Tag Archives: custody battle

Serendipity

Serendipity

Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it.

I met with someone today who could quite possibly be a real life guardian angel.  I did not go out seeking this person– an ironic chain of events happened that placed him directly in my path.

I made a 30 minute drive today that could change the course of my journey in many ways.  I feel like pinching myself just to be 100% sure that this isn’t a dream.

Today I hired a private investigator.

Not just any private investigator but one with a golden heart.  One who cares and wants to help me.

More importantly, he wants to help me protect my daughters.

Through this process, I have discovered the good side of humanity.  While there have been many horrible things happen over the past few years– there have also been some amazing moments and some people that I will never forget nor will I ever be able to thank enough.

I will finally be able to get to the bottom of many things and I will have a sense of peace– that I will be safer and my daughters will be safer.

***Edited to note:

Several people have sent emails asking “why” are you announcing this publicly (thanks for your concern!)– it will be announced in court on Wednesday and my X and the judge will both be aware that I have retained a Private Investigator.


Creating New Holiday Traditions

Creating New Holiday Traditions

I am looking forward to Christmas this year and new traditions with the girls. 

Two years ago, I started a new Christmas Eve tradition– we find a small town nearby and spend the day there.  In December of 2009, we spent the day in Cambria.  We sipped coffee (hot cocoa for the girls) at a local coffee shop with our pinkies high in the air (that’s the way princesses do it!)…we ate lunch at Linn’s (the BEST homemade mac & cheese)…we shopped in art galleries…and we enjoyed a carefree day.  We forgot about the chaos of the world around us and we had fun.

In 2010, we spent the day in the Arroyo Grande Village.  We walked on the historic swinging bridge…we saw the roaming chickens…we ate yummy spaghetti at Gina’s Italian Cuisine…and we shopped.  Together- the three of us.  Team blonde– creating a new tradition that we will honor for years to come.  It’s healing and its refreshing.  The girls look forward to it and I look forward to it.

A few weeks ago, my best friend (also a single mommy) treated us all to a weekend in San Francisco.  We stayed in the heart of Union Square and we had a great time.  The girls got to ice skate for the first time and they got to see the sights of a big city at Christmastime.  It was a weekend of great memories and it is my hope to make this an annual tradition for the rest of our lives.

This Christmas Eve is right around the corner and we will visit a new town or village for our third-annual Christmas Eve tradition.  I look forward to fun times, new memories and a day with my daughters.

Merry Christmas (or Happy Hanukkah!)– Tina

Confirmation- In Writing

Confirmation- In Writing

This morning I went to the courthouse to pick up our court order from last Wednesday.  As I already knew, it was pretty straightforward and stated (word for word):

The Petitioner shall email the Respondent 24 hours in advance to let her know he will exercise visitation, if no email is received visitation is cancelled”. 

This new order protects my daughters from the constant disappointment of waiting at the pick-up location when he doesn’t show up for visitations.  My goal isn’t to keep them from their father– he is who he is and they will figure that out on their own without my help.  If he doesn’t email us to confirm visitation then it allows us to make other plans and go on with our life.  My goal is to stop his ability to rule our lives which is what he thrives on.

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To Re-Cap: This weekend, the X and I had a “stand-off” pertaining the most recent court order.  The problem, I didn’t have it in-hand to prove what the judge had ordered.  We were in court on Wednesday and it usually takes a few days for the order to hit our file.  I am well-versed in the court timelines by this point.  In my mind, the order was pretty clear.  I assumed (wrongly) that he understood the order as well.  I knew it wouldn’t sit well with him because it was another rule that he had to follow– he doesn’t like rules.  He doesn’t like being told what to do.

Friday came and went– no email.  Saturday morning, as expected– he was at the pick-up location and insisting that I bring the girls immediately.  Threats followed– he was calling the police…he said I was vindictive…he said that I was “this- that- and the other”.  The email rant followed the voice mails– accusing me of Parental Alienation Syndrome…accusing me of having Lupus versus Multiple Sclerosis (he MUST be smarter than my doctor who graduated from Harvard, right?)…on…and on….and on.

