I spend a lot of time asking women (and men) to step into fear. Have courage. Be brave. Honor your story. Speak your truth. I want to have courage, be brave, honor my story and speak truth. If I believe you can do it, I know I can too.
“We must travel in the direction of our fear.” — John Berryman
So here goes.
I am afraid to speak the truth about my court experience.
I am afraid I will be viewed as weak and incapable of supporting clients.
I am afraid my support system will think I am a bitter and unforgiving woman.
Mostly, though, I am terrified of retribution from our legal system, which ironically, pledges to honor truth.
Who has given me a timid place of courage today? My judge.
I began my court journey in December of 2018 with my divorce trial. In the following 2 months, after the trial, I obsessively checked my emails for my judge’s written decision- a summary of our (my now x husband and myself) new rules of interaction. I innocently hoped documents would be promptly provided, as they are in the movies and in my favorite TV shows. And in the 3rd month of silence from the judge, I felt deflated. Broken and betrayed again. I waited 6 months for my judge to give me a written decree of divorce and a written shared parenting plan.
He made me wait 6 months for the document delineating my future.
I don’t exactly remember what day I received our Shared Parenting Plan and the divorce decree as much as I remember the feeling in my gut. I could see the destruction of my life in writing. All my dreams, hopes, and plans were permanently documented by a judge who made me wait 6 months for the legal termination of life as I knew it.
Surprisingly, I am glad the judge exasperated me.
The judge’s lack of action elicited such anger inside me, I knew I had to use it to positively motivate me or the rage would envelope me in a blanket of unpredictable, unpleasant volatility. I felt compelled to save other women from the degrading way I was treated in his courtroom. Thus, I began my journey into coaching, initially focusing on educating women as they traverse the courts.
(Going forward in this blog, my dates are approximate- I just can’t remember them all.)
In late 2019 and early 2020, I filed motions to hold my ex-husband in contempt for a variety of issues- mostly related to an unwillingness to comply with court orders concerning financial support.
In late 2019, he got a new job, and requested the court reduce alimony and child support and a new era of hell began for me.
We had a day in court in 2020, but due to the large volume of information needed to support his premise, we scheduled an additional day of court. Delays like COVID and a few others led us to a final court day concerning his request in May 2021. (In our state, follow-up hearings concerning new motions move from the judge, an elected official, to a magistrate. Thus, all of our court experiences after December of 2018, were held with a magistrate.)
During that time of waiting for the courts to get themselves together, here is the timeline of what I endured.
In February of 2021, I received no child support or alimony. The children’s father just didn’t pay anything. I didn’t get an email advising me that he wouldn’t be paying me. He just went silent. I panicked. I realized I had ZERO power. I felt absolutely humiliated begging for money from the children’s father. I sent an email asking him when he could help. He said he was doing what he could and would not confirm when or what he would pay me. I had to face my children and lie to their trusting faces. I put on my “mommy” mask when they looked at me with concern or confusion if I appeared anything other than cheerful. “We are good. I’m just having a sad day.” “God will support us. He always does.” “I’m ok, sweet one. Mama’s just tired.” I pleaded with him to reimburse me for medical bills, extracurricular activities that he previously agreed to support, and court-ordered alimony and child support. I had kids in therapy, kids in soccer, a kid in private school, kids needing clothes, kids needing shoes, kids needing FOOD, kids needing me to pay the mortgage, all the bills, car insurance, medical bills… Waking up in the middle of the night sweating, with my heart racing, knowing I could not die or get sick because those innocent children needed me, was immobilizing. And at the same time,
I dived into figuring out how I could make more money coaching and support my clients better. I recreated my business plan, redeveloped my website, and opened my heart to any ideas God inserted. And I started to see results- even though my life appeared to be in utter chaos. He did begin to make random payments in March and April, 2021. I refer to that as my intermittent reinforcement phase. I was ecstatic to get anything, at any time. But the waiting and wondering in between payments was demoralizing and depressing. Things did settle down in May 2021, when he began pay consistent income twice a month- it was about half of what was court ordered, to but it was better than nothing. …And it was enough to keep him from being held in contempt by the CSEA (Child Support Enforcement Agency) for nonpayment. Every time I called the CSEA, asking for help, they responded, “at least he’s paying something. And if it is at least half, that’s good.” I heard that more often than I care to count. That is not what my mortgage company, electric company, credit card company, water company, or really, anyone else on the planet believes.
But, I digress. Back to the pending court hearing that began in 2020 and was delayed due to COVID and other issues…
Finally, In May 2021, our concluding court date, the attorneys stated their last arguments to determine how I was to receive income and whether he would be held in contempt for nonpayment. We were now at the complete mercy of the magistrate. This left me on a weird teeter totter: I could relax because I couldn’t do anymore, but not having a response is like seeing the oasis and not knowing if you will ever drink from it.
The impending decision became a waiting game. June, 2021 passed. July, 2021 passed. August, 2021 passed. September, 2021 passed. October, 2021 passed.
And finally in late November, 2021 we received a decision. And it was mostly in my favor. He was held in contempt for numerous violations. (I’ll be honest- I was held in contempt for refusing to force a child to go to his father’s home for an overnight visit- a decision I knew I could be held in contempt for. But it was a decision I felt was in the best interest of my child’s mental health.) Wow. I was relieved. Finally, I was going to get back pay, court fees, attorney fees, reimbursement for all the medical bills I had been paying, and more. I might be able to breathe again. …Don’t get too comfortable. My x husband disagreed with the decision (as did I concerning the contempt charge against me). When that happens, the decision moves from the magistrate to the Judge (remember him from December 2018?) to evaluate and make a final decision. Now, we had more waiting. The judge needed to rule on the disagreements. My confidence that we would have a prompt response was nonexistent. Remember, this is the same judge that took 6 months to give me a written decree back in December 2018. December, 2021 passed. No decision. January, 2022 passed. February, 2022 passed. March, 2022- We received the below notification.
I felt like I had been hit in the face with a baseball bat. Now what? We wait for a VISITING JUDGE. And wait. April, 2022 passed. May, 2022 passed. June, 2022- A visiting Judge is assigned to review our case and provide a decision. July, 2022 passed. And here we are in August 2022. 15 months after the original decision by the magistrate. Still waiting. But my children’s lives don’t wait. I still pay for their activities, doctor appointments, school fees, car insurance, FOOD… I’m not really sure our court system understands that. Or understands the anxiety I feel daily, waiting indefinitely. As I write this, I learned our visiting judge would like to respond and has given us a date of August 23. No matter how many times I enter the courtroom, I’m still terrified. I can only pray this time the finality of justice is provided. I will keep you posted.
Why has the judge given me a timid place of courage today? I know I will not be in front of that judge again. He cannot make a biased decision against me in court because he doesn’t appreciate I told the truth about my experience with him.
Why am I still in a timid place? I have more years in court. I have more judges to see. And I’m afraid I will have to endure more court abuse.
Why take the chance today to expose my truth? Because my silence is not working. I’ve tried it for years. I will not participate in the insanity of trying the same thing over and over with the same result but expecting a different outcome.
Here is my hope by sharing this experience with you: I have “HOPE” that my truth will encourage others to keep fighting. I have “HOPE” that my truth will allow you to realize you are not alone. I have “HOPE” that my truth will show women or men who fear divorce, resilience is on your side. I have “HOPE” that my truth will change someone’s life.