My ex-wife has started telling me things after our sons visitation with me that can't be true.
January 3, 2012 10:11 AM   Subscribe

My ex-wife is making up lies to take away my visitation time with my son. Do I need to consult my lawyer right away?

Our son is five years old. I just brought him home to his mom after his visitation with me over the Christmas vacation. His mom moved 800 miles away (to live with her parents) right before our divorce and took him with. This is his second visitation with me, the first being five weeks in the summer.

The day after my son got home with her, she started telling me things that can't be true. She has said that our son told her terrible things about his visit. That he was scared and unhappy, but couldn't tell me because he was afraid of upsetting me. That he didn't want to be at my parents house for Christmas because it scared him. That he likes my girlfriend but doesn't want her to touch him anymore. That he can do whatever he wants because I let him. That he can hit his mom or call her names.

She has threatened me that I am doing bad things to our son and that she is going to talk to her lawyer and attempt to reduce my visitations.

Our divorce cost me $10,000 (more than 25% of my annual income) and put me massively into debt and forced me to sell my car. My ex-wife's parents have tens of millions of dollars. They bought her a new car, new house and new furniture. They gave her a job at her father's business (she never worked when we were together). My ex-wife is emotionally unstable and an alcoholic, but they have so much money they can make everything look however they want.

I don't have any more money or credit and cannot afford to keep paying lawyers to fight her. I pay her child support out of every paycheck and live in a one bedroom apartment while she just got a three bedroom house in a high-end neighborhood.

I am obviously very concerned, but unsure what I can do at this point. Since it is just threats so far, do I wait until she takes it further or do I need to take defensive action now? I don't want to take on the cost to talk to my lawyer now if I just need to wait for her to take action, but if there might be something I can do pre-emptively I would.

I am overwhelmed and terrified of what she can do. Of what she might say to our son or how she might manipulate him. Of the power of her family money and what it can do. Any advice would be appreciated. Anonymous email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do I need to consult my lawyer right away?

Short answer? Yes.

Longer answer? If you want to remain in your son's life, I'm afraid that's the only way you're going to be able to do this. That's just the way it is. I'm sorry, this situation sounds really awful, but your only real recourse here is either to give up on your son, or to get legal representation.

Something you may be able to work with here is what's known as a "guardian ad litem". These are lawyers, some of whom are volunteer, some of whom are paid by the courts (depends on your state/county), who represent not the parents, but the kid. And they do so by investigating what's going on. This will mean not only interviewing the parents--who they will rightly view with skepticism--but also the child they're representing. What you've got now is your wife telling you what your son is saying. You don't know whether he actually said those things, and you don't know whether he was told or coached to say them. A GAL would, if they're doing their job right, try to get to the bottom of the situation.

But even though you probably wouldn't pay a GAL, you'd probably need to pay your lawyer to get one appointed. Which sucks, but that's the way it is. Again, sorry.
posted by valkyryn at 10:17 AM on January 3, 2012 [19 favorites]

Yes, you do. In spite of the teeth-gritting cost, your attorney needs to be in the loop now regarding this situation.
Also, this sounds like a situation where a guardian ad litem would be ideal...
Sorry you are having to go through this- best of luck to you and your son!
posted by PlantGoddess at 10:21 AM on January 3, 2012

You seem to be ignoring the possibility that your son did say those things. He's young, going through major life upheavals, and is probably upset and tired after that long trip. Is he seeing a counselor? Make sure he's getting the support he needs.

But, yes, you should probably talk to your lawyer.
posted by emyd at 10:23 AM on January 3, 2012 [19 favorites]

Everyone has given excellent advice already, so I'm just popping in to say somewhere like The Legal Aid Society may be able to give you reduced-cost or free representation in your area. Other options are here.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:29 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just a quick word about legal aid: a lot of legal aid organizations aren't really set up to deal with family law very well. The clinic I volunteer at won't do it at all. There are a few reasons for this.

First, with divorces as such (leaving custody aside for the moment), there isn't a whole lot of need. Either the parties have money, which means they can afford a lawyer, or they don't, which means their need for one is minimal as far as getting the marriage dissolved goes. Settlement, alimony, and even child support tend not to be quite as big of a deal when both parties are broke.