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Music is therapeutic for me and the right song always seems to come on at the right time– Christine Aguilera’s song, “Fighter” just came on and Wikipedia describes it this way, “This video shows the metamorphosis of Aguilera’s slow, yet steady progression of her inner-strength, from being heartbroken, to becoming unbreakable”.

I have inner strength– that’s what got me through this.  It’s been a process.

I feel unbreakable– that too has been a process.

In My Perfect World

In My Perfect World

I received a very kind and heartfelt email from a friend who read my blog today for the first time.  Then she asked me a good question– “In your perfect world– what do you want?  What is your desired custody arrangement if the court stepped aside and you were in control?

Great question.

In my perfect world…what do I want?

I want to know that my daughters are safe (physically and mentally) when they are being cared for by their father.  In my perfect world, their father puts them and their best interests first.  In my perfect world, my X gets the help that he needs so that he can be the type of dad that my daughters deserve.  In my perfect world, my X is an active participant and co-parent to the girls.  In my perfect world, my daughters are never held to the standards of perfection that was expected of me when married to their father.  In my perfect world, my daughters feel happy, loved and accepted no matter who they become or what they do in life.        

Until that happens, the perfect visitation arrangement (in my opinion) is the one that is currently in place: four days per month from 10am-4pm.  This allows the girls to know their father and have a relationship with him but there are limitations. 

My goal isn’t to keep my daughters from their father— it’s to protect them from the dysfunction and shelter them from the things they’ve endured for the past three years.  They get to spend time with their dad but they get to sleep in their own bed each night.  For now, this is my perfect world.

Re-Claiming my Identity

Re-Claiming my Identity

My divorce took an eternity from start to finish.

From the time we separated until the day the paperwork was stamped and signed by the judge– it was approximately 2 years, 8 months, 12 days and 34 minutes.  Who’s counting?  I am.  From the time he legally filed for divorce, it was 2 years and 2 months from start to finish.  Regardless of which date you focus on…it’s a long time.

Our custody battle took that long.

It took that long for me to finally show his true colors to the courts.

We didn’t have things to fight over.  We lost everything when our financial world collapsed.  The things that we held onto were lost when he invaded my  home ( Lying in Wait ) and stripped me of everything.  In a way, it was a blessing.  It was a cleansing and a chance to start over.  I didn’t have “things” to remind me of the past.  In some ways, he did me a favor.  He got what was so important to him: things.

I got what was so important to me: the chance to walk away from a pretend world and reclaim my identity.  The nice couches, furniture and art was all symbolic of a fake and empty existence.  I am not fake and I am not empty.

I devoted yesterday to re-claiming my identity.

To sum it up: I spent all day at the DMV, the Social Security office and the bank.  I’m not a fan of sitting around and waiting so it took a lot of personal motivation to walk in, take a number, sit and wait.  And then wait more.  And more.

I walked out of the DMV with a piece of paper that made me feel even more empowered then I could have imagined.  I left the Social Security Office with my true identity back.  I ordered shiny new checks from the bank with MY name on them.  The name that I was born with and the name that I was meant to have for the rest of my life.

Last night, I went to sleep as “Tina Marie Swithin“.

Cheers to small victories that mean a lot to me personally.

Releasing Toxic Emotions

Releasing Toxic Emotions

My goal is to rid myself of the anger and resentment that has come from this divorce.  The marriage and divorce were both toxic.  I feel like an emotional hurricane has just ripped through my world and now the I am dealing with the clean up efforts.  My goal is to rid myself of those toxic emotions which will be mentally freeing on so many levels.  I need to find the rainbow after the storm.

Two months ago, I sat in my therapists office and I told her that I have been in “battle mode” for so long that I haven’t had time to feel.  I spent two years preparing for the next court date and going through the motions.  Many times I felt robotic.  I had to think of each court date like a project– and leave the emotions behind.  Now in the aftermath of court, I am left with a TON of feelings that I need to process.  The feelings are of anger and resentment.  They are toxic and I want to free myself of them.  Those feelings are not in my job description– I am a happy, fun and loving person.  I am balanced (the Libra in me!) but I don’t want to balance good and bad in this case.  I want to overflow with good.

