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Mother of three kids entering divorce with strong-willed and manipulative father

Your Question:
Hello, We have been married for 15 years and have three kids (15, 13, and 8). Because of my husband's job, we have moved to different countries during this time and we are currently living in the US. I am a stay at home mom. I have always followed my husband. I haven't work for 15 years and this was not a sacrifice. We had a wonderful life. Moves have been at times difficult for me because I miss my family but I am grateful for incredible experiences, and for meeting incredible people. My husband is very responsible. He works a lot and travels much. Too much. He likes to dominate and control every aspect of our life. He is very generous and likes to show it to other people. He has always been very proud of his kids and very involved in their education and well-being. We are divorcing today because we don't recognize each other anymore. Here are my questions : my husband wants a 50/50 custody of the children and I am shocked. I don't think it is good for the children stability. You have to understand me. I took CARE of them all my life. It was my "job". It was my reason for living. I am terrified. He says he figured it all (getting some kind of help for when they come back from school until he gets back from work - please, he is working mostly 12 hours a day... and traveling constantly). I tried to tell him about my concern and he said he doesn't care. I don't want to "frustrate" him from seeing the children as much as he wants but this solution is a non-sense. What can I tell him to convince him ? He has already approached our teen daughter about it and she confided to me that she would never accept this. He made her panick. She already has a lot of trouble with our separation. And then, what will happen to me ? Can I stay in the house ? He said I have no more right to stay in the house than he has. But I cherish my home and I "made" it a home for all of us. I took care of all the emotional adjustments that moving implies. I am lost. And what if he is moved to another country ? Do I have to follow him ? and what if I am sent back to my country - because my visa is linked to his work permit ? Can he claim that the children should stay with him because of schooling and stability and I don't know what ? We have not seen the judge yet. My husband is very good at negotiating, he knows how to win a deal, that's his job. I am absoluty bad in conflicts. Because of his authoritarism I chose to separate from him. He then fell into depression last year and went into therapy and got medicated. He had so many fits of rage where I almost called the police. Some of them in front of the kids.I am scared of him. He threatened me so many times (to end his life, to end my life, to take the children away from me, to burn the house, etc.). There was no witness to that nightmare. It is going to be his word against mine. How can I deal with someone like that ? All I see is, if I am nice with him, he will be nice with the kids but if I fight for my rights,legally speaking, his revenge will be terrible. I thank you in advance for your recommendations.

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing. Sorry that you're in this difficult situation.

I have a few thoughts.... just a sec while I think. :)

First, I have no idea how citizenship will work. I think it's your biggest and probably only possible weak point. If you run the risk of being deported, then certainly it's not good for the kids' stability, as you pointed out. You need to talk with an attorney ASAP who understands immigration law. I would guess (a toally uneducated guess) that until you're officially divorced, you don't run any risk. But again, you need to talk to an attorney.

Your two older kids are of age that what they feel will likely matter in determining custody. Ideally, your kids shouldn't be involved in this mess between you and their father. But if you're forced to fight, you'll likely want them to speak to an evaluator or judge.

I think you'll want an evaluator involved. It would behoove you to have a clinical psychologist do it, not the court-appointed social worker. The psychologist can delve into your concerns about your husband's volatility.

I think you're going to need to hire a very aggressive family law attorney, given what you describe of your husband. Ask trusted family and friends in your area for recommendations. You want an attorney who has at least 10 years experience in your county, as that attorney would know the particular nuances of each family law judge. Your attorney would be the person who would ask for the court to order the evaluations prior to a final ruling on custody.

Given what you outlined, you're in a very good position to remain in the home with the kids as their primary caretaker. You need your aggressive attorney to secure temporary orders for that. Expect that the father may get 20% to 30% of the custodial timeshare initially, as that is most common.

I would encourage you to ask your family law attorney to refer you to a polygraph examiner so you can take a lie detector test. If you pass the test as to the very disturbing things you've stated (i.e., threats to kill himself, kill you, and burn down the house), pass those results on to the evaluator and take any action your attorney recommends to protect yourself.

Most of all, I encourage you to do as much of the above as secretly as possible. Try to keep your husband talking about stuff while you're researching and meeting with attorneys.

Finally, I have two recommendations on adjusting your thinking:

  • What is important to YOU is irrelevant now. That your whole life relies on remaining a mother is irrelevant. All that matters (to the evaluator, to the court) is what's best for the kids. You should be framing EVERYTHING as "in the kids' best interest". Your own emotional needs-- no one in the family law system cares about them. Okay?

  • For all your husband's faults, always leave room for him to show that he is addressing his issues. Leading up to divorce, many people become angry and/or withdrawn. Post-divorce, if this man demonstrates greater emotional stability, greater connectedness to his kids, always find a way to recognize it and keep him involved as a father. Ideally, your kids will have high access to two healthy parents, regardless of how the parents feel about each other. If/when the father is a healthy parent, you'll get cosmic brownie points if you let your kids love and see both parents equally.

Those two perspectives said, don't compromise on what's best for the kids if the father isn't demonstrating responsibility and stability.

Good luck.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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