Out & About: Q&A with Rose Addante, co-facilitator of “When Love Is Not Enough,” a support group for mothers involved in the family court system

  • Rose Addante is one of the facilitators of the “When Love Is Not Enough” support group.

Valley News Correspondent
Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Family Division of the New Hampshire court system handles a remarkably diverse range of cases — everything from adoption and child support to juvenile delinquency and legal name changes. But one of family court’s most complicated tasks is mediating high-conflict custody battles.

According to Rose Addante, of Hanover, who recently started a peer support group for mothers involved in the family court system, such cases can be a “battlefield” for mothers, especially when family violence is involved.

In an email Q&A, Addante cited statistics that show that even when violence has been an issue in the mother’s and/or child’s relationship with the father, the court often awards joint custody. Moreover, husbands who batter their wives are twice as likely to seek sole physical custody of their children than are nonviolent fathers.

“For the abuser, the courtroom is the last tool in his toolbox to control and abuse his victims,” she said.

The new support group, called “When Love Is Not Enough,” meets on Saturday evenings in downtown Lebanon. The meeting is co-facilitated by Addante, who herself has been involved in a five-year custody battle over her daughter, and her mother, Linda Addante, of Norwich, a board-certified psychiatrist.

For more information about the group, email rose.addante@gmail.com.

The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: How does your group offer help to mothers involved in these cases?

Answer: The group’s objectives are:

Raising a mother’s sense of self-esteem and self-confidence.

Raising a mother’s sense of agency in their navigation through the family court system.

Improving a mother’s connectedness to trusted support networks that help to reduce feelings of isolation and self-doubt.

Promoting idea sharing about ways to successfully navigate the New Hampshire family court system.

Helping mothers achieve and sustain their physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Keeping the children’s well-being front and center at all times.

Recognizing that the battle is long and requires new skills, knowledge and help from others.

Q: Describe what might take place at a typical meeting.

A: Mothers are given the opportunity to speak about their own experience in a space that is safe and confidential. It’s a place where mothers, with the support of other moms, name and tame the challenges they are facing. In some cases, just standing with others in the “swamp of despair” is validating and assuring. It may be the first time a mom truly feels that she is not crazy or broken.

It may be the first time in a long time that she sees, through the stories of others, that her exhaustion, fear and consuming worry about her children are not evidence of her failure, but rather a normal reaction to a very abnormal life experience.

Q: What was your inspiration for starting the group? What need did you see to be filled?

A: I am a survivor of intimate partner violence and a custody battle for my daughter. It has been a long, and at times, lonely and demoralizing struggle. The journey has been fraught with disappointments in a legal system that falls critically short of protecting the woman and her children. Tragically, what remains unrecognized is how often the family court, due to ignorance about intimate partner violence, magnifies the damage done to mothers and their children. This happens in spite of the many well-intentioned and caring individuals throughout the child welfare and family court systems.

There is one truth I have come to know from my own personal journey: I must be healthy mentally, emotionally and physically to do the best for my daughter. I have had the unwavering psychological, emotional and financial support of my family, but still there has been important information missing, information that would have made my journey less damaging.

Over time I have come to discover that the best resource for information, understanding and life-saving validation comes from other mothers who have walked this path or are walking it now, with me.

Q: Can you talk a little about your own experiences with the legal process?

A: A book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft, was the first life-saving ring I found to buoy me up in the storm of escalating violent behaviors from my ex-partner. Lundy’s book was instrumental in helping me feel less isolated, less abnormal and broken, less crazy, and most important, less like a bad mom. Lundy’s blog introduced me to the voices and stories of other mothers. From that point on I began to reach out and learn more about the power of the “shared story” and the learning, healing and resilience that can come from peer support. I stumbled on Tina Swithin’s blog, One Mom’s Battle (https://www.onemomsbattle.com/blog/).

The OMB blog gave me insights, inspiration and much more than that: an ability to be understood and validation that offered healing to wounds too deep for me to speak about out loud. My own life experience and the challenges I faced sparked my passion to investigate starting a peer support group for women with children who are victims of intimate partner violence and involved in the family court.

The result is “When Love is Not Enough.” Because no matter how much we love our children, this is a struggle of many days that requires the helping hands of fellow warriors.

Q: What are some of the misconceptions people have about the family court system?

A: “Speak your truth when you tell your story and justice will be served.” In actuality, it’s more complex a situation than just being honest. First and foremost, women are shocked that they never really get a chance to tell their full story before the judge.

Often the process is filled with numerous steps that never see the light of the courtroom. Often the final decision comes down to one hour of the judge’s time and his review of the record. The legal system is not a fine-tuned decision-making process for solving the complex issues of child custody, where expert knowledge of child development and mental health needs to inform final custody decisions.

As one attorney said, having the courts decide child custody issues is like using a blunt tool to do microsurgery.

Q: And about the families engaged in it?

A: Only highly dysfunctional families end up in family court.

We are not like those people. That would never happen in our family.

Women who lose custody of their children, or are relegated to 50-50 parenting time or less, must be “bad” mothers.

Highly functioning people don’t need to go to court to resolve child custody issues.

Parents in court just need to grow up, be adults and stop fighting like children.

Parents who end up in high-conflict court don’t care about their child. They can’t get past the conflict with their partner.

Both parents are equally to blame when child custody ends up in high-conflict family court.

Mothers who show emotion are unbalanced or are using their tears to be manipulative.