Have you experienced the terror and stress of the family court system?
Dr. Jessica Taylor is on the BTR.ORG Podcast to discuss how and why abusers terrorize victims via the family court system. Listen to the episode now and read the full transcript below for more.
This podcast episode is part of a series. Join us for:
Do Abusive Men REALLY Want What They’re Fighting For?
Abusive men fight tooth-and-nail for several key “things” in court battles with their victims, generally including:
- Child custody
- Parenting time without having to adhere to any mutual rules regarding the children
- Child support (either fighting to pay less, or be paid out more by the victim)
- Alimony (similar to child support)
- Financial assets
Many victims are shocked and confused when abusers vehemently put up a fight for things that they never expressed interest in before (time with the children) or are morally entitled to (perhaps property you owned prior to the marriage).
It’s important to understand that abusers often seek opportunities to disrupt your emotions and keep you in a state of panic and stress by fighting for what they know you care about – rather than accepting a divorce situation that is mutually agreeable.
“He just wanted to win”
“I’m reminded of another story of a woman who had a very young child, within a year [old], and she was not married to the man and she actually crossed from Canada into the US to get away from him. Then he fought her and fought her and fought her. She kidnapped the kid and all this stuff and was in court just the whole time and she was terrified. So she stayed in America, tried to fight it in court, the stress of it maybe, maybe not, I don’t know. But she ended up having brain cancer and dying. And the second that she passed away, he stopped all the court stuff and didn’t want to see the daughter.”
Anne Blythe, Founder of BTR.ORG
But Why Is He Doing This?
Why would someone put so much time, effort, and money into the family court system if he wasn’t actually invested in what he was fighting for?
In the words of many victims in the BTR.ORG community, “Why is he doing this to me?”
While every situation is different, we have generally found that men who use the family court system to further abuse their wife, ex-wife, and/or children are motivated by:
- The “joy” of winning and watching the victim “lose”
- Feeling in control of the victim
- Knowing that he (the abuser) is at the core of the victim’s thoughts and feelings
BTR.ORG IS Here For You
At BTR.ORG, we know how absolutely exhausting it is to seek justice and safety in the family courts, only to feel further gaslit and lost. We are here for you as you work toward peace. Attend a BTR.ORG Group Session today.
I have Dr. Jessica Taylor back on today’s episode again. This one is absolutely related to what happened to Leah, an ongoing custody battle. Again, this was recorded before Om’s death. Sorry, I keep bringing that up, but it just happened this week for me. I know that this is going to air much after that, but it was just very eerie. So if you did not listen to last week’s episode, listen to that first and then join us here.
I would say the most common that we see here at BTR is through the Pornography Addiction Recovery Industrial Complex, which is what I call it. They’re found out for their porn use, for example, or their affairs or soliciting prostitutes, sex addiction therapy, and then they start telling people, “Yes, I am a sex addict and I’m getting treatment, but now I’m just ‘concerned’ about my wife. She also needs to get ‘help’ because she’s experienced this traumatic event in finding out that I’m an addict and needs help.”
“She needs to go to S-Anon or COSA because she’s codependent”
And everybody’s like, oh yeah, she needs to work on her side of the street. She needs to go to S-Anon or COSA because she’s “codependent” or something like that. And then she has to go to “treatment” too for his sex addiction. In the meantime, she’s being literally emotionally and psychologically abused, trying to “care for her husband” who is “sick”, apparently. I’m using quotes for “sick” too, because he’s got this “sad addiction” and she is not in any way, shape or form seen as a victim of sexual abuse.
She’s not been able to give consent for her sexual relationship; she didn’t even know any of this was going on and she wasn’t able to process any of it. She’s been lied to, deceived, emotionally and psychologically abused the whole time. It is really bad. And she’s getting that from the sex addiction therapist, she’s getting it from maybe marriage and family therapist, and she also might be getting it from clergy.
And so it just gets super, super hard to see what’s going on when you have what feels like all these professionals and people who seem to care about you, trying to hold your family together, kind of. And you’re the glue because you’re sort of healthy in this situation, but you’re almost as sick as he is and he’s “not bad, he’s just sick”. It kind of reminds me of that section in the maid, the Netflix show, The Maid, when the dad is just trying to say he’s ‘not the enemy, the alcohol is the enemy.’ Do you remember that part?
“I’m not working on anything. This isn’t my problem. These weren’t my actions. These aren’t my choices. I’m not getting involved.”
Dr. Jessica Taylor (02:32):
I haven’t seen that, but that makes a lot of sense. It feels very familiar. It’s this type of thing that you hear a lot, and the example that you just gave, I think that’s just another way that we force women to take responsibility for men’s actions and for men’s abuse. It’s like a way of roping her back in and being like, “You are a problem as well and you need to work on this stuff too.”