I am taking steps to rid myself of the negative.  With each post I write, I am able to re-live the experience, feel the feelings associated with the experience and then release the experience into the cyber-world.  (Warning- step away from your computer screen as you don’t want to be in the line of fire!).

I watched a video this morning from Deepak Chopra on releasing toxic emotions.

Click here to watch the video: Deepak Chopra Releasing Toxic Emotions

Below is an excerpt from the video above: 

Toxic emotions can cause toxicity in the body. Toxic emotions like anger, resentment, anxiety, guilt, fear, depression…
What is anger? Remembered pain from the past.
What is fear? Anticipation of pain in the future.
What is guilt? Directing pain back at yourself.

7 steps to handling toxic emotions by Deepak Chopra

  • Take responsibility for your emotions.
  • Witness them without judgement.
  • Label them. Is it anger? Is it resentment? Is it guilt? Is it jealousy…
  • Describe it. Describe it in the first person. Describe it from a second person’s point of view…a third person’s point of view. Expression.
  • Share them with someone you trust.
  • Release them through a ritual.
  • Celebrate. 

So, I will continue on my path of releasing these emotions so that I can begin to be “me” again. 

Happy, fun and non-toxic…just like the crayons that I love so much 😉

Focusing on the Angels

Focusing on the Angels

While writing this blog has been therapeutic, it has also been difficult on occasion.  The blog gives me a voice that was previously forced into submission.  I’ve been able to break free from the choke hold.  It’s empowering.  I don’t want to be seen as a victim– that’s not who I am.  There were times in this story that I felt like a victim but that’s not what I want to be known for.  I would go through everything again to be the strong, confident woman that I am today.  I would do it again to find the strong friendships with the people in my circle because I was previously lacking that.

One gift that I’ve been given is the ability to look at a situation and see the positives.  A very wise friend once told me that the story has already been written– it’s my job to walk it out.  I want to walk out my journey with a glass that remains half full at all times.

I’ve received a lot of feedback on my blog from random people and others who are very near and dear to my heart.  I’m listening to all of it and taking the comments to heart.  I appreciate the opinions– the good and the bad. 

I want to stay true to myself with the blog and staying true means remaining grateful for the angels who have appeared in my life.  When things look dim, I try to look for little bits of inspiration– a quote on a coffee cup, a song on the radio or someone who comes into my life at just the right moment.  It’s amazing how the simplest thing can stop a pity party dead in it’s tracks.

In 2010, I met with an attorney in Morro Bay, California who reviewed my case and actually offered to help me for free.  While he could not represent me– he offered his assistance in reviewing my paperwork and giving me advice.  At the time I was incredibly appreciative however, I had a difficult time accepting free help.  I went on my way– court date after court date and loads of paperwork to prepare for each.

In the beginning of 2011, I had reached a breaking point.  He wasn’t showing up for visits, he was violating all of the items in our parenting agreement and was ignoring my attempts to finalize the divorce.  I went back to the attorney and explained to him that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel however, I was out of steam.  I needed to prepare my trial brief which was overwhelming and I didn’t know where to begin.

The attorney and his wife (my two angels) offered to help me once again.  He met with me and reviewed my case.  He gave me pointers on my trial brief and then offered to review it and meet with me again before court to prepare me for trial.  His wife helped me to subpoena the records I needed and helped me with the proper forms.

I went home and I went to work.  I worked night and day on my trial brief— and then again the next day.  And the next.  My final trial brief was 47 typed pages.  FORTY-SEVEN typed pages.  I drank a lot of coffee and I got a few new wrinkles.  My bedroom floor looked like a paper factory exploded.  I didn’t sleep very much during those two weeks– I went to work during the day….I was “mom” in the evenings and after sunset, I became my own attorney.

