To begin at the beginning, as one is supposed to do: I separated from my husband of seven years a few months ago. He left abruptly – to say the least – packing his bag right in front of me, my daughter, and my father.
We’d had conflicting schedules that day, which resulted in my father and I spending the day at my daughter’s concert with one set of my friends, and The One Who Should Have Gotten Away spending the day with his daughter at a candy-making class, with another set of my friends. When we all regrouped at home, there was a short argument, which went something like this:
Me: “How was your day.”
Me: “Was so-and-so at the thing? How was she?”
(Repeat with several additional questions and one-word responses).
(Lengthy, frosty pause.)
Me: “Well, the concert went well. Thanks for asking.”
Him: “I did ask.”
And then he started packing.
I’d had conversations like this before, where he insisted he’d said something that I was sure he was not. Lots of them.
In fact, there was a period of time where we had them daily: I guess I’m old-school, but I think when people enter the house, the other occupants should say hello and ask quaint questions like, “How was your day and/or traffic?”
After you do this a few times, though, two things happen:
- You stop attempting to have these conversations, because arguing is tiresome.
- You start wondering if maybe it really is you, not hearing things that the other person insists so adamantly that they have said. I’ve seen Gaslight; I know how this works.
But on that night in October, as He packed his bag, I looked at my father, who shook his head: No, he didn’t say a word. I looked at my daughter: No, he didn’t say a word.
And then we three watched him go.
A funny thing happened the night He left: the dog slept downstairs. Not only that, he did it after spending the entire evening lying contentedly in the living room.
He did it again the next night, and the night after that.
I know this doesn’t sound like a detail worth noting, but this is not what my dog does. What my dog does is spend every evening whining and agitating to get outside. Sometimes he sleeps out in the yard until the wee hours. Sometimes he doesn’t like it outside, and whines to come back in, but then decides he doesn’t really like it inside, and spends the entire evening whining on one side of the door or the other.
Until the night He left, when the dog spent the evening lying contentedly in the living room.
By Day Two after The Departure, several things had happened. First, the dog was suddenly willing to spend more time indoors. My daughter, on the other hand, was suddenly unwilling to sleep in her own bed and moved into mine – so although the dog was sleeping better, I was not getting much sleep at all.
Also, we changed the locks.
I received several text messages and emails from The Departed, demanding a discussion about “practical matters” and insisting I buy him out of his share of the house, and I started to reach out to friends for attorney referrals. I started reaching out to friends just to say hi, missives that usually began, “Sorry I’ve been out of touch for so long …”
I met one friend for coffee a couple of nights after The Departure, and on my arrival at Starbucks, wearing clothes she’d seen before on a body that had gained at least ten pounds in the month before, she announced, “Oh My God – You look great!”
I was sleep-deprived and utterly baffled.
She went on.
“I’ve never seen you happy before.”
A few days later, I emailed another acquaintance, sending her some pictures I had promised long before, and explaining the delay: “We separated.”
She replied, “Oh no! How terribly sad and lonely for you!”
And then it hit me, less than a week after The Departure: It was the first time in seven years that I didn’t feel sad or lonely.
In the weeks that followed, friends I never knew I had rushed in to fill the vacuum that had previously defined my life – it always felt empty, but I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t seem to connect. I came up with a lot of reasons, of course, but was never able to solve the problem.
The cleaning lady came, and also insisted I had lost weight, or bought a new shirt, or something. I told her what had happened; I had to – she was surely going to notice the lack of laundry and sudden abundance of closet space* in the master bath. She hugged me and said, “Thank God. That was not a man. He did nothing but sit there. And he made you so sad.”
Another day, I had lunch with a lady from the DAR – an older lady who I don’t know very well, who wanted to thank me for some help I had provided. I told her about The Departure, expecting to hear an offer to pray for me or perhaps a lecture on the sanctity of marriage. Instead, she said, “I was wondering about you ever since that night we were at your house when you were helping me. He came into the room a couple of times to talk to you, but he did not speak kindly to you. It didn’t seem right – it didn’t sit right with me.”
Everyone, it seemed, had a story to tell me or a thought to offer. I had thought that we were just like other people, and moreover appeared to be, because nobody can see what goes on behind closed doors, right?
