"I can't imagine that someone self mutilating could be blamed on someone else."
Actually, it's very common for victims of abuse to be driven to self-harm, drug abuse, and even suicide. I'm not accusing you- I don't know anything of the situation- but be aware that this IS a very common response to abuse. Since your ex is seeing a therapist, it's possible that their accounts of your treatment of them (truthful or otherwise) will point towards abuse and their therapist may be able to testify to this. It would be good if you're seeing a therapist who can testify to your side of the story. If you start seeing one now, that may not be enough, but it's better than nothing.
Your STBX and their parents are likely looking for a scapegoat. It wouldn't surprise me if the grandparents would try (or are trying) to get custody- after what your STBX has told them, I imagine they don't think EITHER of you are good parents (although you'd think the time co-parenting would show otherwise). And, yes, it is possible for grandparents (or other family members) to get custody if the courts find neither parent to be suitable. I knew a girl growing up who lived with her grandparents because neither of her parents could get custody.
The angry emails you sent were definitely a mistake. I realize hindsight is 20/20, but in the future, ALWAYS calm down before hitting "send". Sleep on it if you have to. I hope that they aren't evidence enough of abuse, but they'll be added to your ex's parents', your stbx's, and your stbx's therapist's testimony. It would be better for all of the interactions that can be proven between you and your STBX showed you in a positive light- just something to remember in the future.
I'm very sorry that you're going through this, it's an awful thing to face. I don't really have the answers. Because emotional abuse has no physical signs, and often happens behind closed doors, there is rarely solid evidence one way or another. If your ex is able to build up a strong enough case against you, the courts may find you guilty. Although it may not effect custody as much as they aren't claiming you're abusive against your daughter. Parents who've been proven to be abusive against their ex-spouse have gotten unsupervised visitation, overnights, and even partial custody of their children- because they didn't abuse the children, just the spouse. It's certainly a snag in an already difficult process that I'm sure you don't want to deal with.
Also, did your STBX come out as transgender? I'm sorry if I'm reading too much into it- you've used a lot of "this person" and "the parents" and it seems like you're intentionally avoiding pronouns to refer to your ex. Again, I apologize if I'm reading too much into it.
Hrm, that is very odd. (It would be odd if your STBX was transgender as well, just in case anyone thought I'm saying otherwise.) It's far more common for self-destructive behavior to PRECEDE coming out, not to follow it. That he's worse around your daughter... That's a really big concern.
Going a little overboard at first is not uncommon- once someone starts figuring out their sexuality, they may spend more time focusing on it because they realized something new about themselves- but that sounds extreme. Parents who come out are almost always able to maintain appropriate boundaries with their kids (even continuing to hide it from them until the time is right) and stay responsible parents, even while going through the "overboard" phase.
There are "activist" types that are very bad crowds to be around. I use quotation marks because they're not really activists who are concerned with social betterment, they just use activist tropes to justify themselves and attack or bully those they don't like. I've run into some of them in the past- they're very self-righteous, nothing they do is wrong (drugs are okay, because the government is wrong to ban them, things like that), they can come up with arguments for why anyone they don't agree with is wrong, etc. It can feel, at the time, very empowering- but it's actually quite a toxic environment. It wouldn't surprise me at all if your ex has ended up in that sort of crowd, especially since you've said he's impressionable. If this is the case, I don't know how anyone can get him out of it- it's good he has a therapist, at least.
It's not your job to fix him or anything like that, I'm not suggesting that. It would be good if he'd get his act together for your daughter but, again, not your responsibility.
I think it's super slim in most states, although I don't know for certain. It makes me wonder if the grandparents are going along with this specifically to try and get custody- they know it's not likely they'll get custody unless something severe happens, so they're smearing you as an 'abuser' and using their child's issues to justify it. I've seen grandparents who use things they don't actually think are a problem to get custody of their grandkids. The only time I actually saw it happen, the parent legitimately wasn't providing for his child, and the grandparents had to attack his lifestyle (polyamorous) to get custody; but I can imagine it's happened when grandparents wanted custody from someone who was a legitimately good parent.
Whatever they're trying to do, I hope that, however this turns out, this doesn't effect the custody too much. It sounds like your STBX almost certainly won't be getting any custody and likely wouldn't get unsupervised visitation no matter what he says about your relationship with him. I hope that the court battle isn't too difficult and all of this is behind you soon.
None of the details are similar to your situation, but when my step-son was the same age your daughter is now, his parents (my now-husband and his ex-wife) were in the midst of divorce. Mom was emotionally unstable and bent on establishing that my husband was to blame (lest anyone suspect she had pre-existing emotional problems, which damaged the marriage). She accused my husband not only of emotional abuse, but physical as well.
It proved very easy for her to get a No Contact/Protective Order against my husband. (Issuance of a PO doesn't equate to a conviction for anything, so there's not the same burden of proof as for an abuse charge in criminal court. Courts here seem to rubber-stamp PO requests for women, with the idea that a man with no intent to hurt or harass a woman won't be harmed by the existence of an unnecessary PO, while there may be dire consequences if a PO is denied to a woman who truly needs it but can't gather enough proof that she does.)
THE GOOD NEWS (in our case...certainly not for every woman) is that Mom convincing the PO-court that SHE needed protection from my husband had no bearing on her request to keep him away from THEIR CHILD. To deny or reduce my husband's parental rights or access to the child, there was a high burden of proof, which Mom's vague and inconsistent allegations failed to meet.