Second, custody issues are just a mess. These are frequently related to divorces but, as this situation demonstrates, frequently go on long after a divorce is finalized or can even come up when there was never a divorce in the first place. Either way, we're talking about what is likely to involve a lot of work. But here's the thing: while it's of paramount importance for the parents where the kid stays for the weekend, as long as he's being adequately cared for, the legal system is largely ambivalent. Provided both mom and dad love and want to provide for their kids, which is true in most cases, the legal system couldn't really care less where they are. When the kid is being neglected, Child Protective Services (or your local equivalent) can step in to represent the interests of the child, so it's not like the lack of representation by the parents is putting a bunch of kids at massive risk of abuse and homelessness. So there's just not a lot of interest in taking these kinds of cases on, as they tend to be a huge amount of work, never really go away until the kid turns 18, are distinctly unpleasant, and aren't always as pressing as other cases.

So, by all means, look into legal aid, but don't be terribly surprised if that turns out to be a dead end. Most legal aid clinics are better equipped to deal with things like bankruptcy, immigration, landlord/tenant, and tax.
posted by valkyryn at 10:40 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, lawyer up. But also, as emyd points out, he's five. When my daughter was five, she tried the same stuff when she went back to her other house.
"I can eat whatever I want there!"
"I don't have a bedtime there!"
Kids at that age have realized that they have influence over the world, and they often test that by declaring that things are a certain way that benefits them, because it might work. Your son doesn't realize that your ex won't change his bedtime just because you (allegedly) let him go to bed later -- hell, it might work. Also, he's old enough to understand (even if only subconsciously) that your ex wants to hear bad things about you, and he wants to make her happy. If you projected the same feelings toward her, he'd tell you the same things when he was at your house.

Ask your ex "Does it make sense that I let him do whatever I want, but he's afraid of upsetting me?" That likely won't help any, but give it a shot. After that, talk to your lawyer and tell him or her to tell your ex's lawyer that you're not going to negotiate visitation, period. If she wants to bleed you dry and make you throw up your hands and give in because you can't afford to pay your lawyer to go back and forth with her lawyer anymore, insist on going to court immediately. She will try to call your bluff and say that having to testify will hurt your son. Don't let her get away with it.

I am not in any way a lawyer, but I faced the same things with my daughter. I held firm, and the visitation periods didn't change because of it. She is now seven and understands that the first thing I will do when she tries that is call the other house to confirm. That stops it cold.
posted by Etrigan at 10:45 AM on January 3, 2012 [10 favorites]

All of these things sound like things a little boy far from home would say. A 5-year-old boy who hasn't seen you in half a year, and is around unfamiliar adults in unfamiliar surroundings? The things he's saying might be true. That doesn't mean she isn't twisting them, though.

That he was scared and unhappy, but couldn't tell me because he was afraid of upsetting me. Very common. You're saying "hey, isn't this fun? I'm so happy to see you! This is great!" and he's missing "home" but doesn't want to hurt your feelings.

That he didn't want to be at my parents house for Christmas because it scared him. He's a little boy and it's Christmas. He wants to wake up in his own bed, he doesn't know if Santa's going to know where he is, and it isn't even your house, it's yet another house!

That he likes my girlfriend but doesn't want her to touch him anymore. That's ok too. He's a little boy. It doesn't mean your girlfriend did anything wrong, it just means she's not his mom.

That he can do whatever he wants because I let him. That he can hit his mom or call her names. This one I'm not sure about but it could be based on something that went totally unnoticed by everyone else (e.g., mom makes him eat green beans and you didn't make him eat his green beans when they were served at Grandma's house). Maybe you call him "punk" as a term of endearment (my brother and his daughter call each other that) and he went home and called his mom a punk, and then said "but daddy says I can!"

You really do need to talk to a lawyer, but I would highly recommend listenting to your ex very calmly and with a very open mind. Don't rely on a person who's only recently learned how to speak English to communicate with your ex. You both have to learn to help each other make sense of what he's telling you. Try to talk with your ex.
posted by headnsouth at 10:47 AM on January 3, 2012 [19 favorites]

If she wants to bleed you dry and make you throw up your hands and give in because you can't afford to pay your lawyer to go back and forth with her lawyer anymore, insist on going to court immediately.