And then, without warning, he left, and I was happy.
*Here’s something they don’t tell you in all those relationship books: single people have twice the closet space of married people. And it’s freaking awesome.
When The Departed left – abruptly – he left one big thing behind: debt. A great big steaming, stinking pile of debt.
A huge luxury car I don’t really need for just two people. Debt on my credit card for things we agreed on together. A mortgage it became rapidly apparent he no longer intended to pay.
There were other bills, too – like the new cell phone service we signed up for, and the cable package for eight gazillion channels of TV that mostly he watched.
And so on.
Some of these items, I am stuck with: jointly titled things, like my car, that I would sell if I could in the interest of reducing costs, but I can’t sell without his signature. I’ve been trying to get him to discuss the Big Picture so I can resolve these issues, but he has no interest in this whatever.
He wants to discuss who the Cuisinart really belongs to. Other things he needs urgently include: skis, his iPhone 4S, a cocktail shaker.
I do up a spreadsheet and look for ways to reduce my budget, and what I find is that my costs are inflating – everywhere. Suddenly, I have to take my daughter to before and after school care – $300 a month. I have to pay babysitters if I want to go anywhere. I no longer get a multi-car discount on my car insurance, which is due, conveniently, right now.
And so on.
Meanwhile, he really needs a Cuisinart. He sends letters via his lawyer about this. I’m not sure why, because he’s never actually used one or, as far as I can see, cooked anything other than eggs. I’m reluctant to turn it over to him because a) I actually use it and b) I suspect he wants to “accidentally” slice off a finger with it and then sue me.
I’m looking at my spreadsheet and if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that I can’t afford to be sued right now. The places I would like to cut*, and would probably save the most money cutting – mortgage and car – I cannot cut without his cooperation.
One of the biggest expenses I see: my cleaning lady.
Okay, she’s not the best cleaning lady in the world, I grant you. She shows up every week – usually. She’s mostly on time. She misses strange things, such as a few cobwebs that are really impossible to miss – yet there they are. She breaks things sometimes, which drives me crazy.
She emigrated from Bosnia after the war there with her husband and four daughters, one of whom she is putting through college right now. Her English is so-so, but I have never heard her use an unkind word with it. She brings me food she made herself, and gives my daughter gifts for Christmas that she can’t possibly afford on what I pay her. And I know that a couple of her best clients went belly-up in the current recession – one of them was indicted.
She felt really bad about that. He was a nice man, she said, very generous.
I cannot let her go, I don’t have the heart – but I can barely pay her at the moment. I decide to simply cut her hours back.
I procrastinate. I’m not very good at laundry, vacuuming, or dishes, but if there were a Procrastination Olympiad, I would medal in every single event.
I make excuses through November – it’s Thanksgiving, who’s going to clean up after the turkey bomb goes off in my kitchen? I put it off.
December, meanwhile, is Christmas – pine needles, wrapping paper. A party at my house. Other people’s parties! I can’t miss them to, you know, clean. Plus, I’m no Scrooge.
I put it off some more.
Finally, it’s January, and cold, hard reality starts to sink in. My heating bills are astronomical, and worse – my daughter has to move to middle school next year, and I cannot afford it. I have to fill out financial aid forms and ask other people for money. And there are other people who deserve it more, I have no doubt.
Like my cleaning lady. The one with the daughter in college.
After her first visit in February, I pay her and then say, I have to talk to you about your schedule. I am going to have to cut back your hours. I don’t want to, but, well, you understand the situation.
She says, Oh, don’t you worry! I knew it would happen. I rather come here less but see you happy when I come – and you are happy now, without him.
When she leaves, she is smiling as she says, I’ll see you in two weeks.
*starting with his finger.
The Child has a father, of course, and it isn’t The Departed. I’ll call him The Foreigner, since a) he lives in a foreign country and b) I have to call him something. It’s the nicest thing I’ve called him in a long time.
Yes, I really, really suck at choosing husbands.
So, a month or two after The Departed left – right around Christmas, in fact – I received a notice from the Division of Child Support (the nice people who are the only reason I get any child support from him). Apparently The Foreigner demanded an accounting of child care costs that DCS collects from him and sends to me – one component of his monthly payment.
