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My Abusive Ex Wants Visitation. What do I do?

Carolyn Woodruff

Dear Carolyn,

I am a 35-year-old woman with two small children (a daughter and a son), a puppy, and a cat. I am now separated. My “ex-husband” kicks and tortures the puppy, and I do not know why. The puppy cries and then the children, who witness the violence, cry.  It is a mess. The cat usually manages to get away.  Then my “ex-husband” yells at the kids and hits them too. I am so glad he is gone, but I worry about this monster I was married to. I worry about how he will treat our children when I am not around, especially when he is drinking.  Now he wants visitation with the puppy and the children. What can I do?

– Tortured

Dear Tortured,

As I read your letter and think about the horrific abuse that the dog “Toby” has endured as depicted recently in local media, I think that people (and judges) need to understand more about the mentality of persons who will abuse animals. It is typical for animal abusers to simply be abusers, particularly of the vulnerable persons and animals in the abuser’s life.

First, here are a few things about persons who abuse animals and children. Generally, the abuser is replicating a pattern the abuser learned somewhere. Further, the abuse is generally a method of “control” of someone or something. Of course, there is a continuum of abusers, all of which are serious. The least serious (but still serious) are those abusers who merely need some education and counseling to understand the abuse should stop. Perhaps anger management counseling also helps. The most serious situations include where an abuser is a pedophile and uses the animal abuse to control a child victim, who will submit to sex to avoid a beloved pet from being maimed or killed.

You are correct to take the abuse of the animals and your children seriously. All abuse should be taken very, very seriously. It is certainly something to be watched carefully. I do hope you have some pictures or video of what has happened in your home, because likely the abuser will deny, deny, deny. You should document, document, document.

You need to tell the judge in your custody case about the animal abuse and the abuse of the children. I would ask the judge to require the husband to have a mental health evaluation and engage in counseling concerning the abuse, at the very least. You may even consider having the court do a custody evaluation with a psychologist to evaluate the fitness of each parent as a caregiver for the children.

Good that the cat gets away, but the poor puppy…. The puppy is likely marital property to be handled in your property division. He is likely asking for the visitation with the puppy as an additional way to control you in your marital dissolution case. I do not think you will have a problem getting the judge to award the puppy and the cat to you in the property division. Our former Chief Judge Bruce Morton, in Guilford County, use to say in dog cases that the dog should be brought to the courtroom, let loose, and we’ll see who the dog runs to. The dog will run to the person he loves.

You will want to try some counseling for yourself to understand patterns of abuse and control. Since your children have witnessed the abuse and have been a part of the violence, counseling would assist them also. Unfortunately, without some intervention these patterns of abuse move from generation to generation.

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