Father diagnosed by court ordered psych eval with “personality disorder”, lengthy criminal history, wanted fugitive, over a dozen documented abuse allegations against him, mother and children homeless after domestic violence incident, awarded SOLE custody of children in Hennepin County under order of Judge Ivy Bernhardson. Alleged abuser continues to receive preferential treatment by Judge Patrick D. Robben, who openly displays bias in rulings that defy logic, and violate the Best Interest Standards.
The children continue to be at risk due to this unjust custody order.
A Perfect Day: I was so excited to finally have an overnight visit with my daughter. The abusive ex, Martin Hegland, is engaging in parental alienation and has denied almost all of my requests for additional parenting time. I never know when he is suddenly going to allow a little extra time to see my children… my kid’s emotions have been on a roller coaster of longing to come home and missing their mother followed by short, unexpected visits and then long periods of no contact. This is similar to the abuse I experienced at the hands of Martin – a coming summer storm that erupted from a clear sky with no explanation, no warning. You could never predict what he was going to do, or why.
And as a result my children have withdrawn into their own world, and shut down their feelings; shut down even their feelings for me, their mother. My children have learned that it is safer to just keep quiet, to stop asking, to silence even any glimmer of hope.
But on this one day, my daughter was allowed to stay overnight. For just one day, the grief and loss we experienced melted into peals of laughter. We stayed up late listening to music, and gabbing like girls do. We ate bowls of ice-cream topped with chocolate syrup and candy well past bedtime, and made pinky swear promises not to tell anyone.. and brushed our teeth with a little extra bubblegum toothpaste for good measure.
In the morning, I made my daughter a big, homemade breakfast. I couldn’t wait to show her all the clothes I had bought her… most she will never wear. Every time I go to the store I think of her. I see other mothers shopping with their daughters, and wish it was me. I supposed I should stop buying things… but a part of me is still hoping, and praying, that someday my children will come home, and we will be a family again. Just for today, my daughter and I raid her closet, laying out all the beautiful clothes, Justice is her favorite brand. We ooh and ahh over bright pastel capris, skinny jeans and skirts with funky prints. There are matching shirts for everything and bright colored socks. Shyly, she asks me to brush her hair. Her long, beautiful locks flow beneath my fingers as I gently brush, and smooth a straight iron through. Her almond shaped brown eyes are like my own, and when I look in the mirror I see happiness reflected in them. We spend the rest of the day curled up on the couch together, reading books… it was the perfect day.
He Gave Me ‘The Look’
And then my daughter let her guard down. I noticed that during exchanges she was quick to run out of the car, with barely a wave goodbye. I never said anything. I knew I needed to say goodbye at home, in privacy and safety. Only on this day, she gave me a hug in front of her father, during the exchange. This had never happened before.
Martin commented on her dress, and I could sense her discomfort. He then said, “Where is my hug?” As if competing against me. Again, and again, Martin asks for a hug. She shrugged, loaded the car up with her bags, and avoided her father. Again he asked for a hug, again she refused. I could sense something was wrong, it was a feeling I had known well … and was confirmed when Martin gave me “the look”. “The look” is an unspoken assault. It was as if the anger and evil he held inside is unleashed as spears, directed at me. The air felt a few degrees cooler and I shuddered. I just knew something was going to happen. He was going to get me one way or the other. The relationship between us had ended but his abusive behavior had not, and I knew this look well, it meant trouble.
Nobody Believes Me
When I tried to tell my friends and family what happened, they did not believe me. I was told that I was just “too sensitive” or “too emotional” or “it doesn’t mean anything”.
My advice to anyone who is an abuse survivor, or knows an abuse victim – do not doubt your instincts, ever. Those instincts are what we use to survive the abuse. In another sense, our natural ability to experience the world around us has been groomed, and brutally trained, to the needs of our tormentors. We know our abusers so well because in their effort for control and dominance, we lost a part of ourselves and became enmeshed into the identity of an abuser. Our boundaries were broken down, and destroyed, as the abuser assumed control, and told us how to act, think, feel, dress, behave (etc). We understand things that no one else will. Healing requires regaining what was wrongfully taken, and the painful process of separating our identity from that of the abuser – and forging a new, healthy sense of self, a new life.
