Family Lawyer in Contra Costa County

Hi.  I'm a mom to a 2 year old in Contra Costa County.  The child's father and I never married but we have been living together since before the child was born.  The child's father was angry when I got pregnant and has been pretty much absent from the child's life except for occasional play time when he's at home.  If I ever say anything or ask for help, he says I should have thought about that before I decided to have the baby.  I had the baby by myself in the hospital and I've provided all the care since birth.  I have never left the child overnight and the child's father refuses to babysit even though he's sitting at home.  The child's father has a very low paying job and I've been fully financially supporting him, my child, and myself for years.

I have been doing this because I thought it was in the best interest of my child to have his father in his life.  This man is verbally abusive and a deadbeat and I just can't take it anymore.  I have to get away from him and have some peace for me and my child.  But, I'm afraid.  He is pretty narcissistic and extremely vengeful.  I'm afraid if I even bring up my desire to split he'll make it his life's goal to make sure I'm miserable...even at the expense of our child.  Can anyone recommend a good family law attorney in Contra Costa County?  I need some legal advice and I need to be prepared for the worst if what I think will happen does indeed happen.  My child means more to me than anything in the entire world.  I thought putting the child first and making sure my child had an in-home relationship with Dad while forgetting about my own feelings and needs was the right thing to do.  But, now I'm starting to realize that that just isn't the case.

Scared in Contra Costa County

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

Shannon Wolfrum is a family law attorney I have known in Contra Costa County for years.  She is dedicated and committed to her clients, serves on Boards relating to family law, and she would be my first call.....

Your story sounds very similar to mine. I wish I could message you, but I definitely understand your desire for anonymity.

My son's father was/is abusive, narcissistic, angry, vengeful, possibly sociopathic (according to our co-parenting therapist, not me... though I agree). I finally cut it off when our son was almost 1, and filed for child support when our son was not quite 2. Our son is now 6. His father still has visitation even though I had a restraining order against him at one point, even though he threatened to our son that he was going to murder me and our family (no, I'm not joking) two years ago. I have learned some hard lessons and have had many "I wish I knew better/ wish I had done that" moments. Some of what I have to say may sound harsh, so if it comes across that way, please know that I ABSOLUTELY sympathize with what you are going through and I'm trying to say to you things that I wish someone had told me.

First: As long as there are no custody orders in place yet, you are not restricted from moving. So, GET OUT OF CONTRA COSTA COUNTY. Move. As far away as you can. Do you have family or friends out of state? Even better. I have family in another state who asked me to move in with them when things started to get really bad with my ex, when our son was 1. I didn't do it. I thought the same as you...  I thought I was trying to do the right thing by trying to work things out with my ex. But you are right - it is NOT going to get better, and you should trust your instincts. Lots of research points to the damage a narcissistic parent can do to a child. I spent a long time wishing I had moved when I had the chance. If you have that choice, my advice is to take it.  

At the very least, just get OUT of Coco County. My case is there. CoCo is a "mandatory" mediation county. That means that if you (or the father) end up filing for custody in that county, you will be FORCED to go to mediation with your ex...  and if he is anything like mine, then I'm guessing you probably already know that he will lie and say whatever he has to in order to "punish" you and get what he wants, i.e., custody and maintaining control over you through your child. Narcissists do not take kindly to being "rejected". I can tell you from experience that the mediators in family court in Martinez, though most I believe are well-meaning, are woefully overworked and understaffed, and some definitely do sloppy reporting that can muddle things badly. I've experienced good and bad, but you have no way of knowing who they are going to pair you with. They are NOT required to look at documentation. Crazy, right? So it doesn't matter if you have been taking care of your son as you say or if you have documentation in the form of text messages/emails/whatever confirming your schedule... if he comes in with the opposite story, they will most likely give 50/50 custody. That is what happened to me at first.

If you can't move far away, get out and get as far away as you can but don't tell him where you are going. You didn't say the word "abuse." But it comes out loud and clear in your message that you are at least frightened of the possibility. Reach out to domestic violence resources. Don't be afraid of therapy.

I have more to say but no more space here, so contact me if you want to talk. I wish you luck.

I just thought about some other important thoughts to mention in a public response, so I wanted to add these to my first reply.

1: Contact the Bay Area Crisis Nursery. 925-685-8052 . They are a non-profit. They were instrumental in helping me escape from my ex when I finally decided to get away. Remember, even "just" verbal abuse deeply affects you and your child. The crisis nursery can help with a safe place for your child to stay temporarily when you are ready to get away, or even a couple days at a time to give you time to figure out what to do, knowing your child is safe while you seek help. Don't let the father know your child is there, tell him you're going to visit friends/whatever and then do so.

2: I'm not an attorney, but I worked as a legal assistant in a family law practice for awhile so I have seen the ins and outs of many cases, not just mine. I have a very close friend who is an attorney (not family law or else I'd refer you to her). Obviously I can't give you legal advice. But I can tell you my own experiences and give you personal advice based upon them.

2: I do think it would be a good idea for you to speak to a couple of attorneys before deciding what to do. Call STAND! Against Violence, Bay Area Legal Aid, and get some referrals and advice from a few attorneys. With that said, even when speaking to attorneys, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Keep in mind that many/most attorneys really, REALLY believe in the system. Many don't understand just how broken Family Court is. They are good people, they are just cogs in the wheel and don't see it. It took me two years to get through to my first attorney, who was otherwise ok, and get him to see that the system is rigged, pay-to-play: Especially in California, where family court serves two masters ("the best interests of the child" and "frequent and continuing contact with both parents..." while they both sound good... can be, and often ARE, mutually exclusive, because unfortunately California has taken the path of deciding that frequent and continuing contact with both parents IS in the best interests of the child, even if there is evidence of abuse). Basically, unless a kid is put in the hospital, they will often award custody or visitation to abusive parents. Family court is years behind the research that shows just how destructive verbal abuse is for children, just how damaging it is for kids to see a parent being abused by the other parent, no matter what kind of abuse you're talking about. They still award visitation and custody to abusers, frequently. It's sad but true. And it's NOT because the judges and attorneys are bad people... it's because they just DON'T get it so they make bad decisions.

4: Start documenting EVERYTHING. Secretly record interactions with the father (yes, this legal if you are being abused and fearful, but get legal advice to understand why, I can point you in the right direction). Keep ALL records of text messages and emails. 

5: I still stand behind my advice from my first post: GET OUT, MOVE FAR AWAY, GET HELP. Some might say I'm cynical and will not agree with me. That's ok. But not everyone understands just what it's like to be stuck in a situation with a narcissistic abuser who cares nothing for anyone but himself. I do understand. Be strong, and reach out if you would like to connect.

As a toiler in the judicial vineyards who has seen too many of these cases, I would second almost everything that Ms.Chicken had to say.  I have no personal knowledge of CoCo County, so I cannot comment on her views of the process there, and moving at this point will not necessarily keep you out of the county's system.  I'll stop there since legal advice is not permitted by this site or by my employer.