Going to court has never been a good experience. Divorce court was uneventful, but fraught with angst, just the same. This time, you are in court to get what rightfully belongs to your kids. Nearly a year ago, your ex reached critical mass and exploded in your kitchen. After talking it over with your boys, you understood why they thought he was planning to ditch them, that he was just looking for an excuse. All those times he urged them to take all their toys home, the missed holidays and weekends, no summer vacation—it all added up to a major shift in an already bad attitude. You are more than a little angry that he has avoided, for two years, paying his portion of the medical bills accrued from your then 11-year-old son’s 10-day stay in the hospital after attempting suicide. According to the agreement, all medical charges not paid by insurance are to be split 50/50. The hospital is still harassing you, even though you are paying them $200 a month for the rest of your life. Your attorney, Jack, is familiar with this pattern; “it’s time to haul his ass into court—before he moves out of town.”
Within six months of the big bang, you are in court for the first time. The thought of even having to share the same air he breathes leaves you nauseous. You and your attorney show up. Neither he nor his attorney makes an appearance; case continued until January. Jack knows the drill. You show up, they don’t, you pay your attorney for the time he spent. This can go on for months, until you either run out of money or just blink first. Jack will not let you blink. He will wait for his fees until he gets you a judgment. The game continues. Just before the January court date, there’s a message on your answering machine: case continued until February 20, at which her honor will be expecting all parties to appear for trial.
You half expected this, but you are delighted to know that the judge who will hear the case does not like deadbeat dads. You try to prepare for trial, both mentally and with physical evidence. You have saved every EOB from the insurance company since the day the boys were first covered by their father’s policy. You have circled the amount you owe, noted in red the amounts you have paid and you have the canceled checks in a bright yellow #10 envelope. In another bright yellow #10, you have all the canceled checks from all the medical expenses not covered, but which you have paid. You have copies of every support check and your bank statements showing deposits.
The third week of February, you go to court. Even before you can see him in the waiting area, you smell him. You were together for 16 years; you know that smell. You try not to breathe too deeply. You and Jack take a seat across the waiting area. He’s putting on a real show. He has what’s left of his thin, mouse brown hair secured in a scraggly pony tail. Attired in a ratty flannel shirt with holes in the elbows, jeans with holes in the knees, and his college era, scuffed, dirty combat boots with the holes in the soles. He’s playing poor. Your attorney nudges you and whispers that he will be right back. You busy yourself going over all your paperwork. When the doors open, everyone files into the courtroom. Where’s your attorney? You don’t know where to sit. You hesitate and then, out of the corner of your eye, you see him enter from another door with “Private” stenciled in gold letters, outlined in black. He sits down and motions you over to sit next to him.
You take the stand first, while your attorney gives the judge a folder with all your paperwork and accounting records and asks you to state your first and last name and in simple terms, your reason for coming to court today. You explain about the missed support, the medical bills, the scene in your kitchen nearly a year ago and his subsequent disappearance; how you voluntarily reduced the child support by nearly a third six years ago when he said he just wasn’t making enough. As you speak, you can see him becoming increasingly agitated. He keeps shaking his head and whispering to his attorney. The judge issues him a warning. She asks you some questions and then, it’s their turn.
Opposing counsel gets up, swaggers to the dock and begins questioning you about the nature of the “so-called” medical bills. And isn’t it true that you threatened your ex-husband with a kitchen knife when he came to your home to pick up the children on Saturday, March 4, 1995?” You want to laugh out loud, but you answer as Jack has previously instructed. “No sir, that is not true.” On his advice, you have photographed the knife against a tape measure. He has the photo in his stack of papers. He holds it out, the bailiff takes and hands it to the judge. She looks it over and then asks to hear your version of the event. After a few more questions, you are excused.
Your ex steps up to the dock. Your attorney reminds you to say nothing and show no sign of emotion. Her honor begins by asking your ex for his W2. He does not have it. Did he receive one? Yes, but he hasn’t opened it. How much did he make last year? He doesn’t know. “Sir, do you honestly expect me to believe that you have not looked at your W2 to see whether it’s correct? …Did you bring a check stub or anything at all with you to court?” He pulls out last month’s pay stub from his ancient wallet. The bailiff brings it to the judge. His attorney asks him some questions and then he introduces the argument that the “so-called” medical expenses are not really medical in nature, they are actually for mental health, which is covered by a different provider, and are therefore, not medical expenses. The judge’s head jerks up. With a disbelieving glare, she says, “Sir, are you trying to tell this court that that young man’s head is no longer attached to the rest of his body?” The courtroom erupts in laughter. Jack kicks your shoe as a reminder to play like a stone. Now it’s his turn to ask questions. “No questions, your honor.”
After a short recess, the judge returns, pounds the gavel and announces that she has rendered a judgment. Your anxiety skyrockets. What if she sides with them? What if she reduces the support amount? You look over at your ex, who appears especially agitated. The gavel pounds again. “Judgment entered in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $37,500, $9000 of which will cover past due medical expenses.” You exhale deeply. She has extrapolated from his last paycheck the progression of his income over the seven years since the divorce. You are stunned to discover that he is making $110,000 a year, nearly $70,000 more than he has claimed all along. Not only has the judge compensated you for the years of reduced support (in the absence of any legal document reducing the amount), but she has increased the amount of his monthly obligation in keeping with the 20% rule. As if on cue, his attorney jumps up from his chair. “That’s not fair, your honor!” She tells him that if he doesn’t sit down and be quiet, she will find him in contempt of court.
The court will garnish your ex’s wages until the judgment is satisfied. The gavel pounds and you heave an enormous sigh of relief. The nausea you felt has dissipated, replaced by sheer elation. You steal a glance over at your ex; his attorney’s hand is on his arm, as if to restrain him, and he’s not looking too well. You want to leave before he does, before he has the chance to make a scene, but there are too many people ahead of you. He and his attorney exit first. Jack tries to shield you, but as you walk through the door, crazy man is up in your face, eyes bugging out, forehead vein popped out, spittle collecting in the corners of his mouth. Too late, his attorney attempts to restrain him.”LYING CUNT!” he hisses through clenched teeth. As Jack takes your arm to steer you down the hall, you turn back, smile and give him a coy little wave. You are so done.
Karma does have a way of coming around.