By Matt Allen
Bill Venezia did the unheard of in the early 1970s; he fought for a modification of custody of his children and won.
Following his divorce and being separated from his five children, Venezia had nothing when he met his future wife; they even rented a totally furnished cottage to live in that even included the dishes, pots, pans and decorations.
His book “Your Honor, My Children Please” is about his “true experiences with divorce, remarriage, and the securing of his children from their natural mother – without tearing everyone apart – by offering a warm and loving atmosphere and letting the children decide their future.”
I talked with Venezia about the decisions he made and what custody advice he has for single fathers fighting to be with their children.
You voluntarily gave up almost everything in your divorce – your house, the car, and savings accounts. Why did you decide to do that?
I just wanted to wipe my hands clean from her. It was not a happy marriage and I should have gotten divorced long before, but I stayed for the children.
It got to the point that I didn’t even want to come home. On my way back from work I would sit in my car a block away from my house thinking, “I love my kids, but I just don’t want to go home.”
I did not come from a very good home life. I had an alcoholic father and there was always lots of fighting. I didn’t want our home to turn into the home that I grew up in so I left and gave her everything so at least our kids would have the basic comforts.
During your divorce, you both moved to different states. So when you visit the kids for the first time in their new hometown, a week before Christmas, you bring them some small gifts of what you can afford and you end up opening Christmas presents in the snow in the car in a school parking lot with five young kids. What was that experience like for you?
I was very frustrated and upset I had to spend Christmas in the car with the kids. The whole experience was frustrating starting when I picked them up from their mom’s house and saw the filthy conditions they were living in.
I cried a little bit after I dropped them back home and I said to myself, “This is the decision I made and I have to stick by it.”
On a later visit, my ex yelled and confronted me about me having remarried shortly after we divorced and the problems really started happening from there.
At what moment did you decide to go for full custody of your children and bring the five of them to live with you and the three children of your new spouse?
It was a comment my new wife made. On one of our visits, we brought them back to the motel we stayed at just to give them baths. They were filthy, their clothes were dirty, and their feet were bloody with cracks. It was terrible.
I was feeling bad for the children and my wife said, “This is no way for children to grow up.”
In between one of our visits, one of the kids called me crying that his mom locked him out of the house after one of her yelling fits and she left with the other children. Eventually the police showed up, and she calls me screaming and cussing at me for calling the cops.
I also found out she would throw ice cube trays and other things at them and one child was wetting the bed but she wouldn’t change the sheets. She was just not doing her job.
This was not the way I wanted to have my children raised. My wife agreed and that’s when we started making plans for custody.
How did you prepare for the upcoming custody battle? How did you act?
I contacted an attorney in the state she was living in and he said, “I understand your situation but if you’re on her turf, you’re not going to get custody of the kids. You’re better off to do it in the state you live in, on your own turf.”
So I interviewed a couple attorneys near me and none of them wanted to have anything to do with it because you just don’t get custody away from the natural mother.
Finally I found one that said, “Well, you’re crazy, but I’ll help.” And that’s how the process of me getting full custody started.
With the children with you on one of their vacations, you filed for custody in your state and it was granted. How rare was this in the early 1970s for a father to be granted full custody?
It was never done before. It scared me. But you have to cut your emotions out of the picture to see what the end is going to be like, what you want, what your goal is.
A motto I follow by Thomas Edison is, “There’s a better way to do it. Find it.”
What advice would you give to dads fighting for custody of their children?
Be patient. Be loving. Be observant. Don’t step in between the kids and try and create disharmony at home. You want to see them happy first, not you.
The kids had to want the change. I didn’t force it on them.
When this all got started I told them, “If you want to stay with your mom that’s fine, but if you want to stay with me I’m willing to fight for you.”
I had a three-bedroom cottage and between my kids and my wife’s kids, we had eight kids living there. It was cramped; we had three bunk beds in one bedroom. We didn’t have much money so we couldn’t buy them things.
We just created a better, loving atmosphere and told them to make up their mind.
And they all decided to come live with me.
Bill Venezia is the author of “Your Honor, My Children Please.”