has cleared a bit.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yep, anonymous, asap.

Threatening a new mother with taking her child away sounds like emotional abuse to me. Can you have your lawyer investigate the possibility of filing charges or taking out a restraining order? Getting a little space between you and your husband so you can calm down and sort out your emotions will probably help a lot as you plan your next steps.

Good luck. This sounds fucking horrible.
posted by felix betachat at 9:54 AM on November 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm very sorry that this is happening to you. You clearly need support right now, and it is a shame that someone you wanted to build a life with is not offering that.

Keep in mind that, for better or for worse, courts only rarely remove custody from mothers. We can have a discussion about whether that is right some other time. For now, just take comfort in it.
posted by jefficator at 9:59 AM on November 19, 2009

Nthing see if you and the baby can stay somewhere, especially if the husband can't afford to move out. I think in a more supportive environment you'll be able to think more clearly about what the best options are for you and your child. I'm sorry this is so hard.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:01 AM on November 19, 2009

I'm really sorry OP; you are bearing a lot of weight right now, under really bad circumstances. You have my deepest sympathies.

It sounds like both you and your husband are going through some really rough times. For whatever reason, he's bullying you, plain and simple. He can say what he wants about custody, but he has no basis to say he's going to take your son away from you. NONE. Who has custody will be determined by a judge, often with input from child services, or with a legal guardian (other than you and your husband) to represent the child's interests. Almost invariably, the mother has primary custody, particularly with children so young.

You really need to get out of there, or kick him out, and just settle this in court.

And DO consult your lawyer regarding what needs to happen in the interim, which will depend on the laws of your jurisdiction. For instance, what can you withdraw from a shared bank account? Who is responsible for the mortgage? I would cut all--ALL--communications with your husband, particularly if he's saving emails. Do not give him something to use against you later. All communications should go through your attorney.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:02 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Take a deep breath. If you individually have decided you are going to pursue divorce, retain a lawyer. If you have not decided whether to do so, stop bringing it up in conversation. By threatening divorce during arguments, you are upping the emotional stakes to the detriment of all involved (you, husband, son).

As hard as it is (especially if your husband is not cooperative in the goal), one thing you can very much do for your son, is to reduce the amount of angst and yelling he is exposed to. Reduce the extent to which you engage, stop threatening divorce, pretend to be unfazed by the custody-related threats and look for support outside your marriage. Whether you do some Mommy and Me yoga or swimming classes with your son, find a Moms support group (or a divorce support group) or any myriad other activities, look toward things that enrich your son and provide a peaceful outlet, out of the house, for both of you.

Please recognize, in your soul, that he simply does NOT get to decide who gets primary physical custody and what kinds of visitation schedules will be established. However, both of your behavior can be taken into account by a judge or mediator in making custody rulings or recommendations. Therefore, the outward appearance of calmness, and a pattern of making decisions in the best interest of your son, is advisable (not legal advice, more interpersonal advice). I understand you are very scared and very upset; but your husband is living in fantasyland by pretending he gets to decide, and you don't need to be scared of that particular boogeyman. Don't let him sabotage you in this way.

That said, you fear it being left open to chance. Just as your husband cannot decide by himself, neither can you. So I think you need to resign yourself to that fact, and get the proper advice for how to put your best foot forward for that, down the line. So don't be scared, be smart, be calm, keep the healthiest and most positive environment you can for your son, and get very good legal advice. If you choose to separate or move out, I would get the legal advice before doing so.
posted by bunnycup at 10:02 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

You have two issues. (1) Legal; (2) Emotional.

On the legal side, get a lawyer. Just to take the legal side out of all of this. Let him or her worry about that side of it. You don't have to divorce or do anything.

Emotionally, you ride out the anxiety when it comes up--don't fight it or try to reassure yourself. Just feel it and let it pass. It will, and then come up again later.

If you are in Mass. I got a great referral for you. MeMail me if you need that.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:02 AM on November 19, 2009

I can't offer much more than a little bit of positive advice: If what you posted is true, you've got a 99.44% chance of getting physical custody. Don't worry about the threats. If anything they just reduce his chances further.
posted by unixrat at 10:07 AM on November 19, 2009

Don't do this right now. That's my advice. I agree with your therapist. I'm not saying you and your husband shouldn't get divorced, I'm saying you will seriously be a nervous wreck with this going on and your mom being sick and what sounds like a wicked bad case of hormones. You have described a battle as "vicious" before it's even begun. Your hands are shaking. You are in the midst of a class A freakout.

