Love, Life Stories

My husband tried to break my body and soul. But when I tried to leave, Canada fought to stop me.

The process was humiliating, draining, and terrifying.

After enduring a great deal of psychological and emotional abuse at the hands of my ex-husband, I had to endure an equal amount of suffering as a client of the legal system. I had to spend thousands of dollars to get straightforward, and logical legal advice. 

In best-case scenarios, custody applications are time-consuming and draining both at the emotional and financial levels. 

My own experience was deeply painful, as it put me back in the abusive dynamic that I was trying to escape through the exact same legal system.

In the eyes of the court, I had committed the unacceptable: I changed the residence of my minor children (ages 3 and 5), without the consent of their father. This was far more important in the eyes of the court, than the abuse that our small children had witnessed.

This was something that I had dealt with for years. I endured the suffering while caring for my children, finishing my graduate studies, and attending to the father’s daily, exaggerated needs, even at the intimate level. 

I had no right to say “no.” I was living as a slave.

Regardless of what I did, I remained the bad, negligent, wife who came from a divorced family.

After 4 years of marriage, I realized that I couldn’t continue lying to myself. I was investing my time and energy in a failed cause. 

Simply put, my ex-husband did not want to be pleased. Rather, his wish was to control me: body, mind, and soul.

Although this realization was essential, it was costly. As I confronted my ex-husband with my feelings and tried to set boundaries for myself, his denial grew. We were drifting apart every single day and I knew that we were heading for divorce, in slow motion.  

His emotional and verbal abuse escalated into physical abuse, in front of our kids on two occasions.

He threatened to take my children away from me, which made me submit to him further. Regardless of my parents’ advice to seek a divorce, I decided to remain in the relationship. I was scared of reacting or speaking out. I internalized everything until finally, my body could not keep going. I got severely sick and I had to leave, so I returned to my home city with my children.

After six months, which included a failed attempt at reconciliation and his constant demands to take the kids to for a visit in his home country, I started an application of separation, custody and child support, in my new province of residence. 

Two months later, I became the defendant in his province of residence due to a motion of jurisdiction. His verbal and emotional abuse was transferred from the private sphere to the public sphere in the courtroom.

The process was lead by his aggressive and awful lawyer. 

In the eyes of the judges, I was deserving of what happened to me because I wear the headscarf.  In fact, one judge even stated in his ruling that it was a challenge for him to understand “our culture.”

I learned then that justice is not culture blind. If your culture justifies abuse, the legal system doesn’t feel the need to protect you. 

The law only protects White Canadian women.

After enduring 6 years of marriage where I was deprived of making personal decisions, I had to give authority over my life and the lives of my children to the legal system. The fact that I’d made numerous sacrifices for the survival of my family, didn’t matter anymore.

My mental health and my parental capacities were challenged. A psychologist was hired to counter the recommendations of the court’s social worker. The psychologist’s report advocated for their father’s parental capacities and indirectly claimed that I fabricated the abuse. In my own defense, I had to open my medical files and bring my family doctors from both provinces to attest to my mental health.

The process was humiliating, draining, and terrifying.  I was continuously faced with the possibility that I would lose my children.

In the end, the judge’s final court ruling contradicted the recommendation of the social worker on the case. Their father was given full custody in the summertime, which meant that my very young children would be completely separated from their mother two months out of every year. 

And he was granted visits with them throughout the year.

I had very limited leisure time with the kids, and I had to commute back and forth to facilitate visits with their father. Indirectly, I remained a slave, running my life according to the wishes of my ex.

Luckily, my parents had the financial means to pursue an appeal. The judges for the appeal concluded that the first decision was not in the best interest of the children. I was granted full custody, extra time with the kids during the summer, and liberated from the responsibility of commuting the kids to their father’s city.

This victory was still pricey. 

Spending almost the entire summer without my kids was similar to amputating my soul. 

It was heartbreaking to hear my four-year-old tell me that he missed me and that “this is too long” for him to be away from me.  I was powerless, and I had to learn to master the art of letting go. The art of accepting something that I could not change, hoping there may be good in it later on.

While my experience as a wife and a client of the legal system was painful, it taught me how to find strength in the midst of my weakest moments, in order to take care of my children and myself. It was a process of self-discovery that made me realize that regardless of the invisible scars that I carry, I should be proud of my accomplishments.

Yes, I have endured a great amount of suffering. 

At the same time, I have challenged perceived norms and cultural barriers and overcome legal obstacles because I was concerned about the emotional safety of my adorable and beloved children.

I would be lying if I told you that my invisible scars are no longer painful.

 I have learned to accept them, as they will always remind me of the courage and the strength that have made me a survivor – rather than a victim of abuse.