In our case, Mom started out with primary physical custody. She lost it (my husband now has sole custody), through:
#1- Continuing to make unsubstantiated allegations that my husband was abusive, a danger to their child, and that his parenting time should be reduced or eliminated; and encouraging other influential people in the child's life to believe these things about my husband, effectively surrounding the child with negative messages about his other parent. (Meanwhile, my husband was on record as supporting their son's relationship with her - facilitating phone contact during his parenting time; not denying or interfering with her time, etc.)
#2- Ironically...failing to create a backlog of abuse reports or protection requests, prior to using abuse as an excuse for denying my husband's parenting time. Mom made plenty of reports and PO requests, but never achieved the effect she wanted. So finally she moved far away with their son, which gave her nearly total control over my husband's access to him - and she barely permitted any contact. Once she had all the control, she didn't bother to keep making false allegations. All she had to do was ignore my husband's requests for visits and, when he traveled there, give notes to their son's school directing them not to let my husband pick up their son. Eventually, she had to explain to a judge why she wouldn't let my husband see their son. The judge didn't buy "there's a history of abuse", since my husband had been found Not Guilty of all previous charges and she hadn't reported anything new, since moving. Asserting that a child needs to be protected from Parent A, by spending less time with him/her - if you can't support that assertion - is an unmistakeable example of "failing to support the child's relationship with the other parent", which is a criterion many states use to determine which parent should have custody. Even if your state doesn't have that in its laws, there is likely case law referring to the importance of this, or at least your attorney should be able to make the case that it matters. It's only common sense.
#3- To a lesser extent, poor decisions unrelated to my husband, that made it seem Mom doesn't recognize or meet my step-son's needs, if they conflict with her own preferences or agenda. But the examples of this were less drastic than the concerns you've mentioned about your ex, like drug use and debilitating depression. If a judge faulted my step-son's mother for sacrificing adequate space for her child, by moving from a 3-bedroom house to a studio apartment in a more impressive zip code...then surely a judge would question your ex's bid for custody, if he's living with his parents and can't get out of bed to care for the child, sometimes.
I think there are a number of substantive (if not specific) correlations between my husband's struggles with his ex-wife and your concerns, if your ex accuses you of emotional abuse and uses that to try to get primary custody or reduce your parenting time. I know how awful it feels, to be at all insecure about the structure of your relationship with your child. So I hope everything turns out well for you and is resolved quickly.
In my experience and research, a lot of victims of emotional abuse go through phases of "wild behavior," PTSD, and a switch in the gender preference for sexual partners. So emphasizing her instability will probably hurt your case, and not help it.
I think your best recourse is to get yourself into therapy, start admitting to yourself and others any part you played in the problems of your partnership (and obviously everyone has a contribution to the breakup of a partnership), and focus on being the kind of person you can be really be proud of. Everyone has their shortcomings, and to really be an "excellent parent," we all have to admit the ways we have been unloving to ourselves or our spouses.
This is a pretty old post, but I saw something that I wanted to address.
You said, "this person has had quite a few relationships, endless dating, going out, and I've got evidence to that which to me doesn't seem like severe depression."
As someone who's been diagnosed with severe clinical depression, I have to say this is not necessarily true. If you're not getting treated for your depression (either with therapy, medication, etc.), you will often try to self medicate. Self medicating doesn't necessarily mean using drugs or drinking or things like that. It means trying to find ANYTHING that makes you feel better, that makes you feel happy, even if it's only briefly. Her self medication could be dating and relationships, trying to find a person who can make her happy. And even if she's taking medication, if it's not the right one or the right dosage, then she could still be self medicating because it's not working, or not working enough. I would be careful about telling anyone that you think she doesn't have depression because of this. If she's been diagnosed by a therapist, or any kind of doctor, and you point to this as an example of why you disagree, they could easily turn that around and use it to claim the abuse they're trying to claim. I can easily see it going like this: "This proves that he's responsible for her cutting. He refuses to accept that she has mental health problems, and he tells her that there's nothing wrong with her, and makes her feel so bad about herself. She's just trying to get help, but when he tells her there's nothing wrong with her, she feels like she can't or he'll use it against her. So she resorted to cutting herself because she didn't know what else she could do." May not be the best argument in the world, but it's one they could make, and combined with their other claims, could do the trick.
Without threats, those emails might not be that damning, but it really depends on exactly what you said in your anger. Emotional abuse isn't necessarily threats. It can be all kinds of things, and the thing with emails is that, as we all know, tone and intention is lost in the written word with these things. If what you said can be taken two ways, an abusive way and a nonabusive way, be prepared that the judge could take it the abusive way. You can try to explain what you "really" meant, but the reason written communication is preferred is because it removes the "he said, she said" aspect. It negates the need for the judge to try to decide who said what, and what was meant by what was said. So they might not be willing to hear you out, or they might decide that you've had time to think of other explanations for what you said, but that the way they read it is what you "really" meant.
If I were you, I would keep everything as upbeat and light as possible. It's hard when it comes to coparenting and divorce, I know, but you have to try. When you disagree, leave it as "I disagree. Here's my opinion." Leave off any mention of why you think her opinion is wrong, no name calling, nothing angry. If you feel the need to respond angrily, write it out but don't send it. Leave it for 24 hours, or even 48, then come back to it, reread it. You'll likely realize that you don't really want to say all that. You can delete it all and start again, with calmness. If a situation arises where you really can't control your anger about something, or a real disagreement needs to happen, get a third party involved. Have someone that you can both agree you trust - a friend, a relative, a counselor - that you can meet with, either in person or by phone, who can act as a mediator if things get too heated or who can be a witness to the fact that no one was abusive, no one was out of control, etc.