I met with my “angels” a couple of times for further review and additional pointers and then…I went to trial.  With my 47 page document in hand and my game face back on…Pro se legal representation is defined as advocating on one’s own behalf before a court and that’s what I did.

Celebration of a New Life

Celebration of a New Life

Today, I am having a divorce party. I’ve been struggling with the title…”A Divorce Party”.

Turns out, there are actually businesses popping up who plan your divorce party such as the Divorce Party Planner.  I don’t plan to celebrate to the point of needing a planner but it’s good to know that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the United States!

I tried to wrap my mind around WHY I was having such a hard time with the title.  I didn’t want those around me to get the wrong impression.  I care a lot about what people think- sometimes too much.  Most people in my world have no idea what I’ve gone through in this process.  I took the high road and chose not to speak publicly about the specifics of my divorce.  The people in my life—“my people”….they know.  They have been on the sidelines, in my court and sometimes in the trenches with me.

If I wasn’t already struggling with what others would think about my “Divorce Party”…I got an email which confirmed the outside thoughts.  The subject line: Divorce Party?  The message basically said, “I will not be able to attend your party.  I hope you know that I think highly of you however, I must confess that I am disappointed to see that you are so publicly celebrating the loss of your marriage”.    

I am not celebrating the loss of my marriage—BUT I am celebrating a new life.  I am celebrating the end of a nightmare and the beginning of my new life.  I have been through battle and I’m not naive enough to think that it’s over just because I have a piece of paper.  I am celebrating the end of a huge court battle that was always on the forefront of my mind.  This was a court battle that kept me up late at night with mounds of paperwork.  A battle that I thought about day in and day out.  I didn’t have an attorney to go to battle for me.  I had me.  It’s over and I am celebrating.

The milestones that I lived for had to do with the next court date—or the next filing deadline for the next court form.  As much as I WANT to “live in the moment” and practice what I preach when it comes to enjoying life…it’s been impossible for me to do.

So…tonight I will celebrate this new life with my closest friends and my people from the trenches.

Court- August 2011

Court- August 2011

 

August 10, 2011–I sat in court- again.  I remember how nervous I was before each court date.  There were times when friends would go with me and there were many times that I went alone.  I would cling to my little bottle of Bach Rescue Remedy which is a homeopathic stress relief concoction.  Four drops directly under your tongue– there were times when I wanted to drink the whole damn bottle.  Four drops should suffice for normal stress– this didn’t feel normal.

On this particular day, my rock (aka Significant Other) went with me.  I had never brought him into court prior to this but no one else could attend and I needed him there.  I needed someone to remind me to breathe.  It seems simple, right?  Inhale…exhale.  Repeat.  It isn’t always that simple.

The court ordered an attorney to represent my children– someone who could dig deep and get to the bottom of the issues.  I was beyond ecstatic.  I felt like the Family Court Services’ Parenting Evaluation had failed us for many reasons.  The evaluator was sold on his charm even with piles of evidence– she bought the story that everyone buys.  He is the ultimate salesman which has been my biggest obstacle through our divorce.

He didn’t adhere to the restrictions in the Parenting Agreement and there were zero ramifications.  Zero.  I was clinging to the hope that this was the final ticket.  I filed a plea with the court: please, please grant Minor’s Counsel to represent the girls.  I felt like it was my last hope.  I sat in the courtroom and listened to the judge approve my request.  I felt like jumping up and down right there in the courtroom.  This was a well-known attorney– the best money could buy if you were seeking a divorce attorney.

Our next court date was scheduled for August 31, 2011.   

I met with the attorney who was appointed to represent my daughters.  He listed to my concerns.  He asked all of the right questions.  I was hopeful.  I was organized– I had my 3″, pink binder and everything was labeled and in order.  I had been waiting for this moment for so long.  He asked me to email him additional information on several topics that we discussed.  I agreed.  His job was to call everyone who knows us: teachers, principals, nannies, babysitters, marital therapists and friends.

