Not many people enjoy going to court…except maybe attorneys. The average person doesn’t even like showing up for jury duty. One of the greatest challenges, is to get a victim to show up for court. It is one of the most uncomfortable and vulnerable venues for a victim because, it is a coin toss as to whether they will be re-victimized by the judicial system, their abuser, or both.
I have been struggling for almost four years trying to get sole custody of my youngest son. His father was my abuser. Initially, when I was granted my five year no contact restraining order, the judge overseeing my case wanted me to pursue something more permanent. This was in response to my quarry as to how to protect my son after the restraining order expired. Unfortunately, the judge who saw me for my permanent custody order did not grant it at the time, deferring to the restraining order that was already in place which gave me complete decision making over my son until expiration.
At that time, I was still in a 60 day emergency shelter for battered women preparing to go into their 2 year rehabilitation program. I was exhausted on multiple levels. As much as I didn’t want to have to deal with my case in the future, rehashing old events, I simply didn’t have it in me to argue the judge’s position. I let go of it.
Last September, as I anticipated, life presented an opportunity that would require a major move. I had some loose ends to tie up. Back to court. Our judicial system is not very “pro-per” friendly. It is even less friendly for Victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse who are “pro-per”. I spent several days at the courthouse just trying to figure out what papers I needed, how to fill them out, several trips to file, make corrections, and file again.
The first filing process alone was intimidating. Then there was a matter of posting and mailing because the whereabouts of my abuser were unknown. In order to be approved for posting and mailing, one must do their due diligence. For victims who have violent abusers, this can very easily put them in harms way. More fear to overcome. I finished and was approved.
Then came the court date. Another intimidating moment. Will the judicial system be my friend or foe? Will I be scrutinized as whiner trying to take advantage of an “absent” father or will I be viewed as a victim of Domestic Violence trying to protect her child and herself? I wouldn’t know that day…there was not enough time between the filing and the court date to satisfy my abusers rights. Continuance. Proof of service not filed properly. Continuance.
Today I sat in court, thick file in one hand, the other across my stomach. I couldn’t help but think this was almost as bad as having to retell a rape story over and over again. Explain myself and my choices through humiliation, hoping it would just end. Then it did. Quickly. The judge looked over my case, announced the day, time, and situation of the case…then granted me everything I ask for.
I now have sole legal custody, with no visitation, of my son. He legally goes by an entirely different name now. My changes were drastic but, so was the nature of the abuse. This was one bridge that had earned the task of being burned. By firelight or starlight…I am walking into a protected future and not looking back.