It was significant that my daughter had hugged me, and openly showed affection to me, in front of her father. I could not recall when that had ever happened before. Martin reacted by demanding a hug. And she refused. When he gave me ‘The Look’ it only confirmed what I had already sensed – he was angry, and somehow would lash out at me.
Retaliation – Using a Child as a Pawn
When the next scheduled visit was to occur. Martin was over an hour late. He would not talk directly to me on the phone, but sent various text messages that offered no real information or details. I was told just to wait. So I did.
I also was instructed to drive across the city, a 20 minute drive for me, to pick my daughter up at a different exchange spot. I arrived on time – and waited some more for my daughter to arrive.
Over an hour later, Martin finally pulled up with my daughter in the car. When my daughter got out of the car, Martin put on this strange performance. When I say performance, it was truly that. His voice was loud, and overly expressive. He waved his arms and made theatrical gestures. He made sure the attention was on him.
“Give me a hug! Give your father hug! I want a hug now!” Martin began to call out loudly, grabbing at my daughter.
My daughter looked visibly uncomfortable. She shied away, seeking refuge in my car.
Martin advanced toward my car. “I want a hug! Give me a hug!“, he insisted loudly.
“No. No.“, she mumbled, turning away, looking embarrassed. She waved her hands at him, shooing him away.
“What, you can’t give your father a hug?” He asked again.
“Sweetie, tell you father good-bye.“, I gently said, rolling down her window.
She halfheartedly waved good-bye and we drove off. Martin was standing in the parking lot, alone, grinning.
“What was that about?“, I asked.
She shrugged and said nothing. I did not understand what was happening. Martin was never one to show any kind of affection. And certainly never at an exchange. Then again there were a lot of things about him that I did not understand. So I went on with my day, with the fun things I had planned.
What Comes Out in the Wash
Before leaving my home, I found something concerning that confirmed my suspicions. I cannot share due to privacy but I believe that Martin did retaliate in a passive-aggressive way, using my child as a pawn.
And there were other concerning incidents…
I remembered that my Mom told me that Martin offered to give her clothing from Lisa to give to a younger cousin. When my Mom opened the bag of clothing, she found Lisa’s lacy red bra tucked inside. My Mom was upset, and confused – this was totally inappropriate for the child (a cousin) the clothing was intended for, almost sending a message… A child wearing a sexy red bra meant for an adult woman? Lisa’s bra put in the bag that was meant to be given to a cousin? My Mom confronted Martin and he just laughed it off, made excuses.
Another time, Martin offered to give me clothing that no longer fit my older son, to be used for my new baby. I said “yes” and when I opened the bag, inside was a pair of pants that I wore as teenager, during a party I had attended with Martin. The pants were unmistakable because we went to a costume party, and they are leopard print. I was shocked, and upset. I could not believe that Martin had saved my pants for all these years.. and then gave them back to me.
That is to say this kind of passive-aggressive behavior, and sending messages through bizarre actions, is a pattern with Martin. And when you look at the bigger picture, it is clear what he meant.
But what could I do about this?
Nothing. The family court system had given full custody to an abuser, granted him every power and privilege, and stripped me of any ability to be a part of my children’s lives.
Something. Fight for justice in the ways that I can. Raise awareness. Network with, and join, other parents and concerned professionals fighting for reform, or with similar interests. Pray. Break the cycle of violence in my own actions, words, and example to my children. Seek community support or resources. Look for other ways to make a positive impact.
Never Give Up!
I am speaking out today because my children deserve a better life than they have been given, and deserve the love and care I can provide as a mother. No child should be court ordered to live in an abusive, dysfunctional home environment. This is not in the best interest of any child.
The family court system is broken, and it has failed my family but I won’t fail as a mother, and as a concerned citizen – I will raise awareness, and in a peaceful, legal manner will fight for justice in the family courts for my children, and all other children and families who have been affected by systemic failures, injustice and corruption. It takes “just us” to restore justice to the courts!
~ Emily Court, June 2016