I spent a lovely weekend enjoying what I knew to be the start of June's two weeks of summer fun and activities with my daughter. Unfortunately, I had to interrupt our fun by going to work on Monday like a boring yet responsible dad I try to be. My daughter was not left at home alone, she was under the safe care of a very trusted person.
On that Monday—what was day four of our fourteen days together—while I was at work, the police showed up to my house to check in and make sure my daughter was safe. They had the nullified custody agreement my ex-wife had given them as evidence to work off of. I immediately called my attorney in a panic. I knew I had not over-stepped or gone outside of the boundaries of the agreement, but I needed that extra reassurance. I was reassured that this was my allocated summer vacation time in June and there was no reason to worry. I let the incident go with the hope that nothing more would come of it.
That hope was quickly dashed when the police returned to my front door at 10:00 pm that evening. They knocked on the door for over twenty minutes. I did not answer.
Pro Tip: The police can knock on your door for as long as they want, but without a warrant, you do not have to answer or open the door. It is completely within your right to ignore the police if they show up and do not have a warrant for you or the premises. They are powerless as long as you stay in your house. Only a warrant gives the police the ability to enter your home without your permission.
I waited and waited and waited for what seemed like an eternity as the police continued to knock on my front door. It was about twenty minutes total, but it felt like an eternity. I had not done anything wrong, yet the police were knocking on my door with questions about my daughter as if I had done something wrong just being her dad and taking what time I am allowed to be with her. Finally they left, and I had a long, stressful night.
The next morning, I called my attorney. I told them everything that happened the night before. At the time, I only had an unsigned copy of the custody agreement, and I wanted to have a copy signed by both parents. I needed to have that to show the police next time because I knew there would be a next time. They were not going away any time soon.
That day, I was working on a preliminary hearing in Visalia, which is an hour away from my home. I received a phone call, letting me know the police were in front of my house again. They were knocking on the door and would not leave. My ex-wife was standing in the middle of the road, screaming into her cell phone.
Being an attorney myself, I know how to handle these situations better than most legally, but nothing prepares any person or parent for the emotional devastation that comes with divorce, co-parenting, custody, and abuse, let alone all of those things at once. The other thing about being an attorney in these situations, I am sometimes unable to leave when my clients need me, even if I am going through my own personal hell.
I had to call an attorney, who works for me, and have them leave the office in order to hand deliver a copy of the new and current custody agreement to the police officers standing outside my front door.
Once the police had the updated and current custody agreement in hand, rather than the outdated version, they understood immediately what was going on.
No matter how many times the police tried to explain to my ex-wife, she continued to argue with them. It did not matter that they were showing her the current and legally binding custody agreement, which she had signed, stating I had custody of our daughter for two weeks in June and two weeks in July. She refused to accept what they were telling her or the fact that we were currently in the first two weeks of my summer custody. She did not want to hear it or accept it.
Eventually my ex-wife and the police left the premises. I was left alone to enjoy my time with my daughter. An emergency order was filed immediately and denied. I had to try. I couldn't not try. It was an unhealthy situation for my daughter.
I never opened the door to the police when they showed up. I never dealt with them because they never had the right to come into my home, let alone the right to take my daughter. I do not know what would have transpired had I opened the door, had I not known my rights, had I believed I had to open the door when the police knocked. I doubt it would have ended well. At the very least, my daughter would have been made aware of what was going on around her, and she did not need to know what her mother was doing or what I was dealing with at the time.
That summer vacation, my daughter was young. I put all of my efforts into concealing the drama playing out in our divided family. I never wanted her to suspect things were anything but happy and as they should be. All I wanted her to know was that she was loved and wanted and special. It was a difficult and trying time for me, but when I was with her, I gave her all my attentions and never let her believe anything was going on between her mother and I.
Nothing can prepare a person for the aftermath of leaving an abuser. I needed to leave. I needed to show my daughter what a happy, healthy parent looked like. I wanted to show her what a loving relationship can and should look like eventually and even if it's not with her mother. I needed to leave my marriage for my own safety and for the safety and well-being of my daughter.
As much as I needed and wanted to leave my marriage, I was so under prepared for all the ways my ex-wife would try to ruin my life. It never occurred to me that she would use our daughter as a pawn in a game meant to punish me for leaving, for moving on, for doing what was right, for taking my court appointed time, for being a good dad, for trying to be a good co-parent. My ex-wife did not stop at just my daughter, she used every resource available to her to take away the one person I love most dearly in this world. She pleaded her case to the courts, she went to the police, she violated the court's custody agreement, and more. I never gave up. Even when the police were knocking on my door, I stood my ground. I knew what was rightfully mine, and I fought for it. I fought for my daughter.
Abuse does not always end the moment we leave our abusers. For those of us who were married to them or had children with them, it takes time. Sometimes, we're tied to our abusers forever because of our children. I was better prepared for the legal ramifications and my rights because I am an attorney, but the emotional ramifications were so affecting.
I cannot stress enough the need to prepare for the aftermath of leaving an abuser. To prepare for the possibility and often inevitability of having the courts, the police, and children used against you to further control and manipulate you even after you've left. Know your rights and do not stop fighting.