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02/07/2018 6:00 PM IST

After The Courts Failed To Prevent My First Child's Murder, I Chose Single Motherhood

In July 2011, two weeks after my son, Prince, was born, I left his father after a dramatic turn of events left me fearing for our lives. As my son’s father pressed a handgun against my skull, he threatened to kill me if I left him.

My son and I were fortunate enough to escape that night. I distinctly remember being devastated that my dreams of living as a traditional two-parent family were shattered forever.

Almost seven years later, the fact that one of my biggest concerns during this trauma was ending up a single mother seems ridiculous.

Despite my anxiety about raising my child alone, I filed for sole legal and physical custody of our son while also requesting that my son’s father have only supervised access. He was a physical threat to both of us, which was confirmed via the handful of victims and law enforcement who testified against him in my family court case. I fought to protect my son for 15 months.

I left the courtroom that day disheartened but determined: determined to fight for the children who would come after my son.

Family court failed me, ultimately allowing my son’s father the access he needed to kill him. On one of his first unsupervised visits, he killed my son in an attempt to collect on over half a million dollars in life insurance he had taken out on Prince.

After my son died, shock and horror rippled throughout the family courts in Maryland. Judges and lawyers had become accustomed to abuse allegations, desensitized to high conflict between former partners, and rarely saw firsthand the devastation a single visitation decision could cause.

Some progress has been made as a result of Prince’s death, namely new laws requiring life insurance underwriting on juvenile policies and a supervised visitation center in the same district that ordered my son have unsupervised visitation with a killer. 

Despite these changes, children are still forced to visit abusers. Many judges would prefer to see cases like mine as the exception ― not the cautionary tale that would lead to increased protections for children.

Four months after my son died, in February 2013, I advocated in Montgomery County, Maryland, for another child whose safety was in question after his father was charged with domestic violence and child abuse. The case sounded hauntingly familiar to my own, including testimony from the same supervised visitation professional. After listening to testimony referring to disturbing allegations of child abuse, the judge turned and looked straight at me.

“There have been a lot of terrible cases in this county lately. But we can’t all run every time someone yells fire,” he said, just before ruling to take a risk by allowing the alleged abuser unsupervised access to the child without any due diligence and investigation into the allegations.

I left the courtroom that day disheartened but determined: determined to fight for the children who would come after my son. My experience has given me a perspective on how dangerous choosing the wrong partner can be for innocent children.

Shortly after the judge casually and callously dismissed the concerns of this mother, I chose the path of single parenthood. I wanted to be a mother. I was financially stable. I was also determined to eliminate the possibility of ever being told by a judge that I was not allowed to protect my child from an abuser.

Courtesy of Hera McLeod
With my daughter Estela.

I chose to pursue single motherhood via anonymous sperm donor. My children will have the option of meeting their donor once they reach adulthood, and I will fully support them if that is their choice. While some women opt for known donors, I chose a path that would eliminate the need to include attorneys.

According to 2005 research published in the journal of Violence Against Women, only 17 percent of fathers with a history of committing abuse were denied visitation with their children. In these cases, mothers were no more likely to obtain custody than mothers in non-abusive situations. Although this research is now 13 years old, my case, and the hundreds of men and women who have contacted me since, demonstrates that not much has changed in the American courts.

The American Psychological Association reports that 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. People divorce for many reasons, but I continue to hear from men and women who admit that they rushed into a relationship because they wanted children. Over the last seven years, I have received hundreds of letters and spoken to both men and women who are fighting to protect their children from an abusive co-parent. My heart breaks for each one of them, as I remember the trauma of family court as though it happened to me yesterday.

With distressing divorce statistics like this, and the countless stories I hear from people in the midst of family court terror, I encourage my friends to consider single parenthood as a viable option before rushing into a relationship that could end up in family court.

My decision to be a single parent should in no way be seen as an indictment of fatherhood. I know plenty of fathers who are amazing parents, and I value the contribution of good men to our society. The fear of family court shouldn’t stop others from having children with someone who has earned their trust over time. But fear of single parenthood because it’s a “nontraditional” path should never dangerously expedite a relationship.

After my tragic experience, I went on to have a beautiful little girl. On a weekly basis, people tell me that they cannot imagine how hard it must be as a single parent. In response to this, I usually smile and remind them that all forms of parenting are hard.

There are certainly days when I wish I had a co-parent to help me through some of the most challenging parenting experiences, such as potty and sleep training, toddler attitude, and epic sleep-deprived meltdowns. But I continue to be thankful that I had the option to have my child the way I did.

My daughter has plenty of positive male role models in her life. I am thankful that as her parent I have the power to choose these role models. Even more importantly, I also have the power to eliminate toxic people from my life without fear that a judge will tell me that biology trumps my child’s right to safety.

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