Custody Issues

I will try to keep this short, although the story in its entirety is quite complex and heartbreaking. I am an AP mama to the most amazing five year old. Almost three years ago, his dad filed for divorce without telling me and was successful in obtaining temporary primary custody by an ex parte order that his attorney filed that was full of flat out lies. Over the next year and a half, we battled for custody in court and he eventually won primary custody- again by lying over and over again to the court about me. I have suffered from depression and anxiety my entire adult life, but it had never affected my parenting- however, with the help of a really good lawyer, he painted a picture to the court of me being unsafe and unstable. I was a stay-at-home mother until this all happened. My son was, and still is, my life. Mothering is the most important thing in the world to me. However, I now only see my son as a noncustodial parent. I cannot accept this and am still having such a hard time dealing with it- although it has been nearly three years since it all began. My son has slowly adjusted for the most part. I, however, am still rocked to the core, and my self-esteem is shattered. Being a mom was who I was, and now I feel like a part-time parent and a shell of a person. I continue to fight back against the courts and against my ex, but it is an uphill, losing battle for me. I refuse to give up hope though. I guess I wonder if you have any advice for how I can cope and how I can maintain a close bond with my son. My ex tries his best to alienate me from my son and constantly talks negatively about me in front of him. I have begged him to go to mediation, but he refuses because he knows he has gained the upper hand in the court system. I wish he would go, because I see that you offer mediation service in Michigan, not far from where we live. Thank you for reading and for any advice you may have.

I am very sorry for your loss!  As you are probably all too aware, that once a court makes decision about custody, it is very difficult to get that changed unless there is a significant change in circumstances. Usually, that means that your ex-husband would need to be found to be unfit and you would need to be found to be a better parent than him. In Michigan, the Court is suppose to look at the Best Interest of the Children Factors, of which there are 12. They include things like: the love and affection the child has for the parents, the love and affection of the parents for the child, the ability of the parents to encourage a positive relationship with the other parent, the ability of the parents to provide for the child, the ability of the parents to provide for the child, and the mental health of the parties, amongst other things. 

I imagine you have attempted to prove the alienation piece, but this is very difficult since it is psychological and there is not necessarily agreement on what this looks like or how to prove it. Once suggestion might be to have your son evaluated by a psychologist to see if he or she can determine if there is a perception of your son that suggestions your husband is attempting to alienate him from you.  I would also look for an attorney, if you can afford one, who has knowledge and experience in parental alienation to help you evaluate your case.  Since I do not know where in Michigan you might live, I cannot suggest anyone to contact but you might want to check www.divorcenet.com  Another suggestion is to see if you can get a Parenting Coordinator (PC) appointed to your case or a Guardian Ad Litem (an attorney for your son also known as a GAL) who can attempt to look at things objectively and make recommendations to the court in areas where you and your ex-husband cannot agree. More information about parenting coordination can be found at www.afccnet.org and www.parentingcoordinationcentral.com You might be able to find a PC or GAL at www.mediate.com or www.divorcenet.com or check with the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the State Bar.

I also think it is very important for you to recognize this as the loss that it is and allow yourself time to grieve appropriately and to heal to some degree.  This might mean coming to a level of acceptance as to how things are and doing your best each and every time that you are with your son to be the best mom that you know how to be, as I am sure you are doing.  Another thing that I think that is important is for you to continue to work on improving your mental health stability.  It is important that you find value in yourself as a human being beyond being a mother! Find what you enjoy in addition to your son and pursue it whether your passion is yoga, gardening, reading, writing, knitting, etc. Speaking of writing, if you do not already do so, begin a journal which is in essence a continuous book of letters to your son where you document your love for him, the things you do together, and the joy you find in him and his accomplishments. This will be therapeutic for you and beneficial to him down the road ( you can give this to him when he is 18).

Again, I am sorry for your loss and I hope you find some peace in my answer.