I’ve had a lot of people ask me to talk about some of my more difficult experiences during my divorce. In spite of what some might think, I really don’t enjoy talking about some of these things. They were moments in my life I had hoped to put in the rearview mirror and leave behind forever.
But in looking back at some of them, I can see how they have shaped my perception and that warrants some examination. Also, I know that some of my readers might have gone through similar things and maybe some of my insights can help them out as well on their journey.
An uphill battle
Since the day I decided to leave my marriage, I was met with many challenges. The least of these was not the amount of false reporting of abuse that was submitted against me as retaliation. The day I left, a report was made to the judge, who issued a restraining order against me as well as my parents. According to the order, nearly every item on the list was checked off, from physical to sexual abuse, allegedly inflicted upon my ex-spouse as well as our children.
In this country, we have due process, but to make an allegation of this type, you are not innocent until proven guilty. The rationale behind this is that the immediate safety of someone takes precedence over the assumption of innocence, and therefore, I didn’t get to see my kids for nearly a month for the first month of my divorce.
In that time, they changed. A lot. I can’t really say what they were told, as I have only heard what they have related to me in bits and pieces, but it wasn’t good. It was all “child hearsay” too, so none of it was admissible in court. What I can say is that the kids I dropped off at school that Halloween morning never came back to me.
For the next two years, monthly reports of child abuse and endangerment were made against me. Not a month went by where I wasn’t speaking with a representative from Child Protection Services, interviewing me about another incident. Most of the time, they understood that this was a high-conflict divorce and that angry ex-spouses and their families often make these reports.
As the system is, reports are completely confidential, and most of them are screened out. When kids start acting up in school, however, and teachers report that things aren’t right, either with the kids being violent to others or themselves, these reports snowball and they are taken seriously.
I can say that during these two years, many calls were made to the police to have them check on the welfare of my kids while they were in my custody. Once was on Thanksgiving, when the kids and I were enjoying dinner with the grandparents. Another time was when the kids and I were just sitting around watching a movie together.
When the police knock on your door and begin asking your kids extremely personal questions, it disrupts the family dynamic. Everyone is shaken up. And the person who made the call gets to create chaos from the comfort of a barstool somewhere while you hug a teenager who was crying because the police asked her repeatedly if she is being molested by her father.
I have related this story to some who get angry when I tell them that the system is broken. I understand that there are kids out there who are desperate for help, but when this system is abused by those who just want to create a rift in an already hurting family, there should be consequences. Unfortunately, in my experience, I have not seen any.
Each time the police or CPS came through my door or spoke with me, they found exactly the same thing: Nothing. The reason being was there was no wrong doing to be found. But I kept hearing the same old cliches from them “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
After the last police visit, both my ex-wife and myself were brought in for a Family Team Meeting. Present at the meeting was someone I used to work with when I was in college. A former sorority girl had now found herself in a supervisory position, and with that liberal arts confidence, she determined that we needed to be subject to a full investigation by CPS.
Let me say this as well. Typically in our court system, you are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of a CPS investigation, you aren’t. They don’t need to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt. Just within reasonable doubt. When I talked to a lawyer about this, he said I should just save my money, enter a plea, and go through the system. Otherwise, I would be facing an expensive jury trial and the likely outcome is they would find some kind of charge to stick to me, regardless of evidence, because they only needed to find Reasonable Doubt of my innocence. Which is pretty damned easy to do.
Before the hearing, I got to watch a video talking about the grueling process my family and I were about to face. My ex-wife included. It would be a series of home visits, court hearings, status hearings, and surprise visits. The women in the video were actual people who had been through the process themselves. Usually because they were drug addicts, had been arrested, or maybe even perpetrators of abuse themselves. They looked sad. Rattled. Even on the video.
Parents who harm their kids are the scum of the earth, and I had found myself among their ranks. With resources being used to build a case against me which should have been being used to protect kids who were actually in danger.
At the hearing, my ex-wife plead guilty of Dependence or Neglect through no fault of her own… because I didn’t take the kids to therapy often enough. I am not even kidding. That was the plea entered. The ironic part of this is that the child in question had been going to therapy weekly on my watch, but he was now living with his mom full-time. The other kids had also been going, but only once a month on my watch, since I had their every other week.
