Stop it before it starts...
February 10, 2012 11:59 AM   Subscribe

[Potential Abuse Trigger] YANML, yes I know. But can you hope me stave off a bad situation with a man that's abused my sister and other members of my family BEFORE it happens again?

Here's the back story: About 10 years my little sister got involved with the man that was her future husband. Their relationship was shit and we attempted, as a family, to help her out of it but he was incredibly verbally abusive and she was compelled time and time again to stay. She had her first child about 7 years ago and his abuse got worse from then on. He began abusing meth. Things were awful for her then and in a bid to keep things civil between us and him, she kept things from us. Things he was doing, like cutting the phone wires to the house and then taking the car so she was stuck at home with no transportation or way to communicate. He repeatedly threatened to kill her and told her he would bury her where she'd never be found if she told.

When she was 6 months pregnant with their second child, he disappeared...for a few weeks. When she discovered he was living just across town with his new girlfriend, she confronted him there which was, yes, less than smart. That day he chased her at high speeds as she left down residential roads and blocked her in the road, pounding on her hood, attempting to break the windows, and demanding she give him their child. She refused and he chased her to their house. At that point, his parents, who completely enable every bit of his behavior (his mother said in court once that her son beat my sister because she was a bitch that deserved it), were at the house. She ran out of the house to get away from him and he shoved her down while she held my 2 year old niece and proceeded to beat the shit out of her. When she made it to a car he jumped in another and rammed the one she was in repeatedly.

When that situation ended, she was left with nothing. His family kept everything of hers, her daughters, and her coming childs, so my sister had to start over with nothing.

My sister got a restraining order of course and he repeatedly broke that order. The cops were of no help -- we were told that if they didn't see him doing it, then they could not help. We gathered witnesses each time but they refused to help in that manner. We all moved in to my parents house together for the time being because we were genuinely frightened he was going to kill one of us. We traveled no where alone and the one time my brother and I left the house without my father in those months, this crazy dude stood in the middle of the street in our tiny town, in front of the window of a busy restaurant, and attempted to get us to stop. My brother kept driving and dude punched the rear view which swung back and busted out the window. At that point, my brother got a restraining order against him.

He went to jail for various things because his being arrested for domestic assault and child endangerment meant that he had violated his probation, which he was on for felony theft. He was sentenced to 4 years for each charge, to serve concurrent. He would serve a small amount of time, get paroled, and then be sent back because he could not stay clean. In that time he was still with the girlfriend, who had also developed and been incarcerated for a meth problem.

When my sister divorced him she was given sole physical and legal custody and he has no visitation rights. His parents, however, filed as intervenors and they were granted visits with my nieces every other weekend. They are to supervise the visits between their son and their nieces.

The ex is out of jail for good now and off any sort of probation. And lo and behold, he's raising cane for the whole family again. We believe that he is back to abusing drugs and alcohol. We live in a very small town so he gets by with this because of the dreaded Good Ol' Boy Network around here. He repeatedly talks poorly of my sister to the girls, insists that they treat his girlfriend like a mother, and takes them without his parents in their presence. This isn't just a case of a jealous ex like he believes -- there is very good reason and quite a bit of evidence to assume that he is a danger to them and to my sister.

I'm curious and I'm hoping that this is where AskMefi can help. The are my questions:

-Is it reasonable for my sister to seek a no contact order? He repeatedly calls her and asks to have the girls unsupervised and then flies off the handle when she denies. Keep in mind, he has no legal visitation with the girls but insists that she's a poor mother for not allowing it. He is to see the girls every other weekend but frequently blows that off in favor of hanging with his other family because it's not on his terms. Would a no contact order state that he is not to call or come to her house (which he does frequently as well)?

-I'm assuming that a restraining order would be out of the question here because he hasn't physically harmed her since his most release prison release. Is this correct?

-Can you give me some things to say to her, maybe some techniques that you've used, to deal with his constant calling and freaking out? She has a very hard time not feeling guilty for whatever reason and she still buys into the argument he makes that she's keeping him from his kids. I know this is ludicrous but I want to help her see that too.

-This is a tough question that perhaps cannot be answered by anyone here, but if we had proof that his parents were not properly supervising visits, what could be done with that evidence? Might a court take away any access he has to the girls at all?

