As some of you may know, I went through a divorce about four and a half years ago. During the time I was separated, my son, who was three at the time, was diagnosed with leukemia. Thankfully, five years later he is still in remission and doing great. However, you can imagine the stress that goes along with not only divorce, but a serious illness of a child. It definitely had an effect on my mental and emotional well-being. There is no doubt the law practice suffered. I finally reached a resolution with my ex-wife concerning the financial aspects of the divorce. Basically, I agreed to fully support her and our two kids (we also have a daughter who is twelve now). Not the best resolution for me, but the divorce was not pleasant and I gave up way more than was required. My ex-wife was causing me such aggravation that I just wanted out of the marriage. I used to handle divorce cases years ago and that was a common theme with men. They give up everything and then, when they come to their senses, they realize that they are in a precarious position. She would not have to work while our son was undergoing chemotherapy for the leukemia. The idea was that she would return to work once his treatment was complete. That was two years ago. My ex-wife still is not back to work full-time and I continue to pay full support.
The practice of law is both a profession and a business. I must say that I am an excellent attorney but not a very good businessman. I used to have trouble saying “no” and took many cases which ended up being a ton of work with no pay. I liked to think of it as my contribution to society. Unfortunately, that doesn’t pay the bills. My paralegal, Kelly, started working for me shortly before my divorce. She was with me during the separation and the divorce. She saw the problem and gently guided me away from that work. She helped me say “no” to things and kept me on task as best she could. We ended up with a practice that was about 50% litigation and 50% real estate. Back then, the real estate market was still booming and we had a lot of clients who were investors. However, one day the bubble burst and it burst with a big, huge, deafening explosion. It seemed like overnight, at least half our practice went away. The bread and butter real estate matters we counted on, were no longer there. The revenue of the law firm plummeted. As a result, I got behind on payments to my ex-wife. At the same time, I had to get rid of real estate I owned and pretty much liquidate everything. I payed almost everything that was coming in to my ex-wife and to Blue Cross to keep the health insurance in force. Kelly was great in that she stuck with me even when I went weeks without being able to pay her. We struggled before we ultimately turned the corner and got back on our feet.
Unfortunately, I was still behind on payments to my ex-wife. I was able to make full payments again, and I thought we were in the process of working some things out. However, shortly after Mother’s Day, after I had given my kids $20 each to buy their mom a gift, I got a Motion for Contempt in the mail. I do not think I have ever been that angry in my life. Thankfully, Kelly was there because I really don’t know what would have happened had she not talked me off the ledge. You need to know that I have had issues with my ex concerning her bad-mouthing me to the children and taking any chance she could to try to prove her moral superiority to them. They were brought into the middle of things because of some warped need of hers to be right about everything. I was just starting to build a relationship back up with my daughter at the time this happened.
Today, I was in a meeting with my attorney, my ex-wife and her attorney. We were discussing the amounts they allege I still owe. I want to make it very clear that I have absolutely no tolerance for dead beat dads. I think it is unconscionable for a father not to step up and support his children. I also never put my children in the middle of disputes. It was the last thing they needed. Let’s just say the meeting didn’t go well. I was informed my ex-wife was seeking an amount for interest on past due amounts equal to about one-third of what is still owed. I’ve made payments over and above the normal maintenance and child support to try to get back to even. Now I was being hit with that extra amount. Keep in mind that she finally went back to work about a year ago and I have been still fully supporting her. I was paying for my son to go to an after school program so my ex-wife could work. In effect, I was paying more so that she could work without any credit for her wages. Hopefully, you can understand my anger about the interest. Those who know me know that I am as laid back as they come. My law school friends referred to me as the human lounge chair. It takes a lot for me to really lose my cool to the point I’m out of control. I reached that point today. I muttered some profanities under my breath and walked out of the meeting.
My purpose in all of this is to point out the total shambles our family courts have become, especially for the men. I fully support my children, not because the court requires it, but morally it is the right thing to do. I am very active with my kids. I go to every parent/teacher conference, basketball and baseball practice, church program and anything else they do. All the while, I have my ex-wife sticking her nose into that relationship and trying to interfere. My kids have been told terrible things about me and I sat back and let it happen so that they would not be in the middle. I’ve had the cops called on me and been taken back to court twice. All the while, I still tried to help my ex-wife out with things. I guess I felt sorry for her. Laura, my current wife, and Kelly never understood why I did the things I did.
Now, I’m put in a position where I could be held in contempt of court for getting behind in these payments. What a reality check for me. I now fully understand that regardless of what I do, I am at a big disadvantage. The kids stay with their mother most of the time. They hear her and her conversations with others. They hear her go off on me over the phone. My ability to have any influence is limited by the simple fact that she has them more than me. The trick is to focus on the children and their needs. Both of my kids are very smart. I truly believe my daughter understands the dysfunction. I hate that for her but she is wise beyond her years. There is no fairness in the system. I am treated the same as a dad who simply refuses to pay out of anger or control. I am treated the same as a dad who has little or no interaction with their children. Nothing good I do makes a bit of difference. I am still looking at a contempt motion. I will ultimately get screwed while my ex has no responsibility placed on her. The unfortunate thing is there’s nothing I can do about it.
The family court is still slanted against the dad. Many lawyers who do divorces do them because they can make a lot of money. Many don’t care about the effect all of this has on the kids or the parents who have to deal with each other. They fight these cases until the money runs out and then they get tried or settled. My wife’s attorney bills at a rate of $350.00 per hour. That rate gets you an attorney who will burn all bridges and make it impossible to get along with each other. My relationship with my ex-wife has been forever altered because of the adversarial system. It has changed for the worse and I don’t see it ever improving. All because of the way the adversarial system works in these cases. My advice to anyone in my situation is to do whatever it takes to keep the focus on the children. You may hate and despise your spouse, but bashing each other’s brains out in a court battle benefits only divorce lawyers. The one thing I learned when I did divorces is that I didn’t want to do them. I was contributing to the further deterioration of the ability of parties to simply get along. There has to be give and take for it to be successful. Unfortunately, in my case it’s all give by me. My ex-wife has shown no compassion towards me regardless of anything I do. Unfortunately, the court system backs her up. What a messed up system.