“I was born into a family with many problems – drugs, alcohol, and abuse,” Lisa began. She spent her early life in a tumultuous home with an inconsistent father an abusive mother.
In her teens, Lisa’s father kept a close eye on her and her sister, but one activity they were permitted to do alone was play tennis. It was there, on the court, where Lisa met her future ex-husband, Bill – when he was 20 and she was 14.
“We started to see each other and soon, he began to buy things for me. He saw I had nothing. He bought me shoes, a watch, and then an engagement ring,” recalled Lisa. “I never had so much attention and so I thought it was love. I had NO idea what I got myself into.”
When Lisa was 16, there was a family argument about Bill. Her parents made her end the relationship and sent her away to her grandmother’s house. Lisa’s adult male cousin was also staying with their grandmother. One night, he manipulated her into sharing some drugs and alcohol, and then her cousin sexually assaulted her.
“I told my Grandmother that I was sick and needed to go home,” Lisa remembered. “I left, promising to stay away from my fiancé, and I tried. I wanted to listen to my parents, and I was struggling with what happened to me that no one knew about.”
Bill heard that Lisa was back in town and their relationship began again. After a particularly difficult time for Lisa’s family because of her father’s abuse, her parents consented for her to marry 22-year-old Bill at the age of 16.
“Our wedding night was very strange. He asked his best friend to go to the drive-in theater with us. They sat in the front seat together, and I sat – utterly alone – in the back seat,” lamented Lisa. “The day after our wedding, he became a totally different person. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’”
Bill began to coerce Lisa into sex. “One day, I asked my mother-in-law for some advice. She told me a good wife will submit to her husband, no matter what he wants,” said Lisa. “She twisted scripture to try and make me believe this, but I couldn’t let it go. I told my husband how I felt, and he said he was doing nothing wrong. I argued and this is when the beatings began.”
After a few months of physical abuse, Lisa was determined to leave. Bill lied; he said he was now her legal guardian, and he would have her committed. She was terrified, so she submitted to survive.
“I tried to work, but I couldn’t hold a job, because he would accuse me of cheating on him. I never did!” explained Lisa. “He became so controlling that I was suffocating. I couldn’t make my own decisions. I was never allowed money, even if I worked for it.” Bill even prevented Lisa from finishing her college degree.
Bill lost his job, and although money was tight, he began to beg Lisa for more children. “After our third child, I had a miscarriage. I didn’t want to try anymore. I didn’t think I could carry a child to term,” she shared. “He insisted and I continued to tell him no. Then, he secretly stopped using protection and I ended up pregnant.”
Lisa kept the peace to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a “happy family.” For the next six years, there was a “honeymoon period” and she experienced no abuse. Lisa, Bill, and their five children moved and became involved with a church near their new home. Things were looking up. Then, an incident with a youth pastor and their youngest child sent things spiraling into despair. Bill got into legal trouble with their church, and they had to leave. Lisa’s support system had been ripped from under her and she was forced back into isolation.
The family attended therapy together until Bill decided that he no longer needed to be included because “he was not the problem.” Their youngest child disclosed to a therapist that Bill was sexually abusing the child, who was removed from the home and from the safe arms of Lisa.
This was the final straw. Lisa left and got custody of their youngest child. They lived with a friend and received services at a nearby domestic violence program. Through a referral, Lisa got connected with WC&S for her divorce case.
In 2016, WC&S Civil Law Project (CLP) attorneys helped Lisa obtain a Final PFA Order to protect her and her child. A WC&S CLP attorney represented Lisa in 2017 for her spousal and child support case. Then, things took a turn. Bill and their adult children pressured Lisa into dropping the divorce case. They prevented Lisa from accessing the home to pick up church ministry instruments, her clothing, and other sentimental items.
Lisa decided to move forward with her divorce case with her CLP attorney in 2020. After a hard-fought battle, the divorce was issued in April 2021. Lisa found the freedom she had yearned for, for 42 years.
“After almost 5 long years of court, I am divorced. I lost everything, including 4 of our children he turned against me,” said Lisa. “But it is finally over, and I am so relieved.”
Lisa and her youngest child are now happily living together in their own home. “I learned so many important lessons: there is help available, love does not hurt, and you are stronger than you know. I stayed quiet, and I never told anyone outside of my home what was happening. This was my mistake. Please learn from it. You do matter. There are people who care and can help! You can make it without your abuser.”