A Story About a Battle for Custody
"In my 28 years of practicing law, I have heard nothing like this." he said during my free consultation. I had just finished telling a lawyer a very embarrassing story about a cat, the reason my ex wanted to get full custody of our daughter. Well, that was his excuse anyway. We often argued about him spending more time with her and being consistent, so it caught me by surprise that he suddenly wanted her full time, only he didn't.
We were in the kitchen and I was making breakfast. My eight-year-old daughter was sitting at the kitchen table, by the window. She suddenly screamed and jumped up. When I turned around, there was a cat sitting right next to the window on the outside. She was a beautiful grey and white mix and she appeared calm and friendly. The window was closed, so there wasn't a concern of her getting inside. I had a cat when I was a little girl, so it intrigued me, but it scared my daughter. Later that evening, she was back. My thirteen-year-old was excited by having a pet and asked if we could feed her. Knowing what I did about cats, I thought if we feed her, she would keep coming back for more. I was hesitant, but I agreed. A few days later, I was at work when I received a text message from my oldest child. After school, she and her friend brought the cat inside the house, gave her a bath and had it sitting on my sofa! My first thought was my little one and how she felt about having the cat in the house. My oldest assured me she was fine and didn't seem bothered by her being there. When I got home from work, she was hanging out in my oldest daughter's bedroom. I felt a little nervous, but she was so calm and unafraid, so I allowed it. We didn't have any supplies such as a litter box or even cat food, so I told her that the cat would have to go back outside for the night. The cat was living in an abandoned car next door. She stayed in the car all the time and only came out when she was looking for food.
A New Addition
We moved her in the house. It was exciting at first to have a new family member. It still breaks my heart that we no longer have her. We went to Pet Smart and purchased supplies for the cat. That night, she officially moved in. Only two of us were happy about it. My little one was so uncomfortable with the cat, she hid in her room and screamed every time the cat came anywhere near her. It was perplexing because they cat exhibited no aggressive tendencies. She was so gentle and wanted to get to know us. Whenever I was lying on the sofa would snuggle up beside me, then lay one paw on me as a sign of affection. I never knew cats could be so loving. My little one wasn't so convinced and because of her fear, she set a process in motion that almost ruined my life.
She ran away
She would spend weekends with her dad aka grandmother. It was Sunday night, and I picked her up and brought her home. She was even more nervous about the cat than usual and was afraid to enter the house. It was late; I was tired, and I just wanted to go to sleep. My patience was thin, and I didn't want to deal with her nonsense. My anger got the best of me and I yelled at her to get in the house. Instead of running in the house, she ran to the neighbor's house, a few houses down on our block. A lady with an enormous dog who I didn't know well. She thought my daughter was running away from me because she was afraid of me. No one would believe what she did next. She locked her in her house and refused to let her out. Protecting her, she said. I could see her through the glass screen door. I called the police, then I called her dad. When her dad arrived, he took the lady's side and demanded that I kick the cat out of the house immediately. He kept repeating that I'm choosing a cat over my daughter. He would drill that into her head in the following months and made her believe it. When the police finally arrived, I was so fed up with the situation and my loss of control; I let her go with her dad for the night. That decision changed everything for the rest of year. I found myself in a heated fight between myself and his family and then the courts.
He filed for full custody
A couple days later, I found a new home for the cat. When I called to let them know that I would pick her up later, they hung up the phone on me. I went to the house after work and he refused to give her back to me. Also, she was afraid to come back home thinking the cat was still there. The police stated that without a court order, there was nothing they could do. I couldn't get to the courthouse to file in time because of work and he b
eat me to it. When I filed for full custody, I contacted a lawyer. I had one conversation with a lawyer and he never called me back. I fought on my own, but I had some concerns. In the state of Pennsylvania, they don't give preference to the mother, but base their decision on the best environment for the child. One issue I felt would be a strike against me was that I didn't really have a support system. My family lives in another state and we weren't close. He not only has a large family, but they're close and are always supportive of each other. It wasn't just me against him; it was me against him and his whole family. I felt like I had one thing going for me; I was the primary parent since birth.
He had the advantage
He got a lawyer through his company and I had to defend myself. I had gotten a lead through my company, but it was only a lead, so I would have to pay the lawyer with my own funds. I had no money to get a lawyer, even for one day. However, his lawyer wasn't present for the initial hearing. It was me against him and I got lucky that day. The arbitrator was compassionate towards me after hearing my story and I realized that he wasn't buying his story. Since the case brought against me. They asked him what he wanted
. He stated that he wanted primary physical custody and to see her every day. I would be the one visiting her or given visitations. They didn't make a final decision that day, but would have us face a judge in several months. He would render a temporary custody decision and send it to us in the mail. It upset me they didn't decide immediately, but it arrived a couple weeks later and it was official. They gave me temporary 'primary physical custody' and they gave him two days every weekend. I felt vindicated. We both got the letter on the same day and he called asking 'when should I bring her?' I could hear her in the background shouting "Today!"
The final judgement
The final hearing was more or less a formality. Months had passed without incident. When we went to court his lawyer asked to meet with me. Apparently, he no longer wanted full custody, and he didn't want to see her daily. He only wanted every other weekend! This came as no surprise. She should be with the parent who wants to see her every day. They granted him what he asked for so I still had the full physical custody. We were all happy with the outcome. I recall sitting in the waiting area before the hearing began. We were the only ones in the waiting room. The dad and I sat relatively far away from each other and didn't converse. My daughter, the diplomat ran back and forth between us, making sure that she gave us equal attention. She was even happier with the outcome because the fighting was over and she still had both of us.