Eva’s letter broke my heart. Unfortunately, her tragedy is not uncommon among Christians. I have altered her letter to protect her identity; however, her story could be one of many others who have written to us after reading Redemptive Divorce.
I am writing to you because my family and I need prayer. About four weeks ago, my husband assaulted me in front of our three children, after which I filed charges for domestic violence. The trial is still four months away and, until recently, I felt sure he would be convicted. However, he has filed a countersuit accusing me of abusing alcohol, alleging that I am mentally and emotionally unstable, and wanted the court to declare me unfit to care for our children. While none of this is true, he was able to convince the judge, who has a reputation for siding with husbands, and now he has been awarded custody of our children. The judge also declared that he can live at home, while I find somewhere else to live. And, I have to pay child support, despite the fact he makes a six-figure income and I will be lucky to make minimum wage. I was a stay-at-home mom for our entire marriage.
Our youngest son has been diagnosed with hypoglycemia, which requires careful management of his diet as well as medication to help him fight his ear infections. But my husband isn’t consistent and our son is growing weaker and sicker as time goes by. Now our other two boys are beginning to suffer severe anxiety.
My only hope is to convince another judge to reverse this decision and gain custody of our sons, perhaps based on neglect. But my husband has changed all our bank accounts and cancelled our credit cards, so that I can’t even afford a place to live, much less the cost of an attorney. I don’t even have enough to pay the child support I owe by the end of the month. How could this happen? I’m not the one who beat and choked my partner. I’m not the one who’s neglecting our children. He should be living on the street, yet I can’t go into my own home without permission.
I have never felt so alone. I have never faced such injustice. I don’t know what I’m going to do.
Earnest Christians desperately trying to resolve impossible situations frequently do everything possible to avoid the legal system, usually because they believe that seeking an attorney’s help is somehow wrong. Unfortunately, the sinning spouse is all too willing to use any means necessary to retain control and to preserve his or her pattern of sin. Sooner or later, though, the matter nearly always lands before a judge, who typically hands the short end of justice to the least prepared spouse. And no one suffers more than the children.
This sadly common scenario can be avoided, but only if we dispel some common moral and legal myths surrounding divorce and the court system. Jesus commanded us to be “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Therefore, we must study the divorce process from a legal standpoint and then prepare to stand strong for what is right as we submit to the authority of Scripture.
In this article, we will examine the first of five legal system myths.
Myth #1: You don’t need to involve the courts if you just do what is right.
Eva thought if she simply did what was right, the courts would behave like a watchful parent and move to protect and support her. It’s a common misconception. Those of us who do not have regular interaction with the judicial branch of our government tend to think of the court system as an entity—that is, a mission-focused agency of the government whose sole purpose is to fairly and impartially safeguard the rights of people, particularly the downtrodden and defenseless. While the American judicial system is perhaps the finest in the world, it is not an organization in this sense. It is, instead, a meeting ground, governed by rules, where people who disagree on the definition of right and wrong try to convince the government to take their side in a dispute. Therefore, the judicial system can be capable of accomplishing great good or perpetrating astounding evil, depending upon who’s involved in a particular case.
Our system of laws and courts is neither good nor evil. We are much better to think of the judicial system as a powerful tool that can be utilized for either good or evil, depending upon who wields it. And in the hands of Eva’s abusive husband, it became a weapon.
Next, Myth #2: The courts care about how is at fault in the breakup of a marriage and will favor the innocent party.