Your husband sounds like an ass, don't get me wrong, but PPD is real and you're incredibly vulnerable. You need more support to do this and you owe it to your husband and son, and most of all to yourself, to have your head on straight when you deal with this. I think you should take some deep breaths and put yourself in the kindly hands of your therapist. Sometimes deferring to someone else's expertise is a great idea, and this seems like one of those times.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:08 AM on November 19, 2009

How awful. I'm so sorry about your mom and about your marriage.

You are under an incredible amount of external stress, and the first thing I think you should do is whatever it takes to get 8 hours of sleep per night. If that's meds, do it. Talk to your therapist, get a script, and start sleeping. We can deal with anything better when we're sleeping at night.

Second, I am with your therapist that you don't have it in you right now to fight for custody. It's a marathon, and you're already running one, with your mom's diagnosis. If you separate, he will likely file for divorce, and you will have to start working out how you will split up your son's time, not to mention paying him child and maybe spousal support, as you make more money.

I'm not saying you shouldn't get separated or divorced. What I'm saying is that the process of getting divorced, and working out custody, is going to take a huge amount of energy and time and money. If you can wait until you have more of those -- as awful as it sounds, until you no longer need to worry about your mom -- you will likely have a better outcome for you and your son.
posted by palliser at 10:08 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

maybe just finding a friend or relative you and your son can stay with until things settle. And couch it to your husband that way -- "look, this is just for now, because you and I are clearly getting under each others' skin and we both need to calm the hell down, let's both catch our breaths and work things through a few months from now".

Uh, she really can't take his son away from him for a "few months." Imagine if he tried to pull that on her.
posted by palliser at 10:16 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I know several people who work for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Some of them specialize in custody issues, in which partners will use access to children as a form of abuse against the other parent. You can contact them (1.800.799.SAFE) for resources in your area.

Many abusive men will unfairly portray a mother's mental state in a custody trial. You need a competent lawyer who knows what to expect and can help you fight for your rights.

I'm sorry you're going through this, but there's a vast network of resources out there to assist you. This starts with your family and friend and extends quite far; the hotline can help you start to figure this out.

My wife is heavily involved in this issue, specifically with custody battles spouses face in these situations. MeFi mail me, or if you'd prefer to remain completely anonymous, contact me at
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:21 AM on November 19, 2009 [7 favorites]

Your husband is abusive.

You need a lawyer on retainer. Don't move out without discussing it with your lawyer first. Don't hide away your child without discussing it with your lawyer first. Don't tell your husband about the lawyer. Document everything.
posted by grouse at 10:46 AM on November 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

"Uh, she really can't take his son away from him for a "few months." Imagine if he tried to pull that on her.
posted by palliser

Uh, no one said that she should keep her son away from his father. This is something where they'd have to work out visitation, preferably with legal assistance - particularly because he's already threatening her with taking her son away from her.
posted by HopperFan at 10:49 AM on November 19, 2009

> "However, both of your behavior can be taken into account by a judge or mediator in making custody rulings or recommendations. Therefore, the outward appearance of calmness, and a pattern of making decisions in the best interest of your son, is advisable"

--bears repeating. as a parent that's 'won' a custody battle, this was what made all the difference.

i'm joining the chorus promoting seperation. if you can communicate with him at all, suggest a break--and make sure you also schedule visitation. a bit of a break for both of you would really be the best thing.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 11:20 AM on November 19, 2009

The judge's goal in these cases is supposed to be to provide the best situation for the child. This typically means that the primary caregiver for the child gets more time with them post-divorce, though agreeable parties (which it doesn't seem like we have here) can work out other terms. Laws and customs vary from state to state (and country to country).

Talk to a lawyer (free consult, most likely) and be able to tell them how often you and your partner each: take the kid to and from school, meet with his/her teachers, make dinner, etc.

I suspect you'll find that you'll do OK.

Also, if spouse is threatening to "take the kid away from you" bring it up with the lawyer ASAP, especially if spouse has strong overseas connections and you are worried about a flight risk. Different countries have very different laws about custody and divorce.
posted by zippy at 11:23 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Uh, no one said that she should keep her son away from his father. This is something where they'd have to work out visitation, preferably with legal assistance - particularly because he's already threatening her with taking her son away from her.