What an odd coincidence, I thought, that it occurred to him to ask for this accounting right at the most inconvenient possible time for me.
No, I don’t believe in coincidences.
Worse yet, because he had not asked for this accounting in such a long time, the DCS requested I retrieve records going back to 2008.
I call the DCS lady, frustrated and complaining. Four years worth of records? I ask. Yes, she says.
Do you know what a waste of time this is? I say. He pays me $25 a month in child care – and thinks it’s too much?
I know, she says. I couldn’t believe it when this landed on my desk. But I need the receipts and we’ll do the calculations as required by law.
So I collect it all and mail it off.
A month or so later, I get a notice from DCS: The amount of child care care he must now reimburse me for each month is increased to $75.
My father says: Rarely do you see someone’s karma boomerang back at them so quickly. I admire The Foreigner for his splendid karma.
You didn’t really think The Foreigner was going to take that lying down, did you? He applied to get his support reduced, and it went up instead.
He’s legally entitled to a hearing, and he demands one.
I get a notice in the mail for a hearing by phone.
The day before the hearing, a DCS coordinator calls me and asks me to walk him through the paperwork. I am very frustrated – I have mounds of legal paperwork to deal with to rid myself of The Departed – I don’t have the time and energy for this. I vent.
He pays me so little and now we have to waste our time with this, I say. I pay far more than this. I always have. I don’t even understand where that $25 number came from, now you say $75 a month but if that’s right it always should have been more. I just thought if I left him alone with that sweet deal he’d leave me alone.
He listens. He asks more questions. He suggests I mention some of this at the hearing, and suggests how I might phrase some of these things for the judge. He says, in passing, these payments don’t look right to me. But he doesn’t really know, he’s just there to coordinate the hearing, he says.
I’m confused and frustrated and just want to be left alone, I say.
We all dial into the hearing. There is a judge, and she starts talking. We each take turns speaking when she asks a question.
She is sympathetic to The Foreigner’s assertion that the bookkeeping hasn’t been done properly, and she agrees it should have been done properly.
In fact, she says, looking at it, it looks like perhaps we should go back to 2008 and make sure all the payments are in order. These payments you’ve been making may not be right, and we should get this all straightened out. If there’s been over- or under-payment, then we should add or subtract that from future payments. But we’d need a formal review and another hearing.
Would you like to do that? she asks him.
No … no, he says. I’m not asking for that. I just mean going forward.
Would you like to do that? she asks me.
Actually, yes I would, I say.
He starts to argue.
She says it’s not his turn to talk.
We are granted a continuance so the Division of Child Support can do all the back calculations, determine the full amount of arrears, and calculate his new payment.
The hearing coordinator calls me the next day, to let me know the name of the person I need to work with to get all the receipts collected, and what exactly the judge will want to see. To expedite things and make sure it’s all done properly.
I’m a neutral party, he says, just here to help the process run smoothly.
Thank you, I reply.
The date of the hearing arrives.
A day before, the hearing coordinator sends me documents he received from The Foreigner. The Foreigner wants to know why The Child – his child – is being sent to “luxurious entertainment programs” on his dime.
The “luxurious” programs he is complaining about are summer camps. He doesn’t feel he should have to pay for things like “theater camp,” because it isn’t “child care.” He cites Wikipedia’s definition of child care in support of his argument.
He doesn’t say what he thinks should be done with The Child during school breaks – when she is signed up for camps so that I can work.
One of us needs to pay the bills, after all.
The DSHS has produced a spreadsheet of the amounts paid by him, and show that he has accrued about $2,000 in child care arrears. He submits his own math, showing that I actually owe him $770 that he has overpaid.
I decide it’s best if I say as little as possible at the hearing, and let him do the talking.
The hearing is a phone conference call, first thing in the morning. The judge walks us through all the documents, numbering each separate page of each child-care receipt for the past four years.
Now, does he dispute that I incurred these charges? She asks.
No, he says. I dispute that these are legitimate child care expenses. I am sent these outrageous bills and never asked if it’s okay with me. I just get the bills.
