Every stepmom has had it once or twice. Maybe even more than that. It creeps into our subconscious at the strangest of times, picking at our brain, begging us to give in. And every now and then, we'll indulge and let it take over.
You know it well. The courtroom fantasy.
For me, the fantasy always varied, but it was usually some version of the following:
Our much anticipated day in court arrives. The sun is shining, I'm having an amazing hair day, and we've pulled a judge notorious for siding with the father. I sit next to Hubs in the courtroom, holding his hand as he calmly hears the evidence from Mama Ex's side. There isn't much evidence to hear, though. Her side of the story is weak and makes her look greedy for more child support. When Mama Ex gets on the stand, she makes a fool of herself, getting caught in lie after lie after lie. She finally sees what it's like to have no control.
The judge hears our side of the story that we've been living for the last 7 years. He is shown the parental alienation tactics that Mama Ex has subjected us to. He sees with his own eyes how she uses the children as pawns to gain an advantage over the girls' father. He reads the Facebook posts where she refers to herself as a "helpless single mother" and unleashes hurtful and untrue insults at my husband. The judge shakes his head in disbelief.
I get on the stand and give a performance worthy of an Oscar, causing the judge to tear up as I explain (truthfully) how much I love the kids and how our life with them is worthy of at least a 50/50 custody arrangement. And finally, Hubs gives a first hand account of how much he loves his children, and explains poignantly how his time with them has been stripped away by Mama Ex's acts of manipulation.
The judge returns from a 10 minute deliberation and announces that he is disgusted by the evidence he's heard. Mama Ex has been a terrible example for how to co-parent, and by God, she's lucky he's allowing her to see the kids at all after hearing this evidence. He rules a 50/50 custody split (or maybe even full custody to us!) and demands that Mama Ex give back every child support dollar that she's wasted on booze, casinos and clothing for herself. It's a wonderful day.
Oh yes, in my fantasy, this all happens in one day.
And it only costs me $100.00
Laugh all you want, but I swear these are the thoughts that went through my mind when Hubs and I walked into court back in May. And I was surprised how close to my fantasy the reality seemed to come.
We pulled a female judge for the trial, but that was just a small difference. We still put on an amazing case, though it did take 4 days total. Despite those minor setbacks, everything went better than planned. Our evidence was rock solid, just like in my fantasy. My hair looked great and I handled my time on the stand eloquently. Mama Ex made a complete fool of herself, just like in my fantasy. Hubs was amazing as he recounted the stories of what we've experienced. And the judge seemed to understand all of it, just like in my fantasy.
But the verdict. The ridiculous verdict. As Clark Griswald said, "If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am right now."
We went from 10% time with the kids to only 25% time. Mama Ex still remains the address of record for school purposes, though she moves at least twice a year. Our child support went up - significantly. The judge also ordered that we start paying for all school lunches for both children. Why? Because in court, we showed that Mama Ex is constantly maintaining a negative balance for school lunches, so obviously, she "can't handle that expense."
Hubs and I were dumbfounded. How is it Hubs responsibility to make sure Mama Ex can handle her expenses? She's not 5. She's a grown woman with the ability to work and thrive. (And before you flip out that I'm complaining about a stupid lunch payment, calm down. This isn't about the money. We are happy to pay for the lunches. It's the principle of the thing.)
After hearing the verdict, Hubs and I spent at least three days just absorbing the reality. We had spent an astronomical amount of money (I'll spare you the actual dollar amount because it will make you ill) trying to get what every willing and able-bodied parent deserves. 50% time with their children. It's not like we live in Uganda. We moved to a home only 1.5 miles from Mama Ex's crap apartment. We're happily married with a nice house and a consistently stable environment. Mama Ex can't even remember the name of the boyfriend she saw last night.
The reality is, we live in a very flawed world. There is some serious judicial bias that accompanies custody cases. Many judges feel that mother's are the best solution for children. Period. Mother's are the ones with the "parental instinct". They fix the boo boo's. They pick out the clothes. They are the stable, nurturing party. Dad goes out and makes the money, and then gives the money to Mom in a "Me Tarzan, me get you and baby Tarzan's food" kind of way.
And it's a load of horse ca-ca.
My husband is capable and willing to do everything a mother does. He WANTS to. He deserves to be given that chance. Why does a vagina = stability and a penis = uncertainty? How is this fair?
I saw a commercial the other day that made my stomach turn. It was an advertisement for an acne treatment for teens. I've seen thousands of ads like this before. Kid has pimples, kid uses product, kid gets clear skin. But this ad was different. Toward the end, a little graphic appeared at the bottom of the screen that read, "Ask your mom before calling to order!"
And then I threw my remote at the TV.
This is the problem. We are living in a society that thinks Dad is, by nature, taking a backseat to his kids' lives. He's coming home from work and saying, "What's for dinner, honey? Were the kids good?" My husband is nothing like this, and I doubt yours is either. Hubs works hard, and so do I. If we ever have children (learn more on that here), we'll certainly both have equal input. We will work together. Hubs was not content being a Backseat Driver Dad to my step daughters. He wanted more. He wanted what he deserved. And when he went to the one place that could validate that desire, the one place that could make Mama Ex see that he a worthy parent, he was turned down.
So stepmoms, go on and have your fantasies about when you finally get your day in court. Maybe you'll win big, bigger than you ever thought possible. If you do, I will cheer right along beside you on a victory well earned. But just know, the odds are stacked against you. Unfortunately, my courtroom fantasy turned into a very hard reality.
Of course, being the mostly positive person I am, I have found the silver lining. Our time with the kids is going to go up, and Mama Ex can't stop that. And with that extra time, we are going to savor every second. Maybe one day, when the kids are older, we'll explain all of this to them. In the meantime, we have to keep moving forward and keep our sights set on the future. As time passes, we can work to improve our relationship with Mama Ex, making her more willing to let us have some additional time. Miracles can happen.
So we'll just keep waiting for it them to show up...
Have you had a courtroom fantasy? Did it work out or turn sour? What is your advice for stepmoms heading into a court battle?