My lawyer made me cry separate three times while I worked with him and yelled at me just as many. One of those days my crying lasted eight straight hours. I was paying him $600 an hour to defend my children’s best interests and my maternal rights, yet somehow, because this was family law, this was par for the course.
There is a common – and erroneous – assumption, that when two people are in divorce court, they are both the problem. Because of this, my lawyer felt it within his rights to treat me like I was just as much to blame for the chaos that had become my divorce. And because of this assumption, he believed he had the right to scold and berate me when I tried my best to protect my family.
After the first time he broke me down, he told me he had to test both me and my ex-husband to see where the real problem lay. When he extended an olive branch to my ex, he was shutdown. Yet when he pushed me to the emotional edge by asking me to give up even more than I had already given up in an effort to compromise, I cried, but finally agreed to try mediation (again!) with the person who had tried to take everything from me. From my perspective there was nothing left to mediate, but I was pushed between a rock and hard place by the court process and I couldn’t be seen as the unreasonable one.
So when he yelled at me and told me that I couldn’t dig in my heels and assume I was so right, I acquiesced and agreed to try and work matters out despite my gut reaction. I had tried that road so many times already to no avail. It had only served to give my ex more of what he wanted and me less of what I already had. It was beyond frustrating to work with people that assumed I hadn’t already exhausted the most obvious path of cooperation. The only thing this agreement served to accomplish was it showed my lawyer that I was in fact flexible and willing to compromise. I suppose I scored a point in his books that day, but in my world I would have expected that my $600 an hour lawyer would try and exercise compassion and understanding and instead try scoring some points with me.
The most frustrating part of family court is being seen as the difficult one when what you are really doing is finally standing up for yourself. The lawyers and judges and arbitrators haven’t been there all along when you did everything you could think of to make your marriage work and protect your children in the name of love and peace. They weren’t there when you sacrificed your ego, your health, your sleep, your financial status, your time with your children, and your material possessions. They did not see all of the times you were the bigger person or the times you turned the other cheek. Instead what they see is the mom who has been pushed to her limits and has finally said ENOUGH. So when they look at you in that period of time they see the anger, the frustration, the determination, the inflexibility, the volatility, and they think that this is the reason your marriage has unraveled. Clearly, she is the problem, they conclude. But this is not the truth.
So many times during this process I have wanted to go back to school to study law so that I could help others in this situation and shield them from the injustice that I have experienced. I have spent $80,000 in the last year protecting my children and myself from a narcissistic ex-husband who has used the legal system (among other tactics) to abuse me. But the professionals involved are quite happy to maintain these dynamics as they are all paid directly by me based on the divorce order that was forced on me.
Truthfully I likely won’t make it back to law school, but in place of that, my hope is that more judges, arbitrators, lawyers and other court professionals will learn about Cluster B personality disorders and understand that sometimes the mother you see before you is capable and loving and strong, but that a life defending herself and her children from a narcissist has been exhausting and has left her a little ragged.
I would say to these professionals, believe your clients. Of course hold them to high standards of truth and don’t take anything for granted, but believe them first. Most of us only ended up where we are because we were too nice and generous for our own good.