It’s the ninth day of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Today’s In His Own Words is about Dirk’s marriage and divorce from a violent wife who was enabled in wreaking destruction and highway robberyby Family Court.
My ex-wife and I met online in 2000. She seemed very intelligent, having graduated summa cum laude from an Ivy League school and also having a law degree from the one of the best law schools in the world, in a field in which the degree-granting institute determines the trajectory of one’s career. She said she had saved enough money to quit her high-stress job (12 hours a day) on the partner track at one of the most powerful law firms in the world in order to have children, either from a sperm bank or by finding a husband.
She said that she wanted to be engaged within 3 months of the first date. I told her that it would be better to take a bit longer and she agreed to a 6-month extension. She said that her goals were to deliver a baby, buy a new home, move to a new city, and get a new job, all within 12 months of the wedding. She got a new job and we had a baby, moved into a new home four days later, and celebrated our first wedding anniversary four days after that.
After getting pregnant, my ex-wife claimed that she wanted a unique arrangement for our finances. Having significantly higher income than me, she said that she wanted to have us pay equal amounts for monthly expenses and shield all other excess income from the family in personal accounts. She said that she would never deposit her paycheck into a joint account. I told her that did not constitute a real marriage and she said that if I did not agree she would get divorced and take the baby to another state.
I told her that I did not feel that it was appropriate to deprive a child from an intact family. I could not force her to contribute financially to the marriage, but she did agree that we would each contribute an amount of money to cover our half of expenses every month. Beyond that, she said that our finances would otherwise be separate, including retirement funds contributed during the marriage.
After this, she stopped working full time but continued to pay for her half of monthly expenses. She said that she would always work less than me in order to get sole custody when she was ready to divorce me. Eventually, she stopped contributing to her retirement account, stating that she would not contribute anything to the children’s college accounts. She said that as long as our money was “separate” and that she was still paying half of all monthly expenses, then I had no business concerning myself with whether she was working full time or not, or whether she was contributing to her retirement account.
During the next few years, she became violent.
First, she threw a glass at my head. I was seated at dinner with her, my mother, and our new baby. The baby was wailing and my mother was crying at this horrifying scene. I told her to never throw a glass at my head again. One may wonder what would cause a woman to be so violent.
We were having a discussion about day care. Evidently, she had hired a nanny to work four days a week, even though my ex-wife only worked three days a week. I asked her why we would hire a nanny on my ex-wife’s day off, with half the expense charged to me. She said that for her to truly have a day off, she would have to be away from the child and not working and I had to pay half. I didn’t agree. She threw a glass at my head.
In response to the second act of violence, I simply walked out of the house and stayed the night at a hotel. When I returned in the morning, she was packing up the kids to take them to another state. I did not say anything because I knew that she would get violent again. Minutes after she left, I left a message on her cell phone telling her to return the children. She did not return my call for three days. When she did, she said that she never had to return the children because there is no such thing as legally kidnapping in marriage. She drove back with the kids after two more days.
At the time that she became pregnant with our third baby, she said that she would not work at all ever again for the rest of her life after the baby was born and I would have to pay her half of the monthly expenses, plus an additional personal allowance. When I told her that I would not do this, she became violent again. I told her that I was going to phone the police.
As I walked toward the phone, she ran to the phone and called the police who came to the house and separately interviewed us. The police then said that we should find places in the house to cool off and go to sleep. I told the police that I felt that she would be violent again. The police offered to help me by taking me to a shelter. I told them that it didn’t make sense for the victim to have to leave.
I asked them where the children would be. The police said that the children would stay in the house with the perpetrator. I told them that this did not make any sense at all. I asked them what would happen if I were the perpetrator. They said that they would then arrest me and take me away. You see, it has nothing to do with who is the victim or who is the perpetrator. It has to do with who is the man and who is the woman.
Meanwhile, I had saved a considerable amount of my “excess” money. I told my ex-wife that I wanted to use it to pay off the mortgage if she would pay a similar amount from her savings. She claimed that her down-payments on the houses were her contributions to the marriage and that she should not have to make any further contributions for the mortgage. Further, if I wanted to use my money to pay the full remaining balance on the house, then I could do so as a match to what she contributed in the down payments. I paid off the house.
My ex-wife filed for divorce in early 2012, after threatening divorce hundreds of times during the previous 11 years. Her decision was unilateral and she had several reasons each week why she said that she had filed. Eventually, she said it was a big mistake. She asked me all the way up to the trial to stay married.
I told her that if she wanted to stay married that she could withdraw her divorce claim in court. She said that she would not do that because I had not fully convinced her to stop the divorce and she wanted it to be as painful as possible for me if I could not convince her to stop it. She told me that she wanted me to be like Steve Carell’s character in the movie, “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” by wooing her to fall in love with me again. I told her that was “Crazy,” “Stupid,” and anything but “Love.”
