Why won’t anyone help me?
Day 41 of the Lockdown
The evening that my wife stormed out to her mother’s with a suitcase of children’s clothes – the day I realised they had smuggled my children out from under my very nose – I went for a walk for my hour’s permitted exercise. I bumped into a former support worker that I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. She called across the road to ask me how I was.
‘My marriage ended on Thursday,’ I said.
‘You finally figured out that she was abusing you?’ she replied.
‘Yes,’ I said, surprised.
She nodded sagely. ‘About time. I was thinking about you the other day. I thought, “Poor Richard, locked in that house with her – she must be putting him through hell.”’
‘She was. And now her parents have got my children. I don’t think they’re coming back.’
‘I know how much you love your kids. My heart breaks for you. I’d give you a hug if we were allowed. Look after yourself.’
I told her that I would, but sitting alone in that house, the scene of so many abuses, it was easy to grow paranoid. Two days without my children – it was the longest I’d been away from them in years.
I knew I was on borrowed time. If my wife owned the house outright, I would have a right to remain until the divorce, but because she co-owned it with her father, they could kick me out whenever they chose. It was just another layer of control they’d used to keep me trapped, threatening me with homeless if ever I stepped out of line. And we were in lockdown – I had nowhere to go.
Worse, I worried about what her father might do to me. It was clear to anyone with eyes that he wasn’t long for this world. A heavy drinker with a casual disregard for safety, who often left his shotgun lying around, fully loaded, I wouldn’t have put it past him to take me out – he probably wouldn’t even be around for the trial. Since I had all the evidence of her abuse and her unfitness as a mother, the neatest thing for them would be if I was removed, and I worried they’d take that chance.
I barricaded the doors.
My wife was bombarding me with text messages, photographs of happy times, promises that I knew were empty. When she told me that I had to remember that she was good for me, I asked her why she’d threatened to abort my son to control me; why she’d used my children to emotionally blackmail me; why she’d hit me so many times?
‘That wasn’t me,’ she replied. ‘That was Hyde.’
‘And you can’t control when you change from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde, can you? Or can you?’
‘I can control it.’
The night stretched into the following day. Time seemed to blur. Now that I was apart from my wife, all these incidents I’d forgotten about popped into my head, hundreds and hundreds of them, the full gamut of physical, mental, emotional, financial and sexual abuse I’d been subjected to for ten years. It was like waking into a nightmare. I’d forgotten so much.
When you’re being abused, when you’re going through it, you live very much in the present moment, just trying to get through it, and hoping that tomorrow will be better. Now, for the first time in ten years, I had space to think, and to remember, and a lifetime of hurt and pain caught up with me. No wonder she’d never let me have a moment to myself – if she had, I’d have realised what she was doing.
And now that I realised it, I realised it fully. I was bullied for twenty years in education, ten years at work, and ten years in my marriage – and I was only forty. All my life I’d been a victim. I’d done everything right, followed every rule, sacrificing my health and energy to meet the needs of everyone around me, and it hadn’t been enough. I’d lost my children. I’d lost my marriage. I was about to lose my home. I had nothing left.
Day 42 of the Lockdown
I rang my cousin, a Family Law solicitor, to get some advice. I told her about the abuse I’d received from my wife, the violence, the threats to take away my children if ever I left. I told her about the personality disorder; the numerous safeguardings raised with Children’s Services; the multiple witnesses to her neglect. I told her that I’d raised the children practically singlehanded; that every night of their lives, I was the one who put them to bed; that every time they woke up crying, or thirsty, or simply weren’t tired, I was the one who saw to them; that every time they had to go to the doctor, I was the one who took them; and that the stability, the emotional support, it had all been me.
Her response broke me, if there was even anything left to break.
She said that my odds of getting custody in court were only 50:50.
‘But she’s clearly unstable,’ I said.
‘It doesn’t matter. So long as your wife has support around her and isn’t the sole carer, the judge could deem that adequate “protective measures” are in place to safeguard the children.’
‘But she has Borderline Personality Disorder. Surely that puts me in good stead?’
‘Actually, that could count against you,’ she said. ‘Social Services will have to tread very carefully around her in case they get sued for discrimination.’
‘I don’t believe this. I’ve got ten years of emails asking for help with her behaviour, and I’ve got five years of documented incidents of her neglect and abuse of the children, and dozens of witnesses.’
‘Doesn’t matter,’ she said again. ‘Look, what you’ve got to understand is that in a Criminal Court, you have to prove things “beyond a reasonable doubt”, but in Family Court, it’s “on the balance of probabilities”. Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to go in with all your evidence of her instability and abuse towards the children; her solicitors will counterclaim that you’re also unstable and abusive towards the children, and there won’t be the burden of proof. That’s just the way it’s done. Then they’ll say you currently have nowhere to live, while your wife co-owns the children’s home and her parents can provide a nanny to help her look after them. The judge will then have to decide if it’s in the children’s best interests to be taken away from their home and their mother, to be given to a man who has nowhere to live and can’t afford a nanny.’
I felt like I’d just been kicked in the crotch. ‘So what do I do?’
‘Cooperate with Social Services. Find somewhere to live. Then you can fight for your children. But I have to warn you, as I warn all my clients, you’ve got a long, hard journey ahead of you. Most people fall into depression before they reach the end of it, so you have to look after your mental health, because you are about to descend into hell.’
‘You don’t think we can resolve this amicably?’
‘Oh Richard,’ she said, amused by my naivety. ‘This is going to get very ugly very quickly.’