-Are there any other legal routes that might help protect us that we're not seeing?

-I know this is potentially a shitty way to deal with this, but he is behind on his child support and if the law were to call him on it, it would be a felony. This has not been pursued because no one wants to infuriate and provoke this dude. Is that right on or are we letting him skate by, if that makes sense?

-Would it be a bad idea to see if there can't be something done to keep the nieces away from his girlfriend? As mentioned, she has two very serious meth charges she's plead guilty and served time for but the state has let her keep her own kids so perhaps that's not something to bring up. However, my sister knows that her young daughters have been allowed to sleep in a bed with the girlfriends two boys, older than 12, and that bothers all of us, considering the trouble the boys have been in.
I know these issues are often more nuanced that one can explain on the internet to strangers, but I thought someone here might have some experience to relate to help me cope with the fear and help my family any way I can. This man is 6"6' and over 300 pounds, dwarfing everyone in my family. He is physically frightening. He has recently been coming into my work which frightens me. He follows her and I'm worried for her safety but after all this time, it seems no one can help us do anything to feel safe.

We've been through this so frequently with him that it's not hard to tell anymore when he's using or when the situation is about to escalate horribly and we all sense that coming. I wish it were possible to do something about that before it actually happens but our only option seems to be to wait for things to go south...

PS -- You are not our lawyer, I know. We have no plans to see one yet but will if it might be helpful.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A lawyer is absolutely necessary, preferably one that has experience in domestic violence cases. I'm not sure where you are or what the resources are for you, but sometimes domestic violence hotlines or shelters are able to give you referrals to legal assistance. Your sister could probably benefit from counseling as well.

I'm so sorry--this sounds really scary.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

She needs to get a lawyer and have him handle all communications. All. 100%. These phone calls need to happen today. Like, within the next hour. They needed to happen several years ago. She needs to speak with her lawyer about how to get out of there, and what legal options are available for a no-contact order. Then she needs to leave. She needs to move across the country. She needs to not tell him where she's going. She needs to get caller ID and screen her calls and never, ever answer unless she is 100% sure it's not him. At the very, very least move to a nearby, larger city. She should do this within the next week.

Absolutely nothing -- nothing at all -- can be done about this without getting a lawyer. Start making phone calls immediately.
posted by brainmouse at 12:08 PM on February 10, 2012 [13 favorites]

I don't know why you don't have plans to see a lawyer when the entirety of your question screams GO SEE A LAWYER.

No good can come from further contact, he is a habitual drug abuser who is clearly not clean and sober.

Someone's happiness is absolutely not an excuse for bad behavior. Guilt is a trap, don't fall in to it. Love is not an excuse, it is an expectation of something better. It is a higher standard.

What possible reason does this guy have to stop when no one is willing to use the legal resources available to them to stop him. He's interfacing with people who are being entirely passive about his aggressive behavior. You need to be as legally aggressive as you possibly can be with him.

Please, go talk to a lawyer, print up this post. Say read this, and then say, I want to explore every legal avenue I can to make this person leave us alone. I want you to be as aggressive legally as you can be with protective orders and I want you to mediate between local law enforcement and my family so we have a firm legal framework to compel the court system, local DA and local law enforcement to take aggressive action for our safety.
posted by iamabot at 12:09 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need to get a lawyer and get help around this. This is tragic and it makes me sick to see that the police is of no help, he is terrorizing your family and it needs to stop. You should also bring this to public attention, blog it, call your local newspapers but do something!

There are cases after cases where all of this has led tragically in the crazy individual murdering his family. This needs to stop! Stand up to him and dont stop at anything to protect yourself and your family from this.
posted by pakora1 at 12:11 PM on February 10, 2012

Not to thread-sit, but I just wanted to be clear: She does live with this man. They are divorced and they live separately and have for years.