Actually, I read -- and still read -- the comment I quoted as suggesting exactly that she should go to a friend's house and stay there a few months, and she would see her husband when things had settled down. You can't do shared custody/visitation without seeing the husband quite often. As I explained in my first comment here, what would actually be involved is a legal separation and a temporary visitation/custody agreement.

And in my opinion, given what you're going through with your mom, OP, that's something that can wait a few months, until you're not torn between two all-consuming crises at once.
posted by palliser at 11:26 AM on November 19, 2009

Also I'd advise seeking couples therapy with your partner if you're not in it already.

Divorce or no, you are both going to need to communicate and work together for years, as you are both parents to this child. The more time you both put into working on a good working relationship, the better.

You may find also that the stress of having a newborn has taken a toll on both of you, and that you may have a better relationship as your newborn gets a bit older (sleeplessness due to caring for an infant for example is a huge toll on relationships).

Good luck!
posted by zippy at 11:28 AM on November 19, 2009

"Actually, I read -- and still read -- the comment I quoted as suggesting exactly that she should go to a friend's house and stay there a few months, and she would see her husband when things had settled down."

I didn't read it that way at all, I just thought it was a suggestion to end the cycle of them being constantly at each other's throats while under the same roof.

In my opinion, if I was in a situation where a parent was critically ill, having a peaceful home environment would not be something that could wait a few months.
posted by HopperFan at 11:35 AM on November 19, 2009

My god, I'm sorry. That sounds so awful.

I agree that you need to talk to a lawyer about the possibility of divorce and what you might do to cover your backside. But...slow it down a little. Once you start the divorce process, things won't ever go back to "normal".

What your husband is doing right now is abusive. If this is how he's always going to be, you need to get out. However, none of us here have a good overview of the situation and context is everything. Our collective advice here is just a response to a short post from an incredibly (and understandably) distraught half of this story.

How were things before your son was born? Was your husband a controlling asshole or has he started behaving that way because he's cracking under the added stress of a new child and having a partner with severe depression and a dying mom? Try to be honest with yourself about that. When people get depressed their memories get tainted by depression. It's easy to get into a mindset where you think the last ten years has been nothing but misery, when in fact it's been 99% good.

No matter what you do, you're going to be seeing your husband a lot in the future unless one of you winds up with sole custody after a divorce. Don't engage on the threats and do everything you can to slow down this spiral of nastiness so you can get some breathing room. The worse things get, the more civil you need to be.

Pretend that you're in control, 'cause you're just as in-control as anyone else is. Just fake it until it feels natural. A year or three down the road, you *will* be fine.
posted by paanta at 12:15 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe it is time to look into getting a stress leave from your work?

If your arguments aren't solving anything learn and use this line. "Nothing productive will come of this conversation." That is the only response you need to what he says. Pretend you don't speak his language, don't even try to really hear what he says, just "Nothing productive will come of this conversation." In marriage counselling, with a therapist you trust, you can have conversations where he won't dare to threaten you.

Nthing that courts don't take infants from mothers, even if the mother has a mental illness - especially if the mother is in the care of a professional. If you have someone post your location we can direct you to specific resources.

You WILL get through this - you have been through a lot and you are still standing, that is something to be proud of. Please seek legal and financial advice immediately though (your workplace may offer it as part of an EAP). Leaving the matrimonial home may be good for your immediate mental health but devastating financially, depending on jurisdiction. Good for you in recognising this is not normal and seeking help.
posted by saucysault at 1:23 PM on November 19, 2009

I'm so sad to hear about this. Do you have any close friends or family who can help support you emotinally through this time? Having someone to vent to and who will help you with errands might be helpful.

Also, I do not think that your husband can legally just take your son away. My understanding is that babies tend to stay with their mom (as long as she's not abusive) and fathers get visitation. I think this changes as the child gets older, but I was under the impression that most judges do not want babies to be shuffled from house to house.

Document every time your husband says he will take the baby and anything else abusive.

Be as kind to yourself as possible during this time and allow yourself to lean on friends and family if necessary.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:37 PM on November 19, 2009

Document everything. If he says he's going to fight you for custody, send email to a gmail account documenting it. Do this at work, if you can. Or blog it on a private, anonymous blog. He's saving emails - fine. Make sure you do the same, in an account he can't get to, and not your work account.

Get a marriage counselor. Maybe the marriage is salvageable, maybe not, but a good marriage therapist can help you get to the right place.

Find a program that does divorced parenting counseling/classes. It's very helpful, and everything you do to show that you are and will continue to be a good parent, is a good thing.

