how it all happened

I never thought that this would be my reality.

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When I found out I was pregnant, I knew things would change but I had no idea that every aspect of my life would be completely overturned. The scenario that is my current situation was my worst nightmare 10 years ago. 

After a long and intense custody battle, years of fighting with a high conflict ex, tens of thousands of dollars paid to attorneys, trying every possible solution to alleviate the issues that caused so much stress and turmoil for everyone in our family... I decided to let my daughter live with her dad. It was an unimaginable decision, but here we are. 

And this is how it happened.

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When I found out I was pregnant. I didn’t know what to do because I wasn’t in a stable relationship with her dad and didn’t plan on staying with him. But things changed when I was pressured to get married. Before I walked down the aisle, I turned to my best friend and said “I don’t want to do this, I CAN’T do this...” but I did anyway. I married someone who I wasn’t in love with and it was the biggest mistake of my life. 

A few months passed and my daughter was born. No one prepares you for the experience of becoming a mother and the love you’ll have for your child. I knew in that moment I would do anything for her, no matter what. 

At the time, I thought that meant staying in a miserable marriage with her dad.

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We moved to Texas together for his job and only a few months later he left. I’ll never forget that day. He came home from work and we got into an argument. He said he was leaving and walked out the door. 

I honestly didn’t believe him. I assumed he would be back in a few hours and things would be fine. But he didn’t come back. Finally I called and he said he was driving back to South Carolina.

I didn’t know what to do. I was alone in an apartment I couldn’t afford with no job, no money, no support system, and a brand new baby. I couldn’t go back to South Carolina because I didn’t have a good relationship with my parents and knew that moving back in with them wasn’t an option. So I decided to go to Utah where I had family to watch the baby, a full time job to support us, and eventually got an apartment and established a new life together. 

I never heard from her dad. I tried to call him on her birthday. Nothing. I tried to book him a plane ticket to come and see her. Nothing. I sent birthday and Christmas cards. Nothing. 

So I assumed it was over and I filed for divorce after establishing residency. 

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That’s when the entire situation changed. Because apparently he had already filed for divorce a year before and the judge automatically granted him full custody without me even knowing. I was shocked and completely devastated. I had no idea that any of this had happened and didn’t know what to do next.

I hired attorneys in both states and I fought. I explained what happened, I showed documentation but it didn’t matter. The judge forced me to quit my job, leave my apartment, abandon the life we had established in Utah and would only allow me to live within 30 miles of my ex. 

I gave up everything for her. And no questions asked, I would do it all over again. Because she has always been what is most important- always, no matter what.

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I continued to fight an intense custody battle to basically reverse the emergency hearing that established temporary custody without my knowledge. It was working backwards and it didn’t seem like the judge heard my side of the story. The family court system is flawed and I was stuck in the process.

Even with documentation, a private investigator and expensive attorneys, I wasn’t getting anywhere. I knew I had to compromise. 

So one night, I talked with my ex and we came up with an agreement. He told me what I wanted to hear but I thought it was genuine. He said that his parents were the ones who wanted visitation and that he would sign a paper that would be “our agreement” as long as I went through with what his parents wanted in the court system. It was a huge mistake but I thought I could trust him. 

Our divorce was finally official. I signed a court document saying that I would live within 30 miles of my ex for the rest of my life BUT I had a signed and dated copy of our actual agreement saying that I could live wherever I wanted. 

So I moved. I got remarried. And for months we went by our other set of paperwork. I felt like things were beginning to get better and I was finally able to start moving forward.

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Until one day, I drove to our meeting point to pick my daughter up and she wasn’t there. I called to see if they were late and no one answered. I waited. Still nothing. So I started to panic. I was so worried but decided to just drive 3 hours to where they were living and hope it was a misunderstanding. Finally I heard back from his girlfriend at the time and she said that they were keeping my daughter and not giving her back. They weren’t at their apartment and wouldn’t tell me where she was. I could hear her crying in the background and I broke down. 

I couldn’t breathe. 

I didn’t know where to go or what to do. It was the worst moment of my entire life. Time stood still and I was trapped in my worst fear. I didn’t know if I would ever see my daughter again. 

I drove to the local police station in the city where they lived and filed a report but there was nothing they could do. 

I called my attorney and he filed for an emergency hearing. 

The next few days (weeks?) were a complete blur. I don’t remember any of it. Even writing this is extremely difficult. I can’t go back to that time.

I remember vaguely staying in a hotel, making a poster for my daughter with pictures of us on it, and gathering documentation that I had collected to send to my attorney... The rest is gone, those memories are lost. I know it’s too painful to process.

The next thing I can remember is standing at the court house with my attorney after he had a conversation with my ex’s attorney- basically showing them the proof we had of parental abduction (my ex taking her and not giving her back after his visitation was over) and being in contempt of court for multiple other things. And feeling relief that they wanted to settle without a trial. We were finally able to compromise. 

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We agreed that we could live wherever we wanted as long as we covered the cost of plane tickets. Visitation would be one weekend per month- whatever they wanted and I couldn’t veto their choice. They would pay $100 per month in child support. 

It sounded like the best we could get and so I signed the papers. 

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Once we moved to Utah, it became so much more difficult than what we had agreed to on paper. There were certain ambiguities in our paperwork that they took advantage of. They got her for every holiday. They wouldn’t let her fly by herself. 

So I had to pay for an extra plane ticket every month, fly across the country with her, leaving my other kids and husband alone for every holiday. It was so hard. But we did it. 

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It even got to the point where they said she couldn’t miss any school but we had to have her there by 6pm on Friday when their weekend began- which was physically impossible. 

The situation was unsustainable because they made things incredibly difficult. They weren’t easy to work with and they were wearing me down. 

It wouldn’t have worked except for the fact that my daughter began coming home and saying she didn’t want to live with us anymore. For over a year she complained about wanting to live with them instead. But I didn’t even consider it an option. I would never let that happen. 

In fact, I called my attorney to discuss options going forward to address the issues we were facing. He drafted a letter to send to their attorney and we prepared to go back to court again. 

But after I hung up the phone, I had an overwhelming impression to let her live with her dad. I can’t describe it and it doesn’t make logical sense at all, but I knew in my heart that I needed to trust this prompting. 

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For a long time I lost my faith. I couldn’t understand why all of these terrible things were happening to me when I was trying to do everything right. It took me a long time to trust my intuition again and it was undeniable that my daughter needed to live with her dad.

I called her stepmom right then and told her. We agreed on new conditions- that she could fly by herself, that I would choose her visitation, and that she could move back with us anytime. And it’s been that way ever since. 

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I feel so lost without her. I don’t regret my decision but I wish there could have been another way. Some days are worse than others. But most of the time I can pick up the pieces because I know that this is what’s best for her. She isn’t missing school anymore. She isn’t being pressured anymore. She is well adjusted and knows that she is loved by both of her families.

From the very beginning this has always been about her. And even though it’s not what I could have ever imagined- this has never been about me or what I want. (If it were, we would still be fighting in court and she would still be living with us.) I’ve changed my perspective to completely focus on her. This is her life and her journey. One day when she’s older I hope she can understand that I’ve just tried to do my best and that’s the best that I can do. 

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Ashley Hansen