The last time I packed our Christmas tree into the box I didn’t know it was the last time. We split in June that year. I picked out some ornaments when we separated our things, but for the most part, I said goodbye to the shiny little trinkets I had picked out for our family.
That was a few years ago. The first Christmas after that was pretty brutal. I didn’t even take out the ornaments I had brought with me. I made a fun arts and crafts type of tree for our then 2 year olds to play with, and when they went to her house to celebrate I turned to Lifetime movies and pie. It was pretty cliche.
The next year I had a tiny 2 foot tree I bought on a whim at Target. The kids had a blast making tiny ornaments and I didn’t worry about them knocking anything down too much. I had a less sad Christmas that year. It’s amazing what effect those colorful little lights have on a room.
Fast forward a bit and the scene unfolds in a way I never expected.
This year my ex, her spouse, and I, along with our kids, pulled out that same old tree. We put on ornaments from all over the place. We redefined our traditions in our own unique way. We successfully blended what we had once worked so tediously to separate.
An ornament broke. The kids stayed up too late. We made a huge mess.
It was pretty perfect.
On September 20, 2018, the Appellate Division handed down an unpublished opinion on C.C.E v. C.R.E., a case about a Final Restraining Order (FRO) granted under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.
The parties had been married for about 19 years when the wife a non-dissolution docket (often called the FD docket). The wife’s application resulted in an order granting her exclusive possession of the parties’ marital residence, and, among other things, directing that the husband have no contact with the wife “whether oral, written, direct or indirect, via text, email or social media, except for text or email for the welfare of the children only.”
Thereafter, the husband regularly drove past the marital residence and beeped or waved. In order to gather proof of the husband’s violation of the civil restraints, the wife put up signs on her mailbox referring to the husband as a stalker and mentioning his girlfriend by name. The husband texted the wife about the signs, thereby proving that he had driven by the former marital residence and read them.
The husband filed a domestic violence complaint against the wife alleging that her posted signs constituted harassment. The wife filed her own domestic violence complaint based upon harassment and stalking. At the time of the hearing, the husband proceeded as a self-represented litigant, while the wife was represented by an attorney. The trial court judge often reframed the questions that the husband was asking the wife during cross-examination (which the husband later used as part of the basis of his appeal).
The trial court ultimately granted the wife’s request for a final restraining order and denied the husband’s request. The trial court found that the wife was credible and that the husband was not. The trial court also concluded that the husband’s text messages were meant to cause annoyance or alarm to the wife, which is within the Domestic Violence Act’s statutory definition of harassment, and that the harassment rose above the “ordinary domestic contretemps” that are defined by domestic violence case law, which are often present in domestic violence litigation and do not, by themselves, justify the Court issuing an FRO.
On appeal, the husband argued several points, including that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his constitutional rights by denying him the right to directly cross-examine the wife. The Court commented that when at least one party is unrepresented in an FRO hearing, a judge is not only permitted to do much of the examination; a judge is expected to do it. The court reasoned that a judge needs to do much of the examination “in order to seek the truth that might not easily arrive when an unschooled litigant attempts to examine a witness.” The Appellate Court further commented that refocusing the testimony the husband sought to elicit from the wife did not prejudice the husband’s prosecution of his case nor did they hamper his defense. The Appellate Division affirmed all aspects of the trial court’s orders, except for the award of counsel fees, which was vacated and remanded for further consideration.
Today is day 12 of entirely solo parenting.
Today I am so thankful for my coparents.
When we first split, I took the kids and moved. I moved far enough away to not bump into each other in the grocery store. To not worry about who hears and says and sees what. I moved far enough away to give myself the time and space I needed to be mad and hurt and to process in my own way.
About a year later I moved back closer. I had had my space. I had felt my feelings. I had healed some of what needed to be healed. And I was SO sick of traffic during visits.
Another two years after that we moved even closer together. My coparent and I, along with the new spouse had worked together to get things where and how they needed to be for the kids. And quite frankly, for ourselves.
We stopped calling each other exes and started calling each other coparents. We stopped worrying about parenting time lost and started focusing on how to better spend our time now. And now we truly are a team. A team that works so well, that we don’t even realize it sometimes.
So now that they have been away for TWELVE days, I can confidently say that as much as I am a single parent, I am also NOT a single parent. Nor do I wish to be. My kids do better when they have all of us. We do better when we have all of us. And while everyone survived this adventure, and even had fun, I’m happy that the other two-thirds of my team will be home tonight.