I went home that night and I stayed up until 1:30am compiling everything he asked for.  I emailed it along with contact information for all of the above-mentioned people.  Then…I waited.  I wondered.  I waited more.  I was getting anxious.  The court date was approaching and my daughter’s teachers still had not heard from his office.  Our former live-in nannies had not heard from him.  No one had been called.

One particular visitation before court, he (my ex) was refusing to tell me where the children were going to be residing in his care.  He was due to pick them up at 3:30pm.  I reached out to the attorney for assistance.  The attorney called me back at 3pm and expressed frustration with his lack of cooperation– I told him that he thrives on causing me to worry about my daughters.  He agreed that it seemed to be the case.  He didn’t understand why it was so difficult for him to simply tell me where my children were going to reside.

August 30, 2011— The day before court and still no one had heard a word from his office.  I couldn’t figure out what was happening.  I didn’t understand.  This was the person who was supposed to be working in the best interest of my daughters.  At 5pm, the night before court, I received a call.   He asked if it was okay to postpone the court date– to ask for a continuance.

I was relieved.  My greatest fear was the attorney going into the court with limited information.  I was confident that now he would contact all of the people who knew us– who could attest to my concerns.  People who could verify my claims.

Court was postponed until Wednesday, September 14th, 2011. 

Another White Picket Fence Moment

Another White Picket Fence Moment

We sat in court on May 27, 2011 and my X was asking for additional visitation.  Additional visits meant less child support.  Additional visits also equals “winning” which is what is most important to him.  He’s set on “winning” at all costs. I’m tempted to use a Charlie Sheen reference but I will hold back.

He brought his cousin into the courtroom to testify on his behalf.  My X’s agenda was to prove that he had a stable, safe environment for the girls.  He grilled me on the stand– asked me what I thought about his cousin.  I answered honestly- “I respected his cousin and I respected his cousin’s wife.  I respected them as people and as parents“.  At that point in time, I did.

The thought of my children staying at their home on the weekends actually set my mind at ease.  They were good people and their children were the same age as our children.  They claimed in court that my X had total and complete use of a guest house on their property.  I was more at ease knowing that his cousin’s wife would be in the general vicinity to “supervise” and I was at ease knowing that my daughters would be in one place each weekend rather than a new bed each night.  I was hoping in that moment that I could trust what they were saying.  I wanted to believe the white picket fence story with every ounce of my being.

In the visitations immediately following this court date, this is what happened:

  • June 3-5, 2011 — The girl’s Father-Daughter Call: No Show
  • June 17-20, 2011 — They did not stay at his cousin’s house as they had testified in court.  On Friday night, they stayed in San Francisco at his condo.  The second night, they stayed in his friend’s home somewhere in San Francisco– they did not know these people prior to sleeping there.  The third night, they stayed in a hotel.  Three different beds in three different nights.
  • July 1-5, 2011– They stated with a family friend in Morro Bay, California.  My daughters returned home with bad sunburns (the first of their lives) and my youngest daughter had a horrendous rash from defecating in her pants and sitting in it while at the beach.  She had been potty trained since she was 2 years old.  She was 4 at the time.  These were documented by our pediatrician.
  • July 15-18, 2011– They stayed in a hotel.
  • July 29-31, 2011–I received an email 11:00pm stating that his cousins house was unavailable and that he had to drive the children four hours north to San Francisco.  I was unable to contact the children all weekend despite many attempts.  My daughter normally calls me several times each day so I was getting very concerned.  I finally contacted the San Francisco Police and Child Welfare Services to investigate but they couldn’t verify the address that he supplied me.  He ended up returning the children early with no explanation.  I later discovered that this was the weekend of “The Monster and the Parking Structure” incident.

There is no white picket fence and there is no stability.  The court presentation was all for show which has been one of the biggest obstacles in this battle.  The lack of stability causes visible signs of stress– bed wetting and other things.  As a mother, it is heartbreaking to watch.  I feel helpless and I am desperate for someone to stop this from happening to my daughters.  I am beginning to realize that I can’t depend on the courts– I have to take matters into my own hands.