“Ashley” – My Story
Early in our marriage, things with my husband seemed very normal. After our two sons were born, I began to notice a disconnect with my husband. He began to show bitterness and anger toward me. My husband told me things would be better if I lost weight, spent less money, or had dinner ready for him. My husband began to secretly drink heavily and smoke marijuana at work, and would frequently come home drunk and high. I didn’t realize what he was doing to me was abuse until much later. I just knew that things were not right and that I always felt like everything was my fault. Things progressively went from emotional and verbal abuse, financial abuse, gas lighting, to finally physical abuse.
During an argument about withholding money from me, he followed me into our bedroom, slammed me against the wall and over my bed, put me in a choke hold and pinned me to the floor. I tried to knee him in the groin and managed to get away and run into the hallway, where I saw our four and seven year-old boys. I quickly scooped up our sons and took them into another room, locked the door, and called the police. Despite the situation and my bruises, the police said my injuries were not severe enough and he said it was a 50/50 fight because I kneed him in the groin. The Ottawa County Deputy, Sean James, didn’t allow me to press charges against my husband but did make sure my husband left the home at that point.
During the initial court proceedings, I learned that my ex-husband was abused by his mother. He had written the details in a therapy book which I presented to the court, in addition to his admitting to drinking while intoxicated and high and his pornography addiction. Judge Jon Hulsing then said it was OK for my children to stay the night in his mother’s home with him, after being estranged from our family for 5 years. He said that Bill would need to be present with the children at all times and his mother was to be supervised around the children. I had to teach my children to never be alone with her because even with the court orders, he left her alone with her. The magistrate, David Macias, said that was OK because he didn’t understand what it meant to be present with the children at all times.
After the divorce was finalized, Judge Engle was assigned to our case in 2010. He refused to enforce our judgement of divorce. Although I struggled to make ends meet and care for our sons, David Macias and Judge Engle ordered even lower child support payments not based on Michigan Child Support Guidelines. (Macias even told me at the initial hearing that I couldn’t object if I didn’t like the numbers he came up with, which was imputing HALF of my ex-husband’s income, so that he could start his own business.) They made this retroactive so that his arrearages went below the $5000 threshold that would require him to go to jail for not paying child support. In addition, Judge Engle did not require my ex-husband to pay his court-ordered half of documented $13,000 in child care expenses, giving his ruling in the mail instead of on the record in court.
On February 15, 2013, after my ex-husband showed up intoxicated during a snow storm to pick them up at one of their sporting events (the first he’d ever attended in five years), I filed to ask for supervised parenting time and not allow him to drive with the children. I delivered the children on numerous occasions to my ex-husband (an 80-mile trip one-way) and he refused to open his door. Then, he took me to court claiming I denied him parenting time. My ex-husband also drank and smoked marijuana frequently during parenting time against court orders. All along Judge Engle did nothing to enforce our court orders or protect my children. Instead, Judge Engle threatened me with jail time if I withheld parenting time when my husband was drinking.
September 6, 2013, Friend of the Court (FOC) case worker Nick Dood and Judge Engle illegally attempted to force me into “mediation” with Dan Qualls who was our former counselor. The court pressured me to have a psychological evaluation. I agreed because all of our four marriage counselors all said the same thing…I was never diagnosed with any mental disorders and I was coping with being married to an abusive addict. The proposed evaluation was to be done by their court-employee, Ben Burgess, who is only a master’s level, limited license psychologist but known in the legal community as an investigator. The court pushed these actions to discredit me, and cover up my ex-husband’s behavior. After a psychological evaluation with a PhD with a successful practice came back completely normal with anxiety due to domestic abuse, Ben Burgess harassed me to give him access to the files with my counselor. He sent a HIPPA release form giving me the “opportunity” to grant him access before he went to Judge Engle, who would grant him access anyway.
Dan Qualls produced a drug test for my ex-husband from a lab in California that indicated no actual levels or percentages of each drug. It was ordered by Judge Engle to be taken at Holland Hospital 6 months earlier. Qualls also physically pushed my children into my ex-husband’s car. He then forced me to work with Danielle Potter, a lawyer who posed as a counselor in Quall’s office to interview my children without me present. She was also involved in covering up my ex-husband’s abuse and faked drug test. She refused to meet with me after repeated requests and only met secretly with my ex-husband on several occasions. She said I was uncooperative even though I produced text messages and emails that showed I was trying to work with her. She is now an Ottawa County Friend of the Court case worker.
On March 14, 2014, over a year after the drunk driving incident, 5 or 6 different motions were pushed back after repeated hearings, into one day-long hearing. I represented myself because I had no money for lawyers and Legal Aid’s Delores Trese ended up handing over the guns in the initial judgement of divorce, which he has now threatened me with several times. Each time I brought up the illegal things FOC was doing and how I was standing on Michigan Child Abuse Laws to protect my sons, the judge swept it under the rug. They gave my ex-husband a $1000 fine or 4 days in jail for not paying child support. I also received 4 days suspended jail time even though I proved I had never denied parenting time without cause. IT WAS LATER DISCOVERED THAT JUDGE ENGLE RECEIVED $6000 FROM MY EX-HUSBAND!
They continued to come after me for being 45 minutes late with the children after not having enough time to drive from Grand Haven, back to Kalamazoo to get the boys, feed and pack them, and back to Holland in only 2.5 hours. They also tried to have me thrown in jail for being late bringing the children when my ex-husband refused to blow to prove he was sober. He was acting intoxicated at the exchange trying to goad me into calling the police so he could blow zero for them and show the court I was crazy. They set up another hearing for the boys’ last day of school.
I began to blog and Facebook my hearing transcripts and share everything they were doing. Judge Jon VanAllsburg, chief judge, was a face book friend at that time and monitored everything and reported it back to FOC and Judge Engle. It was then that things finally turned around and they dropped all charges on June 9, 2014. FOC then filed to have me transferred to my county, Kalamazoo, but then they denied their own motion when I stated on the record all the illegal things they had done to me and my children.
My children have never had any contact with their father in between visits every other weekend. They go and play video games, stay up all hours and eat all the junk food they want but spend no valuable time with their father during their visits. The boys are angry that we struggle financially while their father buys them video games and big ticket items that must stay at his house over an hour away from where they live. What is even more painful for them is that he makes no effort to be a part of their lives or come and support them in their sports or school events. Family court has made our situation so much worse than it was by enabling him to abuse my children and me through the very legal system originally designed to protect us. It is my hope great measures will be taken to bring accountability into the family court system, restitution for the victims and for the protection of children.