As many of us who are divorced already know, the court proceedings and its accompanying rulings are often not the end of the battle. In fact, they are frequently the kindling that ignites the fires that our exes start burning almost the moment we leave the courtroom with our divorce papers in hand.
What do you do when your ex-husband uses your court orders as toilet paper? No. Really. It’s not a rhetorical question. I’m asking you. What do you do? Because it’s been happening to me for over six years now and I’m running out of solutions. After spending a million dollars in court fighting back, I’m also starting to run out of funds. So, what do you do?
Who are you? Because it matters. If you’re a lawyer, I challenge you to tell me how to fight back without heading back to court. You are trained to use the law and the courtroom to defend me, and would probably direct me back there. And you would be right. And I have done this. I have done this so many times that I have spent over five years in court. I have won more hearings, modified more court orders, and spent more money, than a person should have to in her lifetime. Yet, here I am and nothing has changed.
If you’re a judge, I defy you to write a court order that would enable me to never have to see you again. No offense. I actually like some of you a lot. But, as much as you don’t want to see me back in your courtroom, I need to tell you that the feeling is 100% mutual. When you’re up there chastising me about not being able to solve my own problems outside of your courtroom, do you really think that I want to be in there in the first place? When I already know that I have not broken a law, or a court order, but he has? And guess what else I know? I know that he doesn’t give a damn what you say. I know that we will leave your courtroom like nothing ever happened. I know because this is my life.
Is it yours? Are you an ex-wife who lives this life, too? Did you divorce a classic narcissist who also believes that the laws of our nation were written for the common folk and do not apply to him? Did you divorce someone who thinks he can do what he wants and never get caught? Never face consequences? Did you come from abuse like I did, and now face someone who is so intent on continuing to abuse you that he will risk anything, including defying court orders, just to continue to make your life miserable? I know how you feel. I lived with abuse for twenty years. Then I learned that it doesn’t change when you leave. It just changes shape – abuse through the court system, abuse from a distance, abuse using the kids as weapons to hurt you.
As I see it, six years and so many attempts at living a normal life later, we have three options. And if you see one that I missed – lawyers, judges, ex-spouses – by all means, please let me know. I don’t proclaim to have every answer. This is what drives my dedication to uniting us, all victims and survivors of domestic abuse (SODAs®), to forming a charity that will help change the laws that are not yet supporting us, and aligning with those organizations already in place and doing the work that is changing and saving lives every day. I’m not just pointing out the problems, I am advocating to solve them, too.
So what are our three options?
1. We continue to be bullied by our ex-spouses or bankrupted by the court process.
I understand how you feel if you have given up the fight. When your ex-spouse is simply ignoring court orders and you are about to, or have, run out of funds, what are you supposed to do? You have left your marriage, you have gone through a divorce, you are trying to start over, no doubt you are attempting to heal, and the bullying continues not only with a vengeance, but with a defiance that is awe-inspiring. You simply cannot believe that anyone on the face of this planet could be so brazen and so uncaring about breaking the rules of the court. Getting up and fighting back is incredibly difficult at this point. Your money is getting tighter. In most cases you are now a single parent. How much have you already spent in court? And, you’ve already won. So, why do you have to go back? It is so much easier to give in. That leads to a significant question – AT WHAT COST?
2. We fight back on a case-by-case basis until we run out of energy.
There is a two-pronged strategy that I employ that sometimes does the trick – attack the issue from both sides. The proactive – I send my court orders out in advance to all those who need to abide by them so they are informed of the rules up front: schools, doctors, dentists, and religious organizations that we interact with. Reactive – once your ex-spouse disregards those court orders, you can inform the involved parties and remind them of what is supposed to happen. However, when you have a defiant ex-spouse who will push the limits of a ruling, or a ruling that is written in a manner that is not explicitly clear, you walk into a whole new level of hell trying to have your court orders followed. You chase this process until one day you just drop because your energy is spent and you wonder if it’s worth the fight any longer. I know because I live this too. The best I can do when this happens is keep sending the orders around and asking others to do their jobs. Never easy, always involving a lot of my time and effort, again, at what cost – AT WHO’S COST?
3. WE TURN TO THE COURTS AND ASK THEM TO DO BETTER FOR US – WHEN WE ARE IN THERE THE FIRST TIME.
I posed two questions: AT WHAT COST? AT WHO’S COST? Who pays in the end for the bad behavior of our ex-spouses? I don’t even have to answer this, but for the pure satisfaction of all of us seeing it in print I will: WE DO – and so do our children. If mom is upset, our children know. If mom can’t pay for the doctors or the camps or the clubs or the whatevers, our children know. Our children know more than we want them too. So, we all pay for the idiocy, arrogance, brazenness, retaliatory, and self-centered behavior of our ex-spouses. So what can we do? Alone, we can continue to be bullied, go back to court and get bankrupted, or chase down each situation and try and fix it when it happens until we drop from exhaustion. What can we do together? Well, that’s a beautiful question. Together we can ask the courts to change the way they write orders THE FIRST TIME WE ARE THERE. This is not about gender bias. Anyone who gets a court order should get a court order written with consequences for breaking the order – men and women alike.
What do you think would happen if court rulings were written in a way that sanctions were involved and legal fees for breaking a court order were the responsibility of the offender? Do you think ex-spouses would be so willing to ignore them? Can you think of anything worse for a narcissist or an abuser than to have to pay money to us for breaking the rules? Wouldn’t that be enough to stop most of them in their tracks?
What would the process be? That’s the great thing. We already have the process. It’s our court system. The thing that they are currently using against us because they are getting away with it. We need to stop getting victimized and start becoming the heroes in our own lives. Then who wins? Us, and our children. And the court systems. And the lawyers, too. We would all start to function more efficiently, and feel better about our legal system, and the consequences for messing with it.
As with all problems in life, there is not one universal solution. But, what if this fixed a majority of the issues that we face with our ex-spouses post-divorce? What if it cut down on court costs for most of us? What if it reduced court hearings and court traffic so our judges could slow down and have more time to hear us the first time we were there? Rather than worrying about how many cases were left on their dockets that day, and trying to write our final rulings while we were still on the stands giving our testimony?
Most importantly, what if we could immediately move on with our new lives? What would that feel like? A brand new day? A peaceful existence? Oh hell yes. It’s due time for this change. We need the burden of the post-divorce legal process removed from our exhausted and overburdened shoulders – the weight that we carry is already too much to bear. The day is today. To support the legal advocacy project at The SODA Fund, Inc, please donate today.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse or domestic violence PLEASE visit THE NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE at: 1-800-799-7233 for more information, help, and to make a plan for your safety.
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See you here next week, same time same place!