We have had a lawyer before...and it took her 3 years and thousands of dollars to divorce a man in prison because his parents intervened. She's spoken to a lawyer once about this but was basically told there was nothing to be done. Maybe that needs to me revisited.
posted by youandiandaflame at 12:13 PM on February 10, 2012

She does live with this man. They are divorced and they live separately and have for years.

posted by brainmouse at 12:15 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Re the lawyer: second opinion. And maybe, if you are living in a small town, consider heading into the next biggest town to get someone who's outside of the muck (and the Good Ole Boys Network) and might be more willing to intervene in a more dramatic, helpful way.
posted by Betty's Table at 12:16 PM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

I meant, get a second opinion (re lawyer).
posted by Betty's Table at 12:17 PM on February 10, 2012

Why does she still live in the town? It seems like moving away is the immediate, obvious thing to do, and you haven't addressed it.
posted by brainmouse at 12:18 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

As others have said, you guys need to change your current plan and make arrangements to see a lawyer immediately, one with experience handling domestic violence and abusive situations. What a lawyer can do is try to depersonalize the situation somewhat and act as your sister's representative in dealing with all this. She shouldn't have to be on the phone with him or any member of his family; he can call her lawyer with his concerns.

Frankly, physically moving away from the immediate area might well be something to explore. This should, of course, really only be done after discussing the implications with said lawyer, lest this man accuse your sister of hiding his kids.
posted by zachlipton at 12:18 PM on February 10, 2012

Lawyer: required but potentially expensive.

Security System: suggested but probably not all that useful if shit really, really hits the fan.

Pepperspray/tazer on person and at hand at all times: a good idea, legal or not.

Firearms defense course/concealed carry permit: up to you, I would.

Constant vigil: required and seems to already be well in hand.

Good luck for you and yours.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:19 PM on February 10, 2012

Get a gun, before he shows up with one. I mean yeah, take the high route and keep w the legal system, but if shit really goes down the cops will not be there in time to protect you
posted by MangyCarface at 12:19 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

If private attorneys haven't been helpful, look at public services. There should be some form of Domestic Violence services in your area, probably connected to the Department of Health and Human Services. Especially if there was a paper trail (a restraining order, a police report from the beating in her driveway) from their lives together, there should still be services available to keep him out of her life and protect the children from him, even if they're no longer living together. The role of his parents in enabling the abuse should disqualify them from supervising his visitation -- especially if there is a court record of her stating that your sister deserved to be beaten! Visitation can be supervised by the court system instead, and held at neutral locations.
posted by palliser at 12:20 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I meant to say they DO NOT live together. Typing is hard :).
posted by youandiandaflame at 12:21 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definately get a lawyer and have that lawyer remind the system of the current Josh Powell case. A known psycho in the media who slipped throug the cracks leading to fatal family results is something another town--big or small--does not want to repeat. I agree with contacting the media. It's not like you're slandering the guy given his perp sheet.

The move the hell away from the family/husband--out of state.

I'm so, so sorry she (and your family) are going through this.
posted by stormpooper at 12:24 PM on February 10, 2012

The National Domestic Violence Hotline should be able to connect you to your local domestic violence agency. The may have attorneys on staff or should have connections to low/no-cost attorneys in your area. Many "family law" attorneys take domestic violence cases - many of them are not actually trained on how to represent victims/survivors in that context. Additionally, your local agency should be able to talk to your sister and help her safety plan and figure out what the right steps for her are if she is open to counseling/support services. And yes, for some people, a protection order is not the appropriate remedy - risk of lethality and violence does increase (statistically speaking) when a person obtains one. For others it makes an enormous difference in terms of safety. Custody determinations also takes domestic violence into account in many jurisdictions. Talking to an expert could be very helpful to help your family determine the best next steps possible given this difficult situation. Good luck.
posted by anya32 at 12:26 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Get a lawyer. Now. Before someone does something stupid and someone winds up dead. Seriously, get a lawyer right now. You will never forgive yourself if you do nothing and the worst happens.
posted by markblasco at 12:28 PM on February 10, 2012

I don't know where you are, but the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help you get started. They can point you towards lawyers in your area, set your sister up with counseling (at sliding scale, or maybe free, as needed), and hook her up with victim advocacy groups. Being in a small town is no reason to stay in danger.

In the meantime, as mentioned above, your sister needs all communication with the man to go through her lawyer. Really. And really, it would be best if she could move away.

Best of luck with all of this.