This is actually a viable option in many situations. Don't like what you're hearing from the other side? Force a court date. If the other side isn't actually willing to testify, well... they don't want this as badly as they're saying they do.
posted by valkyryn at 10:50 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to your immediate question. You probably do need to talk to a lawyer. However, you can do one thing right away, which is to begin keeping a visitation diary.

It should be hand-written, and should be complete. Just make a point of making an entry on every pick up and drop off. Write down when and where the exchange happened, the status of the kid, and anything the kid had to say. You can also add notes about what you did during your visitation, whether your GF was present, what his bedtime was, whether he had a cold, and so on.

Every entry should include a time and date, and there should be no gaps in the bound diary.

In any legal action, the lack of such a diary will hurt you. Having one will (almost certainly) help you.

It isn't too late to retroactively start one for the two visitations you've had. While keeping things honest, there's no reason you couldn't back date a diary at this point. I suggest you do it, cheap, easy, and sadly, probably needed with this one.
posted by Invoke at 10:50 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Re the visitation diary--we set up a dedicated email account (ours was an extra within the five accounts our paid provider allots us, but you can do it with gmail or hotmail) so that we could email entries directly to it from our primary account. That way they were automatically date and time stamped and we couldn't be accused of creating any false documents after the fact. And they definitely helped in court.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:10 AM on January 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes on the lawyer. Yes this sucks. I'm sorry you have to go through this. Just keep your child's needs first and foremost in your mind; that's what's really important. Ask to have your child go to an agreed on counselor; if there are issues, you want to resolve them, if somebody's playing games, a good child psychologist will spot it and report accurately.
posted by theora55 at 11:47 AM on January 3, 2012

You should consult with your attorney right away. He or she will have a handle on how to prepare for what may be in the wings. When your son is with you, you should definitely keep a small calendar so you can make notes of your activities during his time with you.

Unfortunately, unless something happens to change it, there's a strong possibility that you may continue wrangling over custody and visitation until your son attains the age of majority or one of you decides to stop fighting.

When you talk to your attorney, ask him about options for either having the court appoint an attorney to represent your son. As an alternative, some states empower the court to appoint a professional expert, such as a psychologist, to do a custody evaluation. You may want to explore this. Finally, if your ex-wife has more money than you, ask your attorney about the possibility of asking the court to order your ex-wife to pay some or all of your attorney fees, as well as the costs of any court appointed professional whose services are necessary.

Finally, you should be cautious about deciding your ex-wife is telling "lies" (though you may ultimately conclude that she has). Communication about these issues should be in writing. You should express your great concern over the claims and advise your ex-wife that those claims are untrue, detailing the structure in your visits and your house rules. If it's truthful, deny that the GF has ever behaved inappropriately with your child.

In either case, your lawyer has something to work with: if your wife is lying, she may just end up showing the judge that he/she was mistaken in making the original orders allowing the move-away and that perhaps a modification is in order; if the child is lying (which is a possibility), this again requires some inquiry since there is now a problem so severe that your child feels it necessary to lie to mom in an attempt to address it...
posted by Hylas at 11:53 AM on January 3, 2012

Just wanted to clarify something- when your wife said that your son didn't want your girlfriend to touch him anymore, was that an insinuation that she was molesting him? That's how it came across to me, and is all the more reason to contact a lawyer.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:35 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Valkyryn's advice is generally dead-on, but this part does not jive with my experience:

Just a quick word about legal aid: a lot of legal aid organizations aren't really set up to deal with family law very well.

The clinic that I volunteer with does a lot of minor GAL work, and does it very well. OP, if you feel comfortable having the mods give us your location we may be able to give you better advice about resources.
posted by slmorri at 1:17 PM on January 3, 2012

You're getting good advice, so take this as an addendum: From the moment my parents separated, my mother went to work coaching us to say bad things about our father, his family, and the time we spent with them. If we weren't coming up with anything juicy enough, she cooked something up herself. She also enlisted a child psychologist to keep my father from getting custody of us, and the fact that I had been trained to badmouth my father got the child psychologist on her side.

My brother was 5 when this started, and I was 7. It's quite possible to start screwing kids up that early, and she inflicted massive damage on us with all that scheming and intrigue. We were adults before we started repairing our relationships with our father.

