Verbally abusive ex and 12yo son

Hello, 

My ex and have a 12yr old son. We split due to ex's verbal abuse and currently have a unique living situation. As we own our home and have a unit in the lower half of the house, I have moved down there for financial reasons as well as being able to be close to my son. We have come up with a custody schedule that works but my son is often in my unit as he prefers to be with me. He has recently told me things that are really disturbing to me: Dad called me asshole and said fuck you to my face. My friends don't want to come over when dad is in charge because he's mean to me in front of them. I don't feel supported by dad. I didn't share the fact that I was getting bullied at school with him because I don't think he will do anything about it.

I have witnessed my ex being harsh in his consequences -as in punishment doesn't fit the crime so to speak - and have had to step in. He recently accused our son of stealing money (almost $200!) but my son denies this and says he didn't even know that dad kept money in the house. I know kids do stupid things, but honestly believe him. However, my ex "still has a bitter taste in his mouth toward our son" (his words) over this issue and has lashed out at him because of this. I don't know what happened with the money - ex tends to be absent minded and disorganized but regardless I believe my son. We are close and I know him well. 

My question is : How do I support my son without vilifying his dad? I was the victim of verbal abuse from a parent and know how horrible it feels - not to mention having tolerated years of abuse from ex.  I can't control others' behavior but what can I do to support my kid and make sure he doesn't internalize this or worse start acting this way? Are there books specifically for kids around this so I am using age appropriate language? In some ways I feel I'm very well equipped to support him given my experience. However, I also realize that dealing with my ex is VERY emotionally triggering for me, my mama bear instinct kicks into high gear. But I can't help but think that I really don't want to sour his relationship with his dad. Do I tell dad what kid has been telling me about him? I tend to think yes.

I would also like to know if it is possible to sue(?) request(?) 100% custody because of verbal abuse. How can I prove this is happening? Ex says one thing, kid another - ex tends to rarely take accountability for his words/actions and if he does it's short lived, it WILL happen again. I just want to protect and empower my son. I don't want him feeling and growing up with the issues I've had to face and overcome in my life. 

Parent Replies

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I’m so sorry you’re going through this. There is an amazing book called “helping kids cope the sandcastles way” by Gary Neuman. It’s written for parents with kids of all ages managing divorce. It helps you learn the best way to talk to your kid through this difficult time. It’s not recommended to share the ins and outs of what he may saying when your son is not around. You’re absolutely right to want to support him without vilifying the father - he should make his own opinion on him. 
 

I would recommend finding a therapist for you that specializes in couples, divorce, and children. The therapist can help you identify healthy ways to support your son and also give you an outlet to manage understandable frustrations you have while going through this. 
 

If you’re genuinely concerned with verbal and emotional abuse you should contact child protective services. It’s your son’s right to not be abused and involving them can assist in insuring his emotional well-being. If you’re not sure if the abuse is to the threshold of emotional abuse, you can also get him a therapist (separate from your own - this is important for multiple reasons) to assess and then support your son through this. If abuse is suspected the provider would then notify CPS. What’s important to remember is that your responsibility is to protect your child from abuse, so act on your instincts (but not emotions).
 

At 12 years old your son can be heard in court and has a say in where he lives. It seems problematic that you live downstairs from your ex. I would suggest finding alternative living arrangements if at all possible. I would do this first while talking to your lawyer.Then when you are settled  elsewhere request the hearing and have your son state his preference. He can choose to say why in detail if he wants no visitation but otherwise he can give a limited reasoning that this is what he wants. I would NOT discuss this with your ex before you have a safe space as he sounds like he holds grudges and could retaliate against your son. If you want to protect him figure out how to be the primary parent without putting him in the crossfire. Good luck! Be brave! 

I think you should contact your lawyer and request of the court that you get full physical custody. The courts will most likely evaluate his parenting as well as yours. They also might require him to take parenting classes which might (?) help. I would not want my son to be raised with this type of parent. He will end up repeating the pattern or will marry someone who treats him badly ( just as you did.) The state of CA is very pro 50/50 custody but in my case I was awarded full custody as my husband was an alcoholic and I provided the judge with enough evidence of the impact it had in my kids that I won. Good luck!