I see on preview that Anya32 also suggests the Hotline - there's a reason for that. They know what they're doing and where to point you.
posted by SeedStitch at 12:29 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

When it comes to custody, child support enforcement, no-contact orders...those things are impossible for us to give good advice about because we don't know the law where you live, we don't know the unwritten rules/norms where you live, what the police will actually enforce and how they'll do it, we don't know what they agreed to in the divorce, we don't know if she's allowed to take the kids out of state, we don't know if he's likely to actually spend time in jail for the child support thing or get probation, etc.

Again, I'm so sorry.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:30 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not all lawyers are good lawyers. I would ask around in the nearest large-ish city to find the name of the meanest, shrewdest family law attorney to ever appear before a judge, then I would hire that person and get ole' Methro's parental rights terminated, arrange for his parents to have no legal visitation since they let your sister's kids sleep in the same bed as a teenage boy they aren't related to, and move the hell out of dodge. This guy doesn't have the wherewithal to chase your sister to another state.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:33 PM on February 10, 2012 [12 favorites]

Many "family law" attorneys take domestic violence cases - many of them are not actually trained on how to represent victims/survivors in that context.

This is a really important point to bear in mind: a family lawyer may well be under the mistaken impression that there's nothing further to be done for your sister. Domestic Violence services are much more likely to know the options in this situation. And they're free.
posted by palliser at 12:41 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

You, your sister and entire family have been held hostage by this guy and his family for so long that you all can't see what clearly needs to be done. This guy keeps terrorizing your family because it works. This is no way to all.

You each need to stop operating out of abject fear (which is understandable), marshall your resources and get a bad ass lawyer ASAP**. Get a better court order for each of you (which includes you asking that he not come to your place of work). Seek to terminate his parents' visitation since they violate it. Seek to keep your innocent nieces from sharing a bed with older boys. Stop all communication. Document everything. Call the cops....every time. And get a gun.

In all seriousness, I know how terrifying this must be and you are loathe to do anything that might incite this guy but your entire family is in grave danger.

**If you let us know where you are, perhaps a Mefite can help with a referral to a bad ass lawyer.
posted by murrey at 12:45 PM on February 10, 2012

We are in southern Missouri, if that helps.

In re: to the shrewd, mean lawyer. We had that guy. My sister is dealing with the fallout from his insistence that this was the best kind of custody deal she would get with his parents.

Most of all the other suggestions here have been addressed with a lawyer and we were lead to believe that everything that could be done had been done, which is why we've resisted spending that amount of money just to be told the same again. HOWEVER, that's coming from small town lawyers around here and we'll definitely be looking into getting a lawyer that deals with this sort of thing.

Thanks you all SO MUCH for the thoughtful answers (and well wishes). I cannot express enough gratitude that you took the time out of your respective days to give us a hand :).
posted by youandiandaflame at 1:29 PM on February 10, 2012

To help your searching:

Missouri DV Coalition:

Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence

718 East Capitol Avenue

Jefferson City, MO 65101

(573) 634-4161 Fax: (573) 636-3728



Missouri service providers from the coalition's website. Looking at the programs in the "Southern" parts of Missouri, most list legal/court advocacy/support. I cannot vouch for any of them personally, unfortunately. Perhaps others on Mefi can.

Women's law may be a useful tool, too. These are local programs listed by county from their website. These are the various legal aid programs that are listed off of their website (remember that domestic violence agencies may have their own attorneys, too).
posted by anya32 at 1:49 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I know this is potentially a shitty way to deal with this...

I don't think any legal option you have available should be considered shitty. This situation is not your fault, or your sister's fault, or your family's fault. Protecting your sister, her children and yourself is not shitty in the slightest. Use any weapon the law gives you.

This man has committed multiple felonies against your sister. He's the shitty one here.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:55 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please consider anonymizing this question, or taking your real name off your account page. I don't know how likely it is that this man would be reading, but there are enough details in your question that other people could make the connections.
posted by vickyverky at 2:08 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry that I don't know any lawyers in Missouri, but there are some big cities there, obviously, with some smart attorneys in them who would be as horrified at the injustice in this story as we are, and who might be even willing to take on this sort of thing pro bono.

Nothing you can do at this point is really "shitty." He's been terrorizing your sister and your family for years now with impudence, and even getting you to the point of wondering what tactics to protect yourselves would be polite enough. No. Get the kids safe. Get the "no contact" order. File the delinquence in Child Support, and then your sister and her girls need to get out of there, even if it's just to Little Rock or Tulsa or somewhere else out of state.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:24 PM on February 10, 2012

AFAIK Missouri is a one-party notification state for taping phone calls. Clear it with your lawyer first, and then start recording every phone conversation with him. He should be speaking only to your lawyer, so every direct communication he tries to make with y'all needs to be documented to the teeth.