The plea I entered was guilty, no fault of my own, due to Parental Alienation. This plea was never taken seriously or into consideration through the whole process. Anytime I brought up the continuing evidence of this, I was told to shut up. I’m not kidding about that either.
It was always discounted as “He said/She said” and the CPS agents would just shut off and turn a deaf ear towards me. Isn’t he said/she said how this whole thing got started?
Anytime you are involved in a case like this, the court comes up with a Plan. For me, I had to take my daughter and my youngest son to lots and lots of therapy. In this case, therapy is more of a punitive measure, which the State loves to use nowadays. Someone shoots up a school, someone gets on drugs, someone acts out in class, the answer is always the same: They needed therapy! It’s all the parent’s fault!
Therapy is a sentence to a conviction. It is preemptive rehabilitation. Is it any wonder that when people need therapy, they are reluctant to go? It might have to do with how therapy is used as punishment. How it is stigmatized.
My ex-wife’s plan was exactly the same, with the caveat of “Don’t alienate the kids anymore, okay?”
We had to undergo full psychiatric evaluations. Which give you the testing, but don’t give you any of the tools to fix any disorders they find. My results, as I was told, were in direct relation to the environment I had to live in all those years. I found comfort in that.
I was crazy, but curable. And I had the desire to work through those issues. Paranoia. Trust. Anxiety. Depression. I took a clinical diagnosis and said, “How can I use this to make myself better.” You get lemons, you make citron.
At the hearings, heroin addicts, meth addicts, some of which didn’t pass the drug tests that morning were told what a great job they were doing. Soon they would be reunited with their children! While we were scolded for making the process take longer than it needed to. This went on for a year and a half. At the end of it, my oldest son had completely folded to alienation. Nothing was done other than one family therapy session towards the end, which was supposed to put us on the path of reuniting as a family.
By the end of it, the kids’ therapists agreed that they had gone through too much therapy. It was time to stop for a while and give them a rest. Let them heal from all the wounds that kept getting opened every time someone with a clipboard and a cheap pantsuit knocked on our door.
Finally when we just shut up and agreed with everything the courts said, the case was closed. CPS patted itself on the back. And nothing else changed except the kids and I were all totally gun-shy of the system. Just beat and worn out by it. But like any rehabilitation process, we learned how to keep low on the radar. At least the calls slowed down for a while. My kids now harbor a distrust of the system, and I think at this point, they would rather chew off a foot rather than contact CPS about anything.
Which really isn’t any good either.
The takeaway from this
The Government can come in and control you by threatening to take your kids–the greatest fear any good parent can have–and drag you through the system, incur a lot of expensive legal fees, and intimidate you…to do what?
As a dad who went through this hell, this tedium of hearings, visits, rotating case workers, and no one to advocate for you, I have to say that the process really doesn’t end. It’s a little bit like incarceration, since you will be on their radar forever and ever now. You are “guilty” even if there was nothing going on.
You are right there with child molesters, drug addicts, and people who put cigarettes out on their babies.
The hearings have been done for a year now. The damage to our family because of this process is nearly irreparable. In those videos, they talked about the likelihood of children who are in the system to become career criminals. Especially if they are removed from the home. (That doesn’t seem like a positive argument for CPS, but what do I know). Luckily, none of my kids were removed from the home. During home visits, I was constantly being told there was not even a reason for this investigation, but to just see it through to the end.
At one point it was suggested I get full custody of all three of my kids, but that was dismissed because it would have dragged out the process even longer. The court cared more about the process than the ultimate result. Their interest was more in line with “Well, at least we tried” than actually servicing the welfare of anyone.
The system is broken. But how do we fix it? Where do we begin?
I can say this much. If you can avoid any involvement from CPS in your life, do so. If you can’t avoid it, remember your ABC’s. Always. Be. Cool.
The only hope you can have through this is continuing to do the best job you can do, regardless of the judgement placed upon you by the courts, caseworkers, or anytime you have to check the boxes that say “I have been involved in a case about child abuse.”
- This isn’t you.
- This is an accusation.
- You are not the results of your DSM-V assessment.
- Just keep doing what you have been doing, which is to be the best parent you can be.
Every day has its own host of challenges and adversaries. Keep moving forward. But above else, consider your children when you create drama. When you use them to hurt your ex. There are no winners. There is only pain.