Many people can relate to a tragic situation. A car accident, a
serious illness, or even death. Feeling shock, denial, an out-of-body
experience as bystanders watching events unfold nearby.
Her insides were discarded, like a jack o’lantern on Halloween.
She was no longer fulfilled as the woman she once was. Danika
was left hollow. Now, she wants moms who face custody loss,
like she did, to know there is hope in the darkest and most
She was a stay-at-home mom. Her children were her world.
Danika has always been a great mother and a great person. She
thought that was all she needed to prevail in life. But it wasn’t
She discovered she married the wrong man. A man who
believed morals and values didn’t matter. Winning did.
If you’ve met her, you’ve never seen her as weak, which is a
stereotype of abused women. She was outspoken, she was a
tomboy and she stood up to bullies. Perhaps those are qualities
abusive, narcissistic individuals seek when looking for a partner.
They emulate the empathy, the strength and the courage of their
partner because their own is nonexistent. And when she chose to
end the relationship — he went after the element that was the
oxygen to her. He sought and won custody of the two children.
He regained power over her, just like he had in their marriage.
She felt ashamed and blamed by others, as if she did something
to be labeled as an “incompetent mother.'' But to the thousands
of loving mothers who lose custody in family court everyday —
understand there are situations when it is a legal and financial
game. It’s not about honesty or morals. Nor is it in the “best
interests of the children.”
When she reached the point when she was ready to come to
terms with the fact that she was in an abusive marriage, she
knew she had to get out. The threats, forcing sex, feeling the
panic of his hands around her neck — how could she let this
happen, she asked herself? It wasn’t always that way, she
rationalized. The well-being of the kids, keeping her family in
tact, that was her priority. At the time, she was doing the best
She recalls when she finally mustered up the courage to discuss
divorce. His immediate response scared her more than anything.
He was holding their oldest in his arms and he responded, “If
you leave me, I will make sure you don’t see the boys and you
end up in a cardboard box.” She remembers her son saying,
“Daddy, I want mommy.... Daddy, put me down.”
But her fear was fuel to him. Her abusive ex was awarded full
custody and she was granted the leftovers. From stay-at-home
mom to every other weekend visitation. The goal was to break
her. But he didn’t get the memo that she was unbreakable.
There has been a pattern of frenzy in our society where abusive
men, who thrive off of power and control, use their children to
get “even” with their former wives for leaving them. It’s not
about the kids. It’s about the WIN. It’s a game to them and the
winner gets power.
Her four-year-old son was sitting on his father’s new wife’s lap
at a baseball game. Normally her kids would run to see her. This
time her son did not. She asked to give her son a hug and his
father replied, “No, he can’t. He’s on restriction.”
Restricted from his mom? Every single thing was a struggle.
From which doctor and dentist, sports or music lessons, to after school
programs — he dictated power over her. Throughout the
following seven years of the father having sole legal custody of
her two sons, they suffered from physical punishment, verbal
abuse, emotional abuse, significant trauma and a divorce with
their father’s second wife. To this day, her son remembers
dropping the ball in baseball and his dad screaming at him
during the ride home, calling him an “idiot.” Danika watched
her sons internalize their feelings, express angry outbursts and
punch things. She felt nauseated being unable to help her own
children. Abusive dads need to know the moms — they are
unbreakable — the kids are not. The kids are left with extensive
hurt they cannot articulate.
The turning point occurred when she filed for full custody of
both sons through representation of herself. She knew the truth
of his abusive and manipulative ways would eventually reveal
itself. From her past experiences, she learned what to say and
what not to say in a court of law. It wasn’t helpful to say he was
a danger, he was crazy or he was violent. She had to use
statements such as, “in the best interests of the children”, “his
current emotional well being”, and “here is a harassment claim
filed by his second wife”. She had to dissect emotions and only
state the facts of her case. Then she was believed. Throughout
the process, she remained resilient, she was strong and she
stayed close to the light of supporters surrounding her. The
recipe for weaponry.
As a result, she triumphed with custody of both sons. The
wounds they endured measured as deep as when she first lost
custody. Choosing love for her kids as the path to walk dissolved
the fear of losing them. Her medicine to the shame and blame
from others was self love. Her strong sense of yoga was her
prevention from spiraling into despair. To know self love is to be
the healer of one’s afflictions. Love always wins.
Danika recently graduated from the University of Montana. She
teaches yoga and helps others facing similar realities through her
wisdom and experiences.
She is unbreakable.
Written by Alisa Divine, Author of #SheWins and Killing Kate