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The letter from the woman who was being set up for shidduchim with dads who have sole custody (Chronicles 5-18) had me gasping for breath. At last, 15 years after my own ordeal when I lost custody, this issue has found its way into print!
I did indeed go off the derech, for many reasons. Call them excuses if you wish, but I was not strong enough to withstand some of them. I was left alone to support six children. Though the frum community where I lived was extremely generous with financial, food and scholarship support, there was precious little emotional support. No one was interested in a woman with six children.
To this day, Rachel, I think that if Hashem ever gives me a chance to ask Him a question in Shamayim, I will ask: “Why are children considered a blessing until a woman is left alone with them, and then they become a handicap for shidduchim?” People told me I should just live for my children and plan to stay alone for the rest of my life. But a woman has certain needs, and I was not prepared to be terminally single.
When my youngest son was nine months old, I went back to work. My employer, a Modern Orthodox rabbi, was very kind to me. I also had a wonderful babysitter, a frum lady on my block, who was a second mother to the children.
But then there were the ordeals that left me traumatized. A landlord, a black-hat so-called religious man who refused to make repairs in a timely manner; the electrician he employed – another so-called religious man – who broke into my apartment, lurked in wait for me to come home from work and sexually assaulted me at knifepoint, with two of my toddlers in the next room. They are grown and married now, but they still remember when the police came. The case never went to trial although the man was indicted by a grand jury, the reason being that a therapist I had been seeing – another so-called ‘religious’ man – did not believe my account of the assault and took the assailant’s side. The case was dropped.
After almost six years, I met an old family friend who had also been divorced. He was not religious, but we started going out and we became engaged. When my ex-husband heard about the engagement, he started proceedings to get custody of the children we had had together, whom I had been raising alone. He had walked out on me when the youngest was four days old.
The hearing was rigged from the start. Evidence that I had been in an Orthodox shelter to escape from his physical abuse was not admitted, but all sorts of trumped-up charges were put into evidence against me – including letters I had written to The Jewish Press about the difficulties of being a single mother!
When I lost custody, my children wept hysterically. They attended my wedding, but thereafter I saw them only on visits. They would report to me that their father emotionally and physically abused them. No matter how I tried to rectify that situation, all my efforts came to naught.
With the strain of it all, I threw over almost all of my Jewish observances. I reserved a “kosher corner” of the kitchen for when my children would come to visit; just because I was no longer involved with Jewish observance, did not mean my children shouldn’t be. Gradually, as they got older, and after my husband and I moved to a different area, I came back to Yiddishkeit. My return was due in part to my children, and in very large part to the community where my husband and I now live. The people here are wonderful examples of living Yiddishkeit. If the people in my old community had been like that, who knows how different my life would have been.
Research shows that abusive, aggressive men are the most likely to get custody, using this as a weapon of power and control. My ex was abusive and controlling during our marriage, and at one point I had to escape to a shelter. He is now married to his fifth wife.
The “Confused Single/Divorced Mom” should be very careful. Too often, a custody fight is just another way for some men to use power, control, intimidation, and other psychological weapons against a woman. My mother used to say, “A leopard doesn’t change his spots.” An abusive, controlling man is not going to suddenly change his ways and treat a woman well, unless he gets some kind of intensive therapy. Power is an addiction not easily given up.
My ex-husband also managed to obtain child support from me. Although I was just a secretary, I paid thousands of dollars over many years. And yet he and his vindictive lawyer kept hauling me back to court again and again, just to harass me.
I never even had any say in how the money was spent. A year and a half ago, when our youngest son got married, I wrote my final child-support check.
I urge the woman who wrote to get all the information she possibly can before she considers such a man for marriage, and to make sure he has undergone or is in the process of therapy.
If she works or has money, she should beware. Is he collecting money from an ex-wife? Too many men use this as a weapon also. Many women whom I know of have had it even worse than I in this regard. The world has been turned completely upside-down. Now it’s the man who not only gets sole custody, he collects money from the woman who is usually the lower wage earner (some are housewives with no work experience). We used to hear about female gold-diggers; now there are male gigolos who live off their ex-wives’ earnings. So, caution, beware!