Even if your son is saying these things, they may not originate from him. And if they DID originate from him, your ex is still in the wrong. She could have called you and had an adult conversation about how to best address the kid's needs, but she called you full of threats and accusations. So yes, get a lawyer, and good luck.
posted by Coatlicue at 1:26 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to play up how unhappy I was at dad's when I talked to my mom. I think I felt I had to reassure her that I preferred her. She talked badly about him so I felt It would make her feel better if I did that.

And I did the same to my dad.

And since I kind of believed my own words, the changeover from one to the other was traumatizing. A decade later I'd still wake up wanting to throw up because it was Saturday again.

I was eleven and felt I had to do this or I would not be loved or safe.

So this is why your son might be saying this stuff. He can say that and still love you and want to be with you and need you.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:23 PM on January 3, 2012

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
I just want to say that I know for sure that what my ex-wife said my son is telling her is not how he feels. I can't be sure, but I feel it is extremely unlikely that he is saying these things either.

Throughout the visit with my son he was extremely happy and very expressive of his positive feelings and enjoyment. I have pictures and videos of him ecstatic with joy and happiness. He loves visiting with me and loves all of his (my) friends here. He knows everyone by name and gets excited and very animated when he sees friends he likes especially. My son is very gregarious and social and outgoing and I could bring a dozen people into court to testify to the sheer joy he expresses to all of them during his visits here.

He never expressed any negative feelings throughout the visit that were not normal. He would resist brushing his teeth, or holding hands to cross the street, or complain about not getting enough cookies or chocolate milk. Normal kid stuff. He did express that he missed his mommy and wanted to go home and see her a few times. When he felt that way, we would get in touch with her and arrange to do a video call or phone call. Most of the time, when asked if he wanted to talk to mommy, he would decline.

He was perfectly capable and willing to express his discontent whenever he felt he wasn't getting what he wanted, such as cookies or chocolate milk. My understanding is that a child his age is not capable of hiding his genuine feelings in the way that my ex-wife is alleging. I care very much about my child and am super sensitive to his feelings and never force him into doing things that make him uncomfortable (and he's not afraid to act uncomfortable with things). I don't act upset or express disappointment in him because of how he feels and often discuss his feelings with him directly.

I appreciate the advice and will be starting a visit journal as has been suggested. I will contact my lawyer if I get any indication that my ex-wife is going to pursue her threats any further.

I am curious if anyone knows or has experience with the Guardian Ad Litem when the child lives in another state? This seems like something that would be so helpful, but was never brought up during divorce negotiations.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:01 PM on January 3, 2012

There are some things that kids will not say to anyone but their mom. I'm sure that he enjoyed his time with you but he most likely did feel all those other things. There is a good chance that she isn't lying.

This doesn't make you a bad parent. What makes you a bad parent is that you are not willing to co-parent with the child's mother. She missed her baby, who is with her more than he is with you. She knows him better. Yes, I'm sure she said those things in a mean, nasty way but you still need to address them and make it better for everyone.

Legal action will just make the situation worse. Yes, you will get more time with the child but you will have his mother so upset that she may not be able to parent him properly or she may say bad things about you. The best thing that you can give your son is a healthy, happy mom and a healthy happy dad. Going to court does not make healthy, happy people.

Your best bet is to find a mutual friend that you both trust or hire a mediator or counselor to work through these issues with the both or you.

Ex isn't going to say things the way you want her to say things. You are not going to like one another or see each other's life styles in the best light. If that were possible, you wouldn't have gotten a divorce.

It is time for you (not her, we can't control her) to grow up and put your child's needs first. If that means playing nice with his mother, then do it.

Also, you don't see your child very much as it is, why the hell is your girlfriend there? Shouldn't you be focused on your child? It's not like he lives with you and the only time you have to be with her is when he is there. Take a break from dating while he is with you. He doesn't need all that mess in his life. And maybe he doesn't want to share you with your parents and stay in their house. I know my children hate it when their dad's parents are around because they are not child friendly people.

Time with you should be TIME WITH YOU unless the child lives with you. Please, make an effort to work things out (through a mediator) before you call a lawyer.
posted by myselfasme at 6:12 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

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