As she did many times in marriage, she threatened that she would seek sole custody and take the children to another state, ensuring that they would not be allowed to see their father, except for five days every two years (every other Christmas). Her lawyer eventually told her that even a serial killer gets more custody, so she offered every other weekend and a happy meal on Wednesdays. Once more, people (like the Judge) told her what would likely be the case, so she added an overnight. Eventually, after 22 months and a total of $200K in legal fees and temporary maintenance, she agreed to 50/50 after talking with the children’s attorney who said that the Judge is a firm believer in 50/50 shared parenting. We had temporary 50/50 shared parenting during the 22 months of the divorce, when we lived in the same house. This became permanent as the divorce decree was signed in late 2013.
In the end, I received no credit for paying off the mortgage. My ex-wife wanted all her “separate” money back, but she only got 1/10th of what she wanted because the rest was comingled with marital funds. My ex-wife had spent all her “separate” money and/or deposited it in hidden accounts (that we could not prove). She got half of my retirement contributions during marriage. I got half of hers, but the amount was intentionally small, given that she stopped contributing at some point.
During the divorce, she refused to work more than about half time. We make an identical pay rate per hour, but I make almost double the income because I work full time (plus overtime that was imputed to me). Because of this “apparent difference in income,” my ex-wife was awarded $500K in child support. Note that in my state, there is no modification to child support based on 50/50 shared parenting. Instead, it is calculated as if the person with lower income has sole custody, but with a double-whammy of a wrinkle – that is I was also ordered to pay for children’s expenses while they are with me 50% of the time.
Despite the fact that most of her scams worked, my ex-wife is now extremely angry about having any job at all and about the custody arrangement. She says that “she lost” and thinks it is horrible. Just after “losing” the custody “battle,” she began a campaign of parental alienation. She has convinced at least eight families in the community to forbid their children from spending time with my children on my parenting time. This is especially difficult for the children because my ex-wife schedules nearly 100% of their free time with those children on her parenting time in an attempt to strengthen the relationships between those children and my children. This charade is obvious to the children because their friends tell them that their parents told them to stay away from my children on my parenting time. There are psychological problems brewing in this picture.
While some might mistake my ex of being a poor little woman who deserves all the financial help she can get, note that she made more money than me for the majority of the marriage (even though she worked part time) because she is a high powered attorney with a diamond-studded academic pedigree. Her full time income is above $200K/year. Now, one can see the source of the so-called “wage gap.” It simply reflects the choices of middle-to-upper income women who unilaterally choose to work far less than full time in order to win sole custody of their children and maximize their children support (a.k.a. “alimony”).
It was crucial in my case that the Judge awarded 50/50 shared parenting in temporary orders. The following two years demonstrated that the parenting time was wonderful for the children, making a permanent order very easy. Without 50/50 on a temporary basis, one could have argued that 50/50 on a permanent basis would have been a “change” of the temporary parenting time arrangement, and courts generally don’t like to impose change on children.
Perhaps most important, if my state had a legal presumption of 50/50 shared parenting, then I think that my ex-wife would not have battled for so long, at outrageous expense to the children. She always told me what she learned in law school: there is no justice, fairness, morality, or ethics in law, there is only what you can get up to the limit of the extremes of the law. There was no law that presumed shared parenting, so she pushed all she could. In the end, she lost, and the kids won (minus a few hundred thousand dollars that was going to pay for their college).
Finally, I understand that my story of my kids now having 50/50 shared parenting sounds like a fairy tale to most children of divorce. The vast majority of such children are only allowed to see their father four days a month. Without fathers in their lives, the outcomes for these children are dismal. A legal presumption of 50/50 shared parenting would save these children.
There are few things more pernicious than to continually use someone’s love for their children to beat them (literally) into submission. While my story does not contain bruises or broken bones, it contains something far worse – years of intentional psychological abuse that enforced a hierarchy of power through the continuous exercise of terror.
When it came time to plead with the Judge that my ex-wife should be expected to have a full time job instead of a part time job, the Judge responded by saying that I had accepted the fact that my ex-wife would only work half time for the rest of her life because I “allowed” her to do that during marriage. If I really did not want it that way, then I would have filed for divorce (and ripped apart an intact family for my children). Imagine a woman being told, “Well, he beat you during marriage, and you did not divorce him. Therefore, you enjoy beatings. Now, I shall order that you be beaten for the rest of your life after divorce.”
Straight from the horse’s or rather an attorney’s mouth: “There is no justice, fairness, morality, or ethics in law, there is only what you can get up to the limit of the extremes of the law.” Dirk, thank you for sharing your story. I am delighted for both you and your children that you have shared custody. Thank you also, for the very important advice to other father’s fighting to get 50/50 temporary custody.
In His Own Words/In Her Own Words is an effort to help raise awareness about the invisible victims of domestic violence, men. If you would like to submit your story, please follow the guidelines at the end of this article.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. Coaching individuals through high-conflict divorce and custody cases is also an area of expertise. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for more information.
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