I recently returned to Florida but only so that I could ask for permission to leave. This is the reason why I haven’t been able to define home for quite some time. Let me explain:
Ten years ago when my daughter was born, I took my first steps into the muddy waters of Florida’s family court system. It is a tedious, confusing, illogical, and often emotionally exhausting slog through dismissals and denials, continuances and motions, mediations and judgments, oftentimes resulting in orders that will only lead you back to more dismissals and denials, continuances and…well, you get my drift.
The lifespan of a family law court case can drag on for years – case in point: my last trial by judge in 2009 took one and half years to build and it was over with in less than three hours. It cost me, a single mother receiving no child support or state assistance, approximately $18,000. I am going into my third court hearing – you do the math. These things (petitions, motions with and without prejudice, supervised visitation center policies, etc.) make absolutely no sense to most normal people and this is why lawyers are so expensive. They are professionals who have been trained to translate statutes and codes into English. Lucky is the client who finds a lawyer who cares for you, your child, and your case. I am one of those lucky clients.
After my 2009 judgment landed me sole parental rights of my daughter, my lawyer and I learned that no other parent in the state’s history had ever proved a better case for the rights to be taken from the opposing parent. Interestingly enough, Elle’s biological father was the initiator of this particular fight. I just happened to have more fight stored up inside me than he expected. My big courtroom win was unprecedented, historic, and damn well deserved, I’d say.
My daughter’s biological father, who I will only refer to as K, has had little to nothing to do with Elle in recent years. Not once has K exercised his right to visit Elle with his parents as the appointed supervisors.. He has been fighting his own demons for the better part of a decade and failing miserably, even with the court-ordered treatments and multiple hospitalizations that I can only imagine are the result of never getting the court-ordered treatments. Until now, I have done my fair share of being diplomatic and tolerant, even going so far as offering excuses to my daughter for why her father isn’t around. “He’s sick.” However, I refuse to be compassionate and supportive. There are only so many ways I can spin the truth to protect her and only so many years that I can justify doing it. Time is up.
And that’s all I can say about it.
In January of this year, Matt and I knew that we were willing to do whatever it took to be a family, to provide Elle with a two-parent home and all of the support that comes along with it. Florida has no jobs and Matt’s job in Oklahoma would provide for us. We filed a petition with the State of Florida to relocate Elle and me to Oklahoma City. A Petition to Relocate is a legal request in which the custodial parent (in this case, me) must prove in good faith why a move away from her current address is justified and in the best interest of the child (job availability, high-ranking schools, family support, etc.). The non-custodial parent, no matter how involved or uninvolved he is in the child’s life, gets a first crack at the petition, either by giving permission to allow the child to be moved or by refusing to allow the child be moved.
FYI: this means anywhere outside of a 50-mile radius from their current home. And, to nobody’s surprise, K refused to allow my petition to get through.
I want you to imagine that for a moment. Your future, your happiness, and your family’s circumstances, whether changed by marriage, death, job loss, a home foreclosure, a job promotion that requires you to transfer to another city or town, anything, are now going to be decided by someone who has never had your child’s best interests in mind and your future could potentially be determined by a court trial.
The kicker? Our case should have been heard within 90 days. Matt and I are now wading through MONTH SIX.
And this is why I returned to Florida. This is why I drove 20 hours from Oklahoma to Jacksonville.
I was supposed to appear in court two hours south of here. I was supposed to be ushered into a room after paying a mediation fee and swearing on the bible. I was supposed to negotiate and be free of this by 4:30 this afternoon. But K couldn’t make it. He’s sick. We’ll try again next week to make progress. If I’ve learned anything about the family court system, it is how to wait.
And so Matt and I wait, separated again by the 1,100 miles, to find out if we can, in fact, be a family in the traditional sense of the word, to go home and be home. Some people have asked me why Matt and I got married knowing we might be denied the opportunity to live together as a family in Oklahoma. My answer is simple: It was the only decision we were allowed to make on our own.
We needed nobody’s permission.