He forgets to mention that he signed away his right to be consulted about anything when he gave me sole custody eleven years ago.
The judge doesn’t have that document so she asks me if I’m required to get his approval on these things. No, I tell her.
Well, she says, why have you selected these programs?
I explain that The Child is in school, so we only need child care when school is out, and camp fits the bill. Also, it’s very cost-effective, I tell her. That theater camp, for example, works out to $7.50 an hour for child care, as opposed to $12 an hour, the going rate for babysitters in this area.
Well, she says, would you say you choose these camps because they best meet your child’s needs? Allow her to be more active, maybe?
I think to myself, well, obviously, but then realize: It’s not actually obvious to all the parties.
Yes, of course, I say.
She turns her questions back to The Foreigner. Do you feel these programs are not appropriate for this child?
Well, he says, I would have a hard time answering that as I’ve not seen any of the programs, and haven’t seen the child for many years.
So, the judge asks, What exactly is your objection then? Do you not understand the reasons for these programs’ selection?
Well, he says, it costs a ridiculous amount of money. I can’t even feed my own children. When I want to go out, I have a neighbor look after my children or a family member. That doesn’t cost anything. She spends my money very freely.
I am thinking: she is your own child, too. I am looking at pictures on his website of his family ski vacation.
But I say nothing.
The judge says, Do you understand that she has no legal obligation to use free care provided by family members for this child?
Yes, he says.
The judge thanks everyone, and concludes. She will render her decision, and we will receive it by mail.
Two days later, as promised, I receive the verdict: A $36 monthly increase in child support payments, and $2,000 in arrears are awarded to me.
By the second week after he abruptly departed, I had hired an attorney, and within another week, we had served him with divorce papers.
I received a text: All you had to do was apologize.
When you think about it, though, divorce papers are a form of apology. What they really say are, I’m sorry I married you. I take it back.
We sent a proposal for temporary orders: He would pay the rent of the apartment he had just leased and his car payments, while I would pay the mortgage on the house and my own car payments. Simple.
He called my lawyer and screamed. The paralegal ended the conversation abruptly, which was her polite way of saying, he wasn’t very polite so I hung up on him.
He called my lawyer back and asked for an attorney referral. My lawyer chuckled and emailed him some names.
He hired someone else and sent back a reply to the proposed temporary orders: I should pay him spousal support.
My lawyer calms me down. No judge would ever award it in this state, since he can fully support himself, he says. I’m a little concerned about the attorney that would sign their name to that.
One of his complaints is that since I’ve changed the locks, he has no access to his “stuff” – ignoring the fact that I have delivered his “stuff” to a storage facility, which I paid for myself and gave him the combination to. We offer to produce pictures of the items in the house and he can provide ONE list of items he wants; I will make one delivery.
We send back this reply.
They reply with additional demands: No, that’s not how he wants his “stuff.” He should be able to make requests for items from the house, one at a time. I should have to turn deliver each item to him within 24 hours or face sanctions.
Right, I tell the lawyer. Don’t bother anymore. $2,000 have been spent we’re no closer to an agreement than we were before. Fine, he says.
Spring becomes summer and it occurs to me that if the house is going to be sold, summer would be the best time. We send a letter asking what he’d like to do about the house – does he want it? Does he propose it be sold?
We receive no response.
My lawyer suggests we send over a list of interrogatory questions: Standard stuff at this point. He’s supposed to produce a list of financial statements and property he claims is his alone.
I said: The Departed will never answer these questions. Let’s not waste our time sending them. I know what it in his accounts. We don’t need any of this.
We compromised: We sent subpoenas to all the accounts on the list, and also to his employer.
I receive a set of interrogatories from his attorney’s office.
Great, I say, and we send a set of identical questions over to him while I fill mine out and start tracking down records.
I send over about two pounds of financial and other records.
To each of the questions, he gives one of three replies: I don’t know – she knows. I refuse to answer on the grounds the question is too broad and not relevant. Discovery is ongoing.
No, says my attorney. He holds a conference with the other attorney. Finally, we receive a reply.
They request we select a mediation date from a list of suggested dates. We reply with the most convenient date. They reply, that date will no longer work. Also, although they had initially requested mediation, they now require a detailed property proposal from me – none from their side – before they will even consent to proceed. This is needed as “a show of good faith.”