And it’s like, at what point are women allowed to go, “Do you know what? No, absolutely not. I’m not working on anything. This isn’t my problem. These weren’t my actions. These aren’t my choices. I’m not getting involved. He needs to deal with his own problems. He needs to take full accountability, which means not spreading that accountability to me.”
Yes. Also, “This man is currently right now psychologically and emotionally unsafe. I need to distance myself from this because his continued gaslighting, his continued lying about me, his continued deceit, his continued manipulation, even if it sounds nice, is emotionally and psychologically violent to me. It is harming me. I am currently in an unsafe situation.”
Some of the pornography addiction recovery therapists, for example, will require that a woman not consider divorce for a year until he’s been in treatment. Rather than saying, “Okay, you’re currently unsafe, let’s get you to safety.” I’m not saying that necessarily means divorce per se, because also divorce does not solve the problem if you share kids. Because if you share kids, he can continue to emotionally and psychologically abuse you even post-divorce. So I’m talking actual emotional and psychological safety from the very beginning.
“Women have to make these strategic decisions about what is going to give them the most emotional and psychological safety”
And I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if it means divorce or not, I’m not saying that. But I do think a lot of abuse professionals think divorce, “Oh, we just got to get her out of there.” And I’m like, well, that also doesn’t solve the problem.
I was severely emotionally and psychologically abused post-divorce for eight years because I share kids with my abuser. And all the women listening, that’s why they’re afraid of getting divorced too, because they think, Well, maybe I’ll actually be safer and I can manage it a little bit better if I remain married, but then try to set up boundaries in marriage. Maybe I can make sure that my kids won’t have to go every other weekend. My kids will be safer. Those sorts of things.
So women have to make these strategic decisions about what is going to give them the most emotional and psychological safety. But it’s really tricky when other people and professionals- the court system doesn’t understand it. Luckily the UK is way better than America in understanding coercive control. So that’s good news for you guys.
UK Law & Coercive Control
Dr. Jessica Taylor (05:22):
Yeah, well, I’ve got quite a lot of colleagues in the US and we have many conversations that go along that route until I sort of explain what it’s actually like here. And they’re like, “Oh, I see”, because a lot of it’s lip service. Don’t get me wrong, the academic understanding is there so we have a definition of coercive control. It’s included in law, it’s accepted as a thing that exists. So in that way, yes, I accept that we’ve made progress there. But when you actually attempt to demonstrate or prove coercive control or you need to help a woman who is very clearly being coerced and is in a very psychological and emotional abusive relationship with somebody, you will get the same sort of dismissal, not believing her push-back, re-framing her as the problem, making her take responsibility, telling her that they need to get therapy together. I don’t know, I think we’ve done similar recently in the UK around misogyny where some of the police forces are saying, “Oh, we should be able to charge these men with misogynistic crime.”
Oh, kind of like a hate crime.
“Misogynistic Hate Crime”
Dr. Jessica Taylor (06:36):
Yes, yes, exactly. So it’s misogynistic hate crime. So that would include coercive control, domestic abuse. So essentially they can say that it’s aggravated by the misogyny and then it makes the sentence heavier. It makes the system almost work better. But the problem with that is that that all sounds brilliant, but it just doesn’t work in real life because the majority of these professionals, whether they’re working in the family court or whether they’re in police or whether they’re social workers or whoever they are, they still couldn’t even define misogyny. Most of them can’t spell it, they don’t really know what any of it is, they don’t know what it looks like, they’re misogynistic themselves.
And also, and I always make a point of saying this, that statistically these professionals that are working in these environments are just as likely to be being abused. So especially the women, they’re going home to an abuser at the same rate as the general public. All of the research suggests that professionals in these roles are just as likely to be being abused as their clients, and that means that the men in those roles are just as likely to be perpetrators as men in the general population. So this means that they have their own biases, their own experiences, their own issues, their own conclusions, their own self-blame that they then put on women who are trying to get help.
Domestic Abuse Victims & The Justice System
Right now I have a friend who her soon-to-be-ex has a protective order and her victim advocate is saying, “You need to report these additional crimes that he’s committed.” She’s trying to get divorced from him and her family court attorney is saying, “No, no, no, do not report it because then you’ll look bad and it will affect your divorce negatively.” She’s getting different advice from two law professionals and the two judges who work for the same county are going to view her domestic abuse completely differently even though they work for the same county and they’re both supposed to be on the side of justice.