If one of you needs to leave, you'll have to get a separation and have a custody hearing. Or work it out yourselves, which is what my ex- and I did.

If there's any money, pay down debt, and then start closing accounts so more debt can't be accrued. Scared, angry people can be amazingly vindictive.

Calmly tell him, as often as possible, "I know you love Baby, and so do I. Let's work together to be the best parents we can be, so matter what else happens. I know that's what you really want." Every time he says something about getting primary custody, recognize his fears, and tell him "No matter what would ever happen, you're Baby's father, and I would never dream of interfering with that."

In the long run, it's your job as a parent to create a healthy environment, which means dealing with the conflict. It also means that if you separate or divorce, the Dad gets to play an equal role in parenting. It can be very hard, but it's important to protect your child's best interest.

Good luck with your Mom. I know how hard that is, and how much more difficult it makes everything else.
posted by theora55 at 1:40 PM on November 19, 2009

You said you talked to a lawyer, but I couldn't tell if you actually sat down with one in detail or just talked to one you happen to know. A consultation with a lawyer would definitely be a good place to start for the legal aspect, or even at least to calm your fears somewhat. Frankly, if you can afford a good lawyer and he can't, you already have somewhat of an advantage.
Also, something that jumped out at me is that you are both being treated for psychological problems, and he is even medicated, yet he claims he can use yours against you to get custody? IANAL, but hat doesn't really make sense. It seems more like a way for him to try to control you and scare you.
posted by ishotjr at 1:46 PM on November 19, 2009

With a child this age, there is virtually zero chance the husband would get sole custody unless the mother was sexually abusing the child, shooting heroin, smoking crack, working as a prostitute in front of the child and locking the baby in a closet for most of the day when she wasn't hitting or sexually assaulting him or seeing customers and doing drugs and it was on video.

In other words, his threats are completely empty. Even if he were a saint, the bias towards leaving young children with the primary caregiving parent-- who is usually the mother-- is overwhelming because it's not in the best interest of the child to have this attachment disrupted, particularly not at that age. If you are nursing, the whole scenario is even more in your favor-- but even if you're not, he's not going to get sole custody anyway.

Typically, 9 to 10 month olds are first experiencing "stranger anxiety" and don't want to be held by anyone other than mom-- this is exactly the wrong time to take away mom if it can possibly be avoided and any child development expert will know this.

Take care of yourself and seek support as suggested-- but don't worry about this aspect of things.
posted by Maias at 1:50 PM on November 19, 2009

Ok, so let me tell you a few things as the son of divorcees:

- Dad thinks he's getting primary custody? Good luck. We may not be in the "mom always wins period" of the 70s-80s anymore, but unless you've drastically under-represented his parental suitability vs. yours, he has no chance. Odds are he knows this, and is just trying to scare you into giving him his way (I had a step-parent successfully get two siblings from my mom that way because he knew he'd never win in court -- don't be that mom).

- The thing my mom could have done to lessen my suffering was to not wait so bloody long to go through with it. Divorce is no fun to deal with, but it's considerably better than lingering for extra years of abuse when it's perfectly obvious the partnership has already unofficially ended anyway (and she did the same thing twice).

- Your mom's the easy part -- no matter what you do, you know how it ends.

Frankly, my advice to you if things are as bad as they sound would be to take immediate action: lawyer up, file for divorce, leave or force him to via court order, take decisive action that he is neither expecting nor prepared for. When his bluster crumbles and the begging begins, you stay strong and tell him to get stuffed. Yes, it will be miserable, for a few months... but at least you will be taking control of your and your son's destinies, and working towards a better tomorrow instead of worrying every day will simply get worse.
posted by Pufferish at 1:55 PM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

You're at a time in your life where having support is necessary; even in the best situations, raising a child is hard.

So first, surround yourself with supportive friends, family, a therapist and a lawyer. Second, remove yourself from your unsupportive husband (after telling him specifically that "you're treating me terribly, and regardless of whether we can work it out in the long term, you have to stay away from me until you can learn to stop treating me badly.")

This can be much easier if you rely on your support system for communicating with him; push him off to the lawyer if he wants to talk custody, push him off to your friends/family if he wants to stop by and pick something up, and so on. If he wants to talk about his feelings, tell him you're not ready to do it face-to-face, and he should put it in a letter, and end the conversation. If you enlist the help of your support system to minimize contentious communication with him, it should be much less stressful for you.

Good luck.
posted by davejay at 3:18 PM on November 19, 2009

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