Safer with Mommy?

What it takes to win in family court

by John Arlon

My story begins with the Alaska court system. Looking back it’s hard to believe I was that naive. I thought the court would recognize my wife’s well-documented mental illness and substance abuse problems and grant me custody of our two boys. All of the judicial horrors I’d heard so much about would not apply to me.

Divorcing her would be painful, but very simple and straightforward. I would go into court and tell the judge about my wife’s suicide attempts. I would tell him about the psychiatrists who had diagnosed her with bi-polar disorder, delusional behavior and rage reaction. I would tell the court about the time my youngest son had seen his shoplifting mother forced against a car by store security personnel. The court would learn about the time she locked the sleeping kids in the house and walked a few miles away to report the house on fire. There was no fire, but the department of social services was notified and they filed a report. I was certain the judge would read it.

Above all I believed in the court and its avowed purpose; to insure the safety and well being of the kids. I was wrong about everything. When I stood before the judge and tried to tell him these things I was rudely cut off in mid-sentence. I was told my attitude was bad. The judge said that unless my wife had sexually molested the kids he didn’t want to hear anymore. I was told his court was a rich man’s playground and I couldn’t afford to play there. I left, struggling with the fact that everything I thought was relevant to my kids’ safety and well being meant absolutely nothing to the court.

As my ordeal continued with the Alaska Court System my wife continued to slander and threaten me. She accused me of spousal abuse. She threatened to tell the court I had molested her daughter. She said it would be easy to get her daughter to go along with the lie. She told me she would rather see the boys dead or in foster care than with me. She laughed and asked, “Who do you think the court is going to believe?”

The restraining order in effect against her (forbidding any contact with me and the boys) made not the slightest difference. She would call at 3:00 A.M. to tell me that after she won I would never see the boys again. I had been ordered to pay for an attorney of her choice but she couldn’t find one to represent her. She tried several but they told her she would have to enter a drug rehabilitation program and get counseling before they could successfully represent her. She refused.

Apparently, all of this was lost on the judge. He ordered a guardian ad lidum, or GAL, to assess the case and prepare a report. That’s when I took the boys and left the state.

Why did I leave? By this time I knew that the judge, and by extension the court system, were even less rational than my wife. My wife at least didn’t pretend to sanity. I brought the boys to Maine and contacted the judge to tell him where we were. He ordered me back to court to explain why I shouldn’t be held in contempt for leaving the state.

I was allowed to attend the hearing telephonically, and it was during this hearing that the judge experienced first hand my wife’s illness. She told him he ran a kangaroo court (true enough). She asked him who the Hell he thought he was, sitting up there in his “…silly robe. God? You think you’re God?” she screamed.

I heard a loud clatter and a sharp bang. This was the sound of the judge knocking over his microphone stand, and of his chair hitting the floor. The horrified clerk told me to hang up and call back later. I pressed the phone to my ear in a white knuckled grip and hung on.

The judge eventually composed himself and came back. He told my wife she needed help. He told her she had the attention span of a gnat. He told her she couldn’t string a coherent sentence together and he was excusing himself from the case.

If my mentally ill, drug crazed wife hadn’t verbally offended this egotistical and incompetent fraud of a judge, I would never have gotten custody. So much for what’s “in the best interest of the children.”

The court system called an old retired judge from pasture and I was awarded primary physical custody.

In 1997, when my ex’s daughter was 12 years old, the Department of Social Services removed her from her mother and placed her in foster care. Her mother had been trading her for drugs. The daughter became pregnant and after the baby was born, the two of them were allowed to move back in with mother. Go figure.

My ex has never paid one cent of child support, and she doesn’t call the boys or acknowledge their birthdays or Christmas.