Dr. Jessica Taylor (08:41):
Yeah, this happens in the UK as well. I mean, the way you’ve just described that, if somebody outside of our field of work listen to that, they’d be like, “That’s absolutely ridiculous.” That’s because it is. But that is what we are seeing here too. So it’s this sort of like, “Don’t bring up the abuse, don’t report the abuse when you’re going through the divorce or the custody hearings or child contact hearings because it’ll make you look bad. It makes you look like you’re accusing him and it’s going to make everything harder.”
But you have a right to report that stuff to keep you safe if you wanted to. And it’s appalling that you have to almost play a game to try and keep you and the kids as safe as possible, which might actually mean that you can’t even report what you have a right to report.
“They know full well that their ex or partner is going to be able to successfully manipulate every [court] professional in that case”
It’s just wild. And like you say, these are judges sitting in the same areas, in the same courts supposed to be working towards the same aim, which is justice and safety and protection. It’s impossible. It’s impossible to do this. While so many women are terrified of, as you say, going through the divorce process, going through a custody process, going through any kind of family assessment type process, because on top of that, they know full well that their ex or their partner is going to be able to successfully manipulate every professional in that case.
My personal opinion, and I don’t know how you feel from your professional point of view, is that these types of abusers do not respect civil divorce decrees. They just kind of do whatever they want because there is no enforcement or not very good enforcement. So if they don’t do something that’s in the civil parenting plan for example, then it’s very difficult to enforce it. Whereas a protective order or some other criminal-type things are easier to enforce. So my personal opinion currently, this could change, is go with what the criminal people say rather than the divorce people, because the criminal prosecution and criminal action could actually have a consequence that could keep you safer than your divorce decree. Maybe, maybe not. I mean, that’s my current way of thinking about it, but I don’t know. Do you have any thoughts about that?
“It’s ME on trial now”
Dr. Jessica Taylor (11:05):
That’s so interesting. I would be inclined to, on paper, agree with what you’ve just said, but I also accept how tentative you’re being about it, and I get that totally. Because in the UK for example, you get lots and lots of women going through this where they keep trying to tell the truth in their divorce hearings, in their child contact hearings and things like that. And then what happens is that the whole thing gets flipped over on them and they’re “the abuser” and they’re “fabricating it” and they get accused of parental alienation. They get accused of fabricating abuse and things like that. And then suddenly those women are like, “Oh my god, it’s me on trial now. And I did not expect this to happen.”
I’ve worked with women around the world. I worked with a woman a couple of years ago in Australia who went through exactly this experience and then all of a sudden she realized this case had been turned upside down. And suddenly it was her on trial, not him. And then they decided to completely remove her access to her daughter and said that she was unsafe mom and that she was lying about this coercive control, lying about the abuse, and that by continually talking about it and bringing it up and trying to report it, she was actually going to harm the little girl and all this sort of rubbish.
She was taken away from her.
“He did it purely to harm his ex-wife.”
Dr. Jessica Taylor (12:27):
She was removed completely and she had no access to her whatsoever and they were refusing to give her even contact and access because she was saying she was so harmful. I tell you this story, just because it has a really good ending, thankfully. I remember working with her and the little girl was removed just before Christmas and I honestly thought that that woman was going to end her life. She texted me several times and was like, “I can’t do this. I’m not living without her. I don’t know how this went so wrong. I just wanted to divorce him. I would’ve been happy with shared contact. I don’t know how the hell this happened.” And it just changed her life and he did all of this out of control and spite. He had no interest in being a full-time parent to that little girl. Not a chance. He was a businessman.
He was out and about all the time. He was always traveling. He had absolutely no interest in that child. He did it purely to harm his ex-wife. And within a few months that child had been pawned off to nannies, nurseries, schools, after-school clubs. That kid never saw her dad. And it was only after a few months of the school, every now and then reporting being like, “She’s not getting picked up”, “She’s not being looked after”, “She’s not looking well”, “She’s ill”. Then he moved her out of the area and nobody knew where this child had gone.
And I was so absolutely just gobsmacked, blown away that something happened. I don’t know exactly how it happened. The woman got a good lawyer, and they managed to actually get that child back and fully removed from the man. That happened in 2020, so the little girl is now eight and they’re doing really well and they’re super happy. But the horror that woman has been put through.
Well, and the child, right? The woman and her child.
“The second that she passed away, he stopped all the court stuff and didn’t want to see the daughter”
Dr. Jessica Taylor (14:22):
Absolutely the little girl. And I know that it took ages for the little girl to sort of recover from all of that trauma. And I remember speaking to the woman a few times and she was like, “She’s just not the same anymore.” I was like, “You have to give her time. You’re going to have to just be there and just give her time because she’s just been through just life-changing trauma.” I remember her saying to me, “Do you think she’ll grow up and remember this?” And I said, “Yes, it’s likely at that age she will have memories of all of this.” And she was saying, “Oh, I hoped that she wouldn’t have any, and that she’s young enough not to have any memories.” I think she will at that age.
