Meet Tina Swithin, founder of One Mom’s Battle and the High Conflict Divorce Coach Certification Program who has spent the past decade working as a family court advocate and consultant. It was during her own child custody case that she recognized the need for divorce coaches and advocates who could make real and measurable differences in the lives of those targeted by high-conflict litigants.
I sat down to interview Tina in October after seeing what many would consider to be a controversial FB post she made. We talked about her personal journey and her advocacy work around the backlash survivors often face after making the critical decision to leave a partner with abusive behavior. This is a serious issue that is often overlooked in the domestic violence world and should be at the top of the priority list for those assisting survivors in making the transition from surviving to thriving.
I think Tina described it best when she said, “There is a huge disconnect between domestic violence (DV) advocacy groups and the reality of the family court system. We are telling survivors of DV to ‘be brave’ and to leave the abuse but we aren’t preparing them for the new chapter of abuse they are walking into which is post separation abuse.”
Anyone who has gone to family court to handle custody and child support with someone who has abusive behavior can pretty much agree that safely escaping abuse can feel like winning an EPIC battle
BUT… it’s often only the beginning of what can often become all out war where the children become the nuclear weapon of choice.
Tina’s story with her ex-husband began like so many of ours. A fairytale romance that quickly shifted gears. She says after they got married he moved her 4 hours away where she was kept in the dark about finances and despite living in a gated community they were living paycheck to paycheck. She would ask about the finances but he just kept telling her to trust him. However, whatever is in the dark eventually comes into the light and Tina’s day of enlightenment sounds like an episode straight out of a Hollywood drama. There she was minding her own business when she got a call from her nanny that the IRS was on her front doorstep because her family was $1.6 million in debt and the IRS froze all of their assets. All of this was and is proof that abuse is not something that ONLY people categorized in the lower economic bracket face.
I can confidently say that as a country we are behind the times when it comes to understanding domestic violence, preventing it and addressing it once it has occurred. For example, legal assistance and attorney volunteers are nowhere to be found in the latest VAWA reauthorization.
To be fair, I personally received legal-aid for my divorce and was advised by my attorney not to attempt to remove my ex-husband’s parental rights because he had a pension from the NYPD and if I removed his rights he wouldn’t have been financially responsible for them. It was a strategic move to say the least and I can assure you survivors need an attorney or at the very least a divorce coach (like the one’s certified through Tina’s program) to help them understand, be supportive, and strategize. I only received that support because I was disabled from my injuries and couldn’t afford an attorney otherwise. In doing this work for over a decade I’ve only met three other women who qualified for and received legal-aid for their divorces or child-custody cases. Most DV grant money stops at the doors of the criminal court houses but we need it at the family court house too.
Back to Tina’s story...
Tina started seeing a therapist who told her that everything she was saying sounded like she was dealing with a narcissist. Tina believes the overuse of the term narcissist is good and bad but she chooses to focus on the fact that at least it’s raising awareness. Check out her FREE downloadable of canned responses for dealing with a narcissist or learn about narcissism from Lee Hammock who has personally been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and educates others about it on social media.
Tina began her journey through the family court system without representation. But after 2 years she began feeling like she was in the twilight zone. The judge was talking about dividing the children up like a retirement account and she didn’t understand all the legal language or what was happening. When I asked her how she felt during that time she said, “I felt frustrated, angry, desperate, and helpless because I was being villainized through the court system and told that I couldn’t protect my kids.” She truly believes children are being treated like property and the courts don’t understand abuse and trauma even when with a black eye or protective order.” We’re in a court system where judges in most states don't have adequate training on the issues. In fact, most states have zero training requirements. Hair stylists are trained more than judges are. All she wanted to do was protect her kids from her ex-husband and his family. One of her greatest concerns was that he was allowing a family member to see the kids and they previously agreed they would never allow it for good reason. Turns out Tina was right because that family member was eventually convicted and sentenced to 280 years in prison for being caught in the act of molesting a 4-year old and sexually abused dozens more.
Eventually, the courts agreed with Tina and terminated her ex-husband’s parental rights.
But that wasn’t enough in her eyes so she decided to claim November as Family Court Awareness Month. It was officially founded in 2020 by her. The goal of Family Court Awareness Month is to shine a spotlight on systemic issues that are placing children in harm's way. In collaboration with California Protective Parents Association, the inaugural year was memorialized with a cross-country tour in an RV that started in California and ended in North Carolina. Along the way Tina stopped in 7 major cities to meet with media, domestic violence advocates, family court professionals and survivors of post-separation abuse. But that’s not it. In collaboration with National Safe Parents Coalition, the tribe is on track to secure 300 proclamations and resolutions declaring November as Family Court Awareness Month in cities, counties, and states across the country.
What stood out to me the most when interviewing Tina was her theory on radical acceptance. I too have found myself teaching this to survivors when going through the criminal court system. As citizens and survivors we have a tendency to think that we will find justice in an unjust system be it civil court, family court, or criminal court and oftentimes we are shocked when we begin to learn about how the system actually operates. Tina says, “People think because they go into court and tell the truth the court should believe them but the court doesn't know you so you have to show them and there is a lot that goes into that presentation.” During her own case she wrote a post it note with the words Dear Judge on it and put it on her computer reminding her that every time she writes to her ex-husband she is really writing to the judge and her job is to show him that she’s a healthy mom and co-parent.
Radical acceptance helps survivors see through a realistic lens so they can accept that the court system is where the war really begins and help them understand that if they (we) have even the slightest fighting chance, we need to be strategic. What Tina shared with me about radical acceptance in reference to family court needs to be ringing in the ears of every survivor. What she shared is that judges don’t know either party and they are trying to determine if both parents are healthy or not. What this fact means is that a survivor has to play it cool and showcase how healthy they are in every email, text message, court document or any correspondence with the courts and the other parent. Talk about a hard pill to swallow. Your kids are being weaponized and you have to be strategically as cool as a fan. She also talked about profiling her ex-husband in a very methodical and strategic way so the courts could see it without her coming off as vindictive in any way.
Going through a high-conflict divorce can be an isolating experience so Tina created a community called, The Lemonade Club, with an application screening process for people to be seen, heard, validated, connect with others and learn.
She’s also the author of Divorcing a Narcissist: One Mom’s Battle, Divorcing a Narcissist: Advice from the Battlefield, Divorcing a Narcissist: Rebuilding After the Storm, and The Narc Decoder: Understanding the Language of a Narcissist.
If you need help, or want to get involved, I recommend you educate yourself with the plethora of materials on Tina’s website, speak with an attorney, seek legal-aid if you need it, start a One Mom’s Battle Chapter, reach out to one of her trained High Conflict Divorce Coaches or get trained as one through her certification program.
You can also check out Family Court Awareness Month to help raise awareness every November and get a proclamation for it in your city, county, or state.
Thank you Tina for sharing your story, for starting Family Court Awareness Month and for dedicating the past decade to advocating for others. I also want to congratulate you for winning the many battles you had to face and of course for ultimately winning the war.
P.S. Please be advised that terminating parental rights may not be the best decision in every case as it was not in mine. In addition, please know this is in no way legal advice and we always recommend that you consult an attorney.
Love and Light,