January 3, 2022 changed my life. It started out as a day, like any other. I’m very involved in the lives of my niece and nephew. At the time, my niece was 17 years old and my nephew was 9 years old. I would typically keep them at least one weekend a month and during school breaks.
That morning, something about my usual cheerful niece was different. She was a lot more quiet and reserved than usual. During our ride from my sister’s home to mine, I asked her what was wrong and she murmured, “Nothing, I guess I’m just tired.” However, no sooner than we pulled into a parking space at my apartment complex, my niece burst into tears.
What followed was my niece unburdening herself of the secrets that she had been carrying for at least the last couple of years. She confessed that her mom (my sister) was allowing her boyfriend to emotionally, verbally, and even in some cases physically abuse my autistic nephew. She shared with me an incident where my sister’s boyfriend had tied my nephew to a chair with several belts because he felt my nephew was being too hyperactive. She shared with me the constant berating that my sister’s boyfriend directed to both herself and my nephew because he couldn’t understand their individual mental diagnoses which include depression, ADHD, anxiety (for my niece) and autism, speech impairment, and restrictive repetitive disorder (for my nephew).
I was furious when I learned of all of this. These are children that I’d helped raise (and even raised for a couple of years) almost since birth! I couldn’t believe my sister would allow something like this to happen (in her presence) to her own children. This is particularly because very similar things happened to us as children. My niece swore me to secrecy, afraid of how her mother would respond.
From there and once the kids returned home, my niece began to send me a series of recordings of interactions between my sister’s boyfriend and my nephew. Eventually, with the summer fast approaching, I convinced my sister to let me keep the kids for the summer, to get them out of that environment. Past interactions with Child Protective Services (on behalf of my nephew), had been disappointing, and so I lacked much faith in them doing something this time. That said, after reporting the issues to my niece and nephew’s pediatrician and her subsequent report, as suspected, they failed to act. However, from January 2022 through May 2022, I had several conversations with my sister and her boyfriend about the treatment of the children. Some of the conversations were more roundabout (in an attempt to keep my word to my niece) and some were more direct. In either case, because I did not share the recordings that I’d received and the full extent of what I knew, my sister and her boyfriend would deny any wrongdoing.
Between February 2022 and April 2022, my nephew began to show signs of distress which included trembling and crying when it was time for me to take him home, verbally stating that he wanted to stay with me, skin picking/self mutilating, and even trying to delay the departure from my home when it was time to return the kids to my sister’s.
I contacted several law firms for advice on what options I had available. Longer story shorter, I eventually launched a custody case that began as an emergency temporary custody hearing. For fear of my niece’s recordings playing in court, my sister agreed to give me temporary custody of my nephew (my niece by this time was 18 years old). However, the battle had just begun. A case that we had every reason to believe was airtight (based on the recordings and testimony of my niece, recordings I had of my sister admitting wrongdoing and that her boyfriend needed anger management, and even a recording of my nephew’s therapist admitting that she’d seen suspected bruising on him) became riddled with hurdles based on an incomplete and biased investigation from the appointed guardian ad litem and false accusations from my sister. Truly, it was never my intent for the case to go this far. I would have never imagined that my sister would stand so staunchly by her boyfriend, especially since she knew that what had happened in her home was wrong.
I truly couldn’t believe what was happening. I was just trying to protect my niece and nephew, something my sister should have been doing. During this last year of legal battles, I was laid off from my employer of almost 17 years, experienced health issues, increased expenses due to having to move into a bigger apartment (to accommodate my niece and nephew) and the cost of day to day care, and not to mention legal expenses. I received no financial support from my sister or either of the kids’ fathers.
Since then, my sister and I have reached a legal settlement which is currently in the process of being drawn up. However, after exhausting all of my severance pay, 401K, stock investments, and savings in this case, I have been left with a $9,000 legal bill, as well as other debt. I’ve had to take out several loans, just to try to stay afloat once all the other resources were exhausted.
My law firm has agreed to work with me on a payment plan. However, their bill, along with all the other debt that I’ve since accumulated just from trying to do the right thing has been staggering.
The loans that I currently owe include:
- $9,000 legal bill (amount due as of 07/04/2023: $9,111.62)
- $10,000 car title loan (balance due $8,881.38)
- $5,000 personal loan (balance due $2,922.41)
- $10,000 personal loan (taken out by a friend on my behalf). (balance due $9,700).
Currently, I DoorDash on the side, in addition to working my new full time job, to try to make extra money and make some dent in this debt. I also have several maxed out credit cards. However, I feel that provided I could get some help with the debt above, I will be better positioned to pay off the credit card debt.
Any kindness and generosity that could be shown towards helping me to relieve my debt would be most appreciated. My intent is that once I have recovered financially, to pay it forward to the next person going through what I’ve gone through or something similar.
While the debt I’m in is very stressful, I have zero regrets for showing up for my nephew. I wish that someone had shown up for me and my sister when we needed help. I may not have been able to completely break this generational cycle; but I am confident I dealt a mighty blow to it!
Thank you for listening to my story! 🙂