I'm approaching my 58th birthday, have been divorced as long as I was married, and yet I still have to make copies of my joint custody papers. Someone told me when you have kids and get divorced, it never ends. Amen.
So when a Kane County judge ordered me to pay $600 a month toward the residential placement of my, sadly, delinquent minor son, an overwhelming sense of "hey, wait just one darn minute here," overcame me in the courtroom.
This was not a Virgin Birth. There is a biological father/sperm donor who once dismissed our 13-year marriage with the comment: "Why should I pay you because I knew you once?" Actually, it was at least twice. We have two kids. He's now more than $80,000 behind in child support, and despite some initial outrage at his absence, the judge seems to have forgotten I didn't have this child alone.
I wondered what the judge saw as I stood before him. Dressed neatly in slacks and a blazer (I was always taught that if you have to be in court for a traffic ticket, clean up a bit), I must have appeared to be a carefree housewife living in one of the many upscale houses in the Fox Valley whose only worry is where to go to lunch or get my nails done.
He doesn't know that I once had an IRA, mutual funds, a savings account, an aspiring career and an enviable credit rating.
He doesn't know what it's like to take apart your baby son's crib, carefully putting the screws in a bag so they don't get lost, wondering where you will tuck your son and daughter to bed at night. An alcoholic and increasingly abusive husband had cost us our home of nine years and left us bankrupt.
I'd had a good job, was just about to be vested in the retirement plan, had good benefits, and could have afforded the mortgage. But I didn't have $1,000 a month for child care and since he was out of work, I knew there'd be no child support. So I stayed with him. And I left my good job to move downstate with him when he found work. Two years later he announced he wanted a divorce. He'd been having an affair with someone at work.
I was unemployed, broke, with a 3-year old and an 8-year old. I was 44.
One of my proudest accomplishments is that during what I call "the Purgatory years," I somehow kept us off public aid. I did receive child support for the first few years, but when my ex's alcoholism started costing him jobs and another divorce, the support disappeared. Vaporized. His presence in his childrens' lives has remained nothing more than a haunting memory.
Perhaps that absence contributed to my son's difficulties. While my remarriage brought more stability and a home to our lives, he remained a problem at school.
So I wondered what the judge saw as I stood before him. This same judge had scolded me once before for "not supporting" my son. "You've got to do more than just show up," he said.
I thought of the years of problems in school, psychiatrists, counselors, school meetings, the special education placement. Then the phone calls from the police, the court appearances, the legal fees, and court costs.
At family counseling during a rehab stint by my son, I found that despite our many differences, we parents all had quite a bit in common.
We knew what it was like to drive around in the middle of the night looking for our child. We knew the frustration of dealing with the police. We all have been stretched financially to pay for lawyers, doctors, court costs, rehab, and other medical expenses. We've all cashed in our kid's savings accounts, investments, and college funds to pay for legal fees.
We've dealt with punched-in walls, doors, physical confrontations, threats by the hands of our own children. We hide our money and jewelry in our own homes. We've changed the locks on the doors.
And, we'd all had been to court too many times and been further humiliated, criticized, questioned, accused by insensitive judges and clueless assistant state's attorneys.
When I returned to court a few weeks ago, the assistant state's attorney withdrew an attempt to increase the amount which the judge said I "should" pay. That came after an "understanding" that I would just pay what I could afford on my part-time salary. They wouldn't hold me in contempt of court. And they wouldn't bother to go after the deadbeat Holy Ghost because they didn't have the resources and because the deadbeat lives out of state.
As I mentioned before, this wasn't a Virgin Birth. There was a sperm donor and I am not the only legally responsible party to this minor child. I've paid. I've been there. I'm done pulling the cart; I'm done carrying the water.
I'm not going to pay when the courts fail to acknowledge that "parents" means a mother and a father. Not when the assistant state's attorney ignored a court order to get the father in court, claiming she doesn't have the resources.
Neither do I. So crucify me.
Along with my joint custody papers, I guess I'll start carrying a toothbrush.