I remember in my first semester of law school being in property class. One of my fellow students was answering the professor’s question. They grilled us pretty hard. The Socratic Method. My classmate made an error. They had said,
“Well, that’s not fair!”
My instructor paused for a moment. Chuckled. And then replied. “I was wondering how long it would be before someone used the ‘F’ word. If you’re going to argue that something is not ‘fair,’ then you have to tell me why it is not ‘legally fair’.”
Her voice was becoming more distant. It faded away into the blur. My head felt like it was going to explode. My heart pounding. Hard to catch my breath. The room was whiting out.
The anger inside was rising, and at the same time tears were running down my cheeks. “Get out! Get out!” My inner voice was screaming! “Don’t say anything!” “Run!” “Run!”
I stumbled back down the hallway, away from my daughter’s bedroom. Found the front door of the home I no longer lived in, and was back out in the fresh air. My ex had followed, saying something that I couldn’t piece together.
I turned and found myself yelling, “I should just break your fucking neck!”
She started screaming back at me, but I just got in my car and drove away.
I can’t think of any other time when I felt this much pain. Certainly not when I broke my ankle. Not when I blew out a disk in my lower spine. And not when other relationships had come to an end either. This time was different. My daughter had been taken away from me and my heart was shattered into a million pieces.
And you see it was Christmas time.
The first Christmas following our divorce. And my ex was showing me, proudly, loudly, braggingly showing me, all of the Christmas presents she had showered our three-year-old daughter with. Presents she had purchased with money I had earned, not her, while I was only left with enough of a monthly income to afford to buy my daughter one gift. A puzzle. And I was lucky to have been able to afford that.
This is something I would never quite recover from. That separation. And many precious moments would be lost as the years went by. Time I couldn’t share with my daughter. Time where I would miss out on watching her grow up. And that time was a lot more important than gifts. Or money. Or anything else. And that time was stolen from my daughter and me.
Once gone, it’s gone. You don’t get do-overs.
Why? It was no fault of mine. I had done absolutely nothing wrong. It was because my ex decided to breach our marriage contract and cheat on me. Multiple times. Discard her spouse but take his money. Was that the plan all along? It sure felt that way. And later she would say something that seemed to confirm just that.
In the first two parts of this series I tried to explain some of the intricacies and history surrounding marriage. Myths that lead us here, and the legal trap that ensnares us afterwards. The trap that most people have little understanding of. They don’t see it coming. And chances are, they had no way to prepare for it.
It’s a two-way trap. And you’ll no doubt hear horror stories from both men and women. About how they were taken advantage of and how they were left destitute. Or worse, how their children were taken, and then used as weapons. Over and over again.
Family law is not “fair.” At least not ‘fair’ in any common sense usage of the term. The ‘F’ word doesn’t apply. It’s a non-starter.
And who does marriage law really protect? From my experience, it protects the State, and it provides an avenue for biased judges to take revenge upon unsuspecting parties. If you get a judge that hates your sex, or who has been in a bad relationship. Look out!
They’ll bury you.
But it’s usually the men who find themselves at the receiving end of that bias. Maybe some deserve it. Maybe not. I certainly didn’t.
Here’s why it works that way . . .
What’s happening relates back to the historic societal gender roles for men and women. Women were essentially victimized in the past, and to some degree, this victimization continues.
Women were given second-class status. Treated as property. And not allowed to be independent or care for themselves. Consequently, if couples split up back then, the woman didn’t have any means to support herself economically. And if she maintained custody of any children from the marriage, well who was going to take care of them?
Time to hit the men. Now it’s their turn to be the victim.
You could argue that family law was ‘fairer’ back then. It recognized the unequal status women had and it was highly geared to ensure they were taken care of.
And men do need to be responsible for their acts. For entering into marriage and for having children. Absolutely. No question about this. If you take this responsibility on, grow a pair, buck up, and pay up.
But enter modernity. Society is different. A lot different . People have evolved. Gender roles have changed. The law hasn’t. Not much anyway. The law evolves slowly.
While there are still issues surrounding equal pay and equal promotions for women in the workplace, women are no longer fully dependent upon their spouses for their livelihood. Many are totally self-sufficient and even the primary breadwinner for the family. And it’s also arguable today as to whom is the better childcare provider and who should get primary child custody.
But those issues, those evolutions, those realities, don’t count for much under the slow-moving law.
In my state, when I went through my first divorce, I told by the attorneys, straight up, that there was absolutely no way in Hell that I could possibly get child custody. The women always get child custody, unless you can prove them to be unfit, and that’s not easy to do. And money follows the child. Automatically, that meant I’d have to pay child support. Then there was the issue of maintenance. Alimony. And that word basically has the word “money” in it.
And I mentioned that it was my wife who breached the marriage contract by having multiple affairs, first with men, then women. But as you remember from Part 2 of this series, marriage contracts don’t really have the essential elements required to make them a legal and binding contract in the first place. The State simply declares it’s a contract. And there are no specific terms to alert you to when there is a breach of that “contract.”
So how can I claim breach?
And the fact is, the State doesn’t give a shit. This state, like most others, is a no-fault state.*** They don’t care why the marriage failed. When one does, it has all just become a numbers game. How to divide up the property and the kids. And those assets may include things you never considered. Surprise!
And, more importantly, the State wants to be sure that the State doesn’t have to take care of anybody. The State doesn’t like wards. The State doesn’t like burdens.
The State is a cold, ubiquitous, entity that inserts itself into every social situation because it has the police power to regulate the health, welfare, safety, peace, comfort and public morals of its citizens. The State is charged with the mission of “protecting the public” by regulating “all threats” harmful to the “public interest.” And the “public interest,” and any “threat” to it, are whatever the State declares them to be.
And the State is certainly not fair . . .
* All disclaimers from my previous posts on this topic apply.
Prior posts include:
** Next time, more about my situation, the law, and maybe we’ll get as far as my second divorce.
*** I should note that my state is really what is technically called a “modified no-fault state.” That essentially means that a finding to support the divorce is usually made, and it can be the fault of one party. Also, a judge may consider the parties’ behavior when awarding custody, property, etc. However, the way things usually play out is that a finding of “irretrievably broken” is made, regardless of the how, and behavior takes a back seat in awards as property is usually split to favor the party having child custody.
I’m trying to avoid being unnecessarily complicated here, but happy to go further down the rabbit hole if anyone has any questions.
Photo: This pic was appropriate for a couple of reasons. It represents the time period I was talking about in relation to my first divorce, Christmas. And it represents what marriage, sadly, boils down to when it fails, a trip to the bank.