Scott in Saint Paul writes:
I had a very messy divorce and child custody battle with my son’s mother about seven years ago now. Since then she has used him as a pawn to control and manipulate me, and offers him a far less than healthy home environment. She is very good at manipulating the system, and when I attempt to contact Child Services, I am treated like the vindictive ex-husband.
He is now living above an auto repair shop, that is not coded for living space, has no ventilation or fire egress. He sleeps on the floor on a mat, and has no contact with any children his age. She leaves his older sister at their home address every night with her alcoholic housemate. There are plans to “get a house” in March and her two oldest children (not mine), my son, and her new boyfriend will be moving in together. My son has adjustment defiance disorder, and she puts him through all these unstable changes in his life. He has behavior problems in school as a result. I have tried twice to get custody, but she always manages to appear to the court as a good mother. Is there any hope in the future for my son to live with me and a sibling from another woman?
You are in a very difficult position, particularly because you have layer upon layer of issues.
It is very frustrating that Child Services is an understaffed and flawed resource, filled with people who are forced to uphold laws and guidelines that don’t allow for the necessary flexibility to actually discern what is best for the child. Yes, you are treated like a vindictive ex – partly because of the aforementioned reasons, and partly because your frustrations with your son’s situation and the system very quickly rise to the surface when you are dealing with Child Services.
It is not outside of your reach to have your son living with you. As a matter of fact, I see that he eventually will be living with you, but not for a couple more years. It’s not as if he will have no time at his mother’s, but you are coming through as the “primary” parent. At that time, it is at his request, because your relationship with your child will be at a different level than it is now. So, you have that to hold onto, but it is within your power to step up the timeline.
Your son has emotional problems beyond defiance disorder, and his living arrangements certainly aren’t helping him any. He does love his mom, though. He also thinks she needs him. You aren’t the only person she manipulates – your boy is right in the thick of it.
Even though you have to abide by the legal measures that are currently in place, this does not mean you can’t start working to change your son’s living arrangements. Granted, your ex comes through like a raving idiot – so cooperative efforts will be nothing short of challenging, but still worth consistent effort. Ideally, the two of you can overcome your own issues and start working around the courts so that your son can have some stability. Rather than threaten your ex with legal action, simply give her a chance to try and pull her life together – and support those efforts by extending to her that you will take care of your son – no strings attached – while she gets her life and living situation straightened out. She’s probably not going to go for it, but she may allow you to have some more time with your son.
To get any legal changes taken care of, you need to get a decent lawyer and a good private detective. Things will get ugly, and it won’t be cheap, but it is the quickest and most effective path I see around you. It is more difficult to prove someone unfit as a parent than most people realize. Custody issues always become character assassinations of parents, and the kids always know more about the situation then they share. Be careful of that. This isn’t about proving that mom is a horrible mother and person of questionable character, it is about giving your son a stable home and a healthy environment where he can be loved by, and have fairly free access to, the people genetically responsible for his existence – and respected by their chosen partners.
Until your son’s situation changes, become more involved by giving him your support and a safe haven at your home when you can have him there. You also may want to become more involved with the teachers, counselors and administration at his school. I think they at times know more about your child than either you or your ex. School is a place where he is “the man,” and his honesty, pain and anger comes out in that arena.
You have no control over how your ex lives her life. The only thing you can do is try and lessen the negative impact of her choices on your son, and try and get him the help he needs – even while he is living with her.