Thursday, March 1, 2012

Divorced dad made to feel like a criminal

I've been working since I was 21, but really, since I was 14.
In high school, I took on every bit of part time work I could so that I could have a few things, like a bicycle (a 10-speed racer) and other toys.
Needing to make ends meet in our modest household, my mother took 1/3rd of everything I earned, for as long as I lived under her roof. In addition to household costs needing to be met, she said, it was good training for me. Before during or after my childhood, I never got a dime of allowance. and I was fine with that.
Good training all right, for what was ahead.

I put myself through college, paying every last dime of school fees, accommodation and spending money along the way. It meant working every last hour that God gave me, but it was an incredibly empowering experience to put yourself through college like that. It was clear to me later that this early training made me a good hard worker when I eventually worked full-time in real jobs.

By the time I was 50, I had raised three kids into the late teenage years (so far), set aside money for their college fees, almost paid off a modest house in the Bay Area, and had put my then-wife through college in a great university locally.
Never in my life have I ever collected any kind of government assistance, dole or any so-called "free money". I have paid my taxes, obeyed the law and stood by my responsibilities to my kids and ex-wife.
I've never been arrested, I'm a home bird dad and spend all my money on my family.

Some things, though, don't work out.
After twenty years of marriage, my ex and I split up. She grew one way, I grew the other. Small issues grew into big issues, and we found ourselves before a judge in a divorce court.
Neither one of us did anything wrong; neither of us "caused" the divorce. We just woke up one morning in different universes.
I'm told that happens a lot.

Within the judgement of her getting 60% of our entire assets, she got the house, primary custody of our kids, hefty child support from me of course going forward, and three years of generous spousal support.

So here I am, back down to a 700 square foot apartment, alone. And I'm paying for two households instead of one. After the kids' college fees are taken out of it, the lawyers are paid off, a new household is paid for, and the thousand divorce buzzards take their piece of meet, I ended up being worth about $200k. Not much to start with in the Bay Area at 50 years of age.

Prosecuted for having been a husband

The legal process was very interesting. It made me feel like I was being prosecuted for having been a husband. It felt like I was going to be made pay for some crime I had committed, or an obligation I did not meet. "In the interests of the children", I was told, things were going to be taken care of.
I even had my own lawyer telling me "you better make sure that child support payment turns up every month on time". It was funny to hear that after all I had done for 25 years was pump money into my family. I cringe to imagine what it must be like for men who actually did something like beat their wife or became an alcoholic or were just a dead-beat.
My attorney was a good one, I was told by many. I got "about as good a deal as I could", I was told.
The judge bought into the whole picture my ex-wife painted of me being a laggard and a money waster. That, despite the fact that we had a million dollars of assets to fight over, and I was the only one who worked for three decades. She really believed she made the money, since she had been managing it for years. Dogged determination paid off for her: she somehow imprinted that idea on the judge.

I decided from the beginning not to go on the attack. I thought by "taking the high ground", I would at least not appear petty. I thought the judge would see the scathing attacks on my character and personality for what they were. As it turned out, the judge seemed impressed with the aggressive go-getter attitude of my ex-wife.
My naive believe that he would see it all for what is was didn't pan out. My strategy was that I would treat her contributions to the marriage and family with respect. I believed that justice would prevail and anyone that mattered would see the truth through any smoke screen.

Sitting on my couch looking back, I see what my role was: The Worker.
Looking forward into the future, I see what my role is: The Worker.

It's hard not to feel cynical. I worked all my life, believing that a reward would come of it. Instead, I hand over the lion's share of everything I worked for to someone who ground me into the ground every day I came home from work.

Why is divorce so expensive?
Because it is worth it.

"The next time I feel the urge to get married, I'll find a woman I don't like and buy her a house". (From the movie When harry Met Sally, i think).

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