I’m reminded of another story of a woman who had a very young child, within a year old, and she was not married to the man and she actually crossed from Canada into the US to get away from him. Then he fought her and fought her and fought her. She kidnapped the kid and all this stuff and was in court just the whole time and she was terrified. So she stayed in America, tried to fight it in court.
With the stress of it maybe, maybe not, I don’t know, she ended up having brain cancer and dying. And the second that she passed away, he stopped all the court stuff and didn’t want to see the daughter.
Dr. Jessica Taylor (15:46):
Oh my God, that’s horrific.
“Just purely out of control”
So I think it was until her daughter was 11 maybe, was in court with this awful, awful court case. The daughter would have to go and be with him in Canada for it. It was so bad. And the second that she passed away, he was like, “Oh, never mind. I don’t want to see my daughter.”
The woman’s husband, who was a really good man and was trying to help her figure it out, is now the full-time dad. She calls him Dad, and he’s the one who takes care of her. But they’ve never even wanted to file for adoption or anything because they’re just too afraid (I think he is her legal guardian), but they’re too afraid that he’ll say no.
Dr. Jessica Taylor (16:32):
And he probably would say no, just purely out of control.
Interesting though, because he works pretty well with the husband now that she died. He’s like, “Oh yeah, no problem.” Yeah, he signed the stuff for the legal guardianship and stuff. He just doesn’t want to do the official adoption.
Dr. Jessica Taylor (16:50):
Is that misogyny or is it that he feels like he won in the end and she died and…?
Because he killed her.
“The system is failing left, right, and center”
Dr. Jessica Taylor (16:58):
Yeah. Oh God, that’s an awful case. And women are just going through so much and the system is failing them left, right, and center.
Exactly. And that’s not to say had she wouldn’t have died, we don’t know what would’ve happened with her cancer, but it was just very interesting to see that when she did die, he was like, “Oh, never mind. We don’t have to do the court case anymore. She doesn’t have to come live with me.”
Dr. Jessica Taylor (17:24):
Yeah, because you would think if that’s what he really wanted, that as soon as she died, he would be like, “Right. Now I get full custody of my kid that I’ve been fighting for for 11 years.”
He would be on the plane…
Dr. Jessica Taylor (17:36):
“They just want to win”
…that day. If that were me, I’d be on the plane like, “Oh, this thing I’ve been praying for has happened! Oh, we’re finally reunited! I’m so grateful to have you!” Even when she had to go back up to Canada to be with him, he didn’t really pay attention to her and she knew it and she didn’t like it.
But it’s interesting that that wasn’t at all what happened and they act that way and so they can win the cases. But just like the man you described, they’re not getting picked up, they’re not really taking care of them. [These dads] don’t really care. They just want to win.
Dr. Jessica Taylor (18:09):
Oh, absolutely. It really is just a big power game and it speaks to what is at the core of emotional, psychological abuse and of sexual coercion. It’s all about power. It’s all about control. It’s all about breaking you down and being able to control you in the way that they want to. So it makes sense that if that is the way they think and the way they behave and what they get out of that, then they are going to continue that whichever way they can.
And as you say, for those of us with children with perpetrators, which includes me, it’s very, very difficult. You realize you are attached to these perpetrators for, I mean in some cases the rest of your life. Because you’ve got kids with them and in a good scenario just until your kids are 18, 20 years old or whatever, and that you can completely cut off,
“They will just find a way of manipulating the situation so that they can play thier power game all over again”
but in reality, you never really can completely escape those perpetrators. You’re attached to them for a very long time and they’re perpetrators, they’re going to find ways of harming you over the years, even as those decades pass. And you can understand the amount of trauma that that causes for women who are attached to these perpetrators. With children, it’s years and years and years of trying to keep yourself psychologically safe, trying to keep yourself emotionally healthy, trying to move on, trying to process everything that happened when you were together and the horrible post-divorce mess that lots of us have gone through.
And then years down the line, there’s still things that crop up. There’s still things that they might be difficult about. I mean, just examples like getting a passport for your child so you can go on holiday or the fact that your kid needs somewhere to stay for a bit or they want to go to a different college or university or they might have a health problem and you are both required to help them. It could be anything, but they will just find a way of manipulating that situation so that they can play their power game all over again.
We’re going to pause the conversation here today, so stay tuned because Dr. Jessica Taylor and I are going to continue our conversation next week.