Back and forth, back and forth. The legal bills mount.
Nine months, and no closer to a resolution than the day he left.
For those of you who have not had the pleasure of getting a divorce yet, here’s how it works: Each side sends the other a list a questions (interrogatories) about financial and other items. The other side has 30 days to respond and must do so fully and completely. This is required by law.
Once all the answers are compiled, if there are no children involved, you add up all the assets and find some way of dividing them by two. Washington is a community property state.
I had told my attorney not to bother asking The Departed for information – just subpoena it – he disagreed, but had also seen enough to realize that there might be something to what I was saying. I gave him a list of accounts.
He looked at it and said, no, I know the company he works for. He has a defined benefit plan – a pension. Everyone does who works there.
No, I said. I work in finance and managed our finances for eight years. I applied for two mortgages with him. There’s no pension, I said.
I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when the subpoenaed documents arrived and showed that, yes, The Departed has a pension plan. And accrued benefits. It was clearly stated on page one of the documents sent by his employer, in the second sentence: Defined Benefit Plan (pension) and Defined Contribution Plan.
We sent copies of all the documents we received to his attorney’s office. Imagine our surprise when, in the midst of all his non-answers to the interrogatory questions, he mentioned another retirement account, but did not mention a pension plan.
Not only did we already have all the documents, we had sent copies of them over to his attorney’s office. Basically, we’d done most of his homework for him.
Yet he still refused to answer the questions.
My attorney made a call and let them know that if he didn’t care to respond, a judge could compel him to do so and fine him for every day he failed to comply. We provide a detailed list of shortcomings, and specifically point out that he has neglected to mention the pension.
A few days later, interrogatories were returned, this time with answers to most of the questions.
He still does not mention a brokerage account of his which holds shares of company stock; nor does he include his pension account.
I go back (again) to the documents his employer sent over. No, I’m not hallucinating: there it is. Page one. Second sentence.
Defined Benefit Plan. Pension.
My attorney responds quickly now to his attorney. They are trying to come up with mediation dates and also get the papers together so that we can mediate at all. Papers must be complete. Where are these two accounts? We provide the account number of the brokerage account. They already have the information about the pension; they’ve had it for months now. We know because we sent it to them.
And the reply comes back: My client apologizes for overlooking the brokerage account. He had forgotten about that account; here is a current statement. However, there seems to be some confusion about the pension: He has checked all of his employment records and we have confirmed that no such plan exists.
I go back and check the documents (again) that his employer sent over. Yes, it’s still there. Page one. Second sentence. Still not hallucinating.
This time, my lawyer takes a different tack: Since to our knowledge, all employees of that company receive a pension, please ask your client to have the company provide proof that your client is not and never was eligible for such a pension.
A few days later, we receive a terse email. “Upon further checking, our client has learned that he is eligible for a company pension. See attachment.”
I receive no apology. And although sorely tempted to demand my own “show of good faith,” I know it will only cost me more money, needlessly. It would be fun, I think, to put him in front of a judge with his forgotten and denied accounts – but there are cheaper forms of entertainment.
But we are headed for a judge and a trial as well – a very, very expensive trial – if we cannot find a way to mediate with the man who will not cooperate in any way with any part of the process.
With eight days to go to arbitration, the appointment is rescheduled. It’s the third reschedule in the past two weeks.
My father has booked plane tickets – he wants to be here for moral support. Nonrefundable tickets. He’ll change them or give them away, and fly up on the new dates, he says.
No biggie, he says.
My coworkers have juggled their schedules to accommodate me, and juggled them again.
Don’t worry, they say. You’d do it for us if the situation was reversed.
The carpool drivers have arranged their schedules around mine, and now re-arrange their schedules around mine.
Not a problem, they tell me. Schedules and kids are a moving target anyway.
I look at the new date on the calendar and discover it’s a few days after my birthday. It’s not so bad, really – the end is in sight and all the last-minute re-jiggering means I get to have a nice birthday. It will be the first time in many, many years, that I’ve had my father at my birthday celebrations.
Just a little longer.