Sunday, August 24, 2008

Visitation or the lack there of

A little over a month ago I contacted a lawyer to find out what my rights are as far as filing for visitation to see my 16 year old daughter.

I lost custody of her to my parents 10 years ago when I had a severe BiPolar episode. While I was in the hospital they threatened to sue for custody. Knowing they would file in Virginia and that being gay combined with being in a mental hospital gave me no chance at all of winning I gave in and signed a temporary custody agreement so that it would not go before a judge and I would not risk having my parental rights terminated. I was not well enough at the time to retain my own attorney or to think to stipulate regular visitation in the paperwork. Since then my parents have made it very difficult to see my daughter. At one point they did not let me see her for three years. I had believed that things were improving up till these last 6 months when my parents, once again, were making it impossible to see her.

I contacted an attorney in Virginia to see what I needed to do to file for visitation rights. The lawyer asked me to go to the court house to find out exactly what paperwork had been filed. I went to the courthouse the morning of Tuesday July 29th. After I got there the lady behind the counter pulled the file. As she is rustling through the papers of the file I point to a stapled bunch and ask “Is that the temporary custody agreement?”

“It doesn’t say temporary on it”

My heart stopped at that moment.

“What?”

“It doesn’t say ‘temporary’ on it. Hmmm. This is weird though.”

She then flips through all the pages in the file. Pages that are stapled together, pages that have sticky notes attached, single pieces of paper, all representing the worst time of my life. The time that I lost custody of my beautiful, sweet daughter.

I remember back to that time. The phone call to me when I was in the hospital, where my dad tells me that because I will not come back to live with he and my mom that they are going to file for custody of her. The moments later when I hung up the phone, went to the smoking room, and started punching the steel door (nearly destroying my hand) because the pain in my hand was better than the pain in my heart, mind, and soul.

The moment a few weeks later, when I was sitting in a law office in Virginia, across the table from my mother and the attorney signing the papers giving custody to my parents. The worst part being that my mother had brought my daughter along. I had to sign these papers, then look into my daughters eyes that were filled with questions, knowing that there was nothing I could do to stop this. Nor did I want to poison her relationship with them by telling her what had happened.

The memories of the next few months of setting up visits with my daughter, coordinating it with my mother, then getting there to find that my mother had sent her to a friends house to play. For hours I waited, while my mother chit-chatted with me about how I was going to hell, how I was a horrible influence on my daughter, how I was “leading her down an evil path”. When I could no longer take it I left to go home. Once home, I would get a call from my daughter, asking why I didn’t come. I didn’t want to tell her that I was there waiting for her while my mother tormented me. I didn’t want her to hate the person she was now living with, my mother. I didn’t want her to feel like she couldn’t go over to a friend’s house to play. So, I told her that I couldn’t make it. By the 5th or 6th time of this happening I gave up trying to see my daughter. I couldn’t take lying to her like that anymore and I couldn’t take my mother tormenting me like that.

I remember the next time I saw my daughter after giving up. It was December 2001 around Christmas time. Three long years of not seeing my daughter. No contact, no information, nothing, for three years. She had gotten so big during that time. By this point my mother had her start calling them “Mom” and “Dad” instead of “Nani” and “Popi”. My mother had also taught her call me by my given name, instead of Mommy.

Many other daggers like this over the years. So many hoops to jump through, ass kissing sessions, placating, making sure I don’t rock the boat, to an extent hiding who I am, all to be allowed to see my daughter. Usually only for a couple of hours every 4 to 6 months. The years of drinking to escape the pain and the hopeless worthless feeling I had about myself. This was not the only reason for drinking, but looking back I see where this added to the downslide.

So many events that I missed. So many memories that I don’t have with my daughter. So many times to share that will never be. So many things with her that I never saw or experienced. My daughter grew up without knowing me, and without me knowing her. We are just now beginning to come together and know each other again. It was time to limit the amount that my mother could interfere with this knowing process.

I come back to the present time, with the courthouse worker checking the database to verify something she found. She looks at me and says “the judge never signed this.”

“What?” I ask.

She tells me that 10 years ago, the judge reviewed the custody paperwork my parent's attorney filed and had a question about it. The judge asked the court to contact the attorney's office to get clarification. The attorney's office never got back to the court or to the judge, so, the judge never signed the paperwork.

My breath has completely stopped by this point. I don’t dare hope that this means what I think it means, so I slowly ask:

“What, exactly, does this mean?”

The woman behind the counter says “What this means is that your daughter has just been living with your mother these last 10 years.”

My head exploded at this point. I took the copy of the not valid order and left the court house. The first phone call I made was to my partner. She burst into tears of joy that I could now see my daughter whenever she and I wanted.

My next call was to my attorney.

The call after that was to my mom of choice. (I just call her mom these days but for clarity in this article I will call her mom of choice.) Her head exploded too. She just kept saying “I don’t believe it” over and over again. :-)

Other phone calls followed. More tears, more joy.

My daughter was out of town when I got the news so I had to wait till I was fairly sure she knew about this before posting.

I say fairly sure because my parents have once again cut off all contact. My lawyer is working on it though.

1 comment:

fiyaX2 said...

NICE job Froggie!!!! Can't wait to read the end of this story, yanno??? The end which entails lilOne, sitting next to you while you jot the remainder of the happy ending for us all!!!!

;)