If you haven't already started privacy-locking all your online information--like by making this question anonymous--start doing that now. Google makes it all too easy to cyberstalk people as an extension of offline harassment, especially when you're physically nearby.
posted by nicebookrack at 2:27 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, please call the Domestic violence hotline, as others have suggested.

Many times, I see people suggest reading The Gift of Fear. Your sister is not the only one suffering from his abuse, so are you and the rest of your family. Please take care.
posted by annsunny at 3:03 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Talk to some new lawyers, but also check in with your previous lawyer -- with the grandparents not complying with the current order (if that is the case), there may be some leverage in modifying the order, depending on the laws in your jurisdiction. TINLA.
posted by freshwater at 3:47 PM on February 10, 2012

I am a lawyer who practices in family law and domestic relations, although not in Missouri. I usually tell clients in these situations to keep detailed records of any conversation or event involving the other party or any complaints regarding him. This includes recording phone calls where legal. I also suggest that visitation be withheld if the children would be at risk of serious harm during the visit. This second suggestion should be carefully discussed with a lawyer as there is a risk of being held in contempt of court if it is not done correctly. Additionally one should always seek an order as it opens the door for private enforcement through the contempt process
This is offered for informational purposes only and is not legal advice regarding the laws of Missouri or any other state, nor is it a substitute for the advice of an attorney competent to practice in your state.
posted by epsilon at 5:28 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

The three things:

Document everything. Write it down, tape it, photograph it, whatever it takes.

Get the best lawyer you possibly can.

Anonymize this question immediately.
posted by vers at 5:30 PM on February 10, 2012

Does your state have child advocates? Can you afford to hire a psychologist to work with the kids and mom to determine harm?

I find it hard to believe you wouldn't be able to go before a judge and request supervised visits, especially if you can prove that this man has been violating the terms of the custody arrangements and that his family, who are currently supposed to be supervising, are also in violation. Discussion of the situation--sleeping arrangements, contact with known meth user girlfriend, etc. are all indicative of problems in the current arrangements. Document, document, document. Begin by writing down specific past incidents and putting a date to them, even if it's just to note "the week of Jan 15th...." The fact that this man is behind on child support would be a BIG factor in play here in Idaho.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:56 PM on February 10, 2012

This was terrifying/triggering to read. Her utmost priority should be staying safe and slowly (quickly) disappearing her online/real life identity from him.
posted by whalebreath at 10:03 PM on February 10, 2012

To clarify a little more:

@BlueHorse: There are supervised visits but the issue is his parents are to supervise. They fail to do that on the regular but we were initially told that unless we had proof (e.g. video), nothing could be done.

@Epsilon: She has once withheld visits. The police here would be called and show up to tell his parents, who would beat on the door and scream obscenities at my sister, that it was a civil matter. UNTIL the Chief cornered my sister in town one day and told her to stop withholding visits. He then testified in court alongside the grandparents and she was held in contempt. That's not a road we want to go down again but it's worth asking a lawyer if there's a legal way to withhold.

My sister has called the DV hotline and is getting assistance through them. She's checking on conceal and carry classes around here and we're both going to put some thought into a restraining order. She'll be meeting with a lawyer next week.

I just want to thank everyone for their help. All your suggestions were thoughtful and when I read this out to my sister and she viewed everyone's concern, it helped a lot to push her in the direction and convince her that this isn't the way it has to be.

In short, you are all awesome times a million.
posted by youandiandaflame at 10:08 AM on February 11, 2012

I would really think hard before deciding a gun was the right way to go. A gun will not prevent the ex from approaching and assaulting her. He is a very large, very violent man and he obviously doesn't stop to think about the consequences before he acts. Unless your sister is prepared to shoot him from a distance, which might be satisfying but is unlikely to be legal, it would be trivially easy for him to take the gun from her and use it to threaten or kill her. Better not to raise the stakes in that way, IMHO.
posted by Cheese Monster at 2:26 PM on February 11, 2012

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