Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Alimony Victim #2 - A Second Wife's Indignation

My husband was sentenced to permanent alimony in 1998 (he couldn't afford an attorney when he went for his divorce, his ex-wife got hers pro-bono and the court then charged my husband her fees). The alimony payment is $700.00 per month for the rest of her life PLUS we have to pay for full medical insurance coverage for her - permanently.

My husband lost his job and has been out of work - actively seeking a job for more than 3 years since his unemployment ran out. Last year he received notice of a hearing on contempt for non-payment of alimony. Venue is across the state (of Florida) and he couldn't get transportation (our 2nd car was repossesed). He had an attorney (borrowed money from family for that) and the attorney requested that we be allowed to appear by telephone. Her request was denied. My husband missed the hearing, and his attorney refused to travel without a large payment, so he was found IN CONTEMPT and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

After ducking and hiding in our own home for months, he turned himself in to XXXX County to see if he could prove to a judge his inability to pay. Our finances were a mess - it should have been a no-brainer.

When he turned himself in, he was immediately hand cuffed behind his back. When asked when we could appear before the judge, there was no answer. They subsequently told my husband he "might" see a judge in a couple of weeks!! He only went to turn himself in because we thought the law said you MUST have the right to appear before a judge within 48 hours of being jailed; you know, due process, and all that? Well, we were laughed at. Due process? Apparently only in CRIMINAL cases. This was a CIVIL case. And what about "an attorney will be provided for you if you cannot afford one?" Again, only in CRIMINAL cases. In fact, we had been told by an attorney that if he robbed a bank to steal the money and then turned himself in, he'd stand a better chance of avoiding jail time!!!

I was told by the officers at the jail that if you're in on a civil matter and have no attorney to request a hearing, then there is no time frame on when you might see a judge. I was shocked, and appalled. Because we were from out of town and my husband from jail can only make collect calls - AND cell phones don't (under any circumstances!) accept collect calls - we had no communication. In desperation, I again borrowed money (from my aging parents on social security who were there for moral support) and got an attorney. The attorney was able to procure a hearing for us the next day.

At the hearing, I explained to the judge that I bought our home months before we got married with funds from my previous marriage, and the house was in my name only. Although I had some equity built up, we couldn't get a home equity loan because of our poor credit. Our "purge amount" was $10,000.00 -- it might just as well have been a million. We were behind in all of our bills, our credit was destroyed, and we were hanging onto our house by a thread (with funds from my $15.00 an hour job only.) We were armed with proof of all of this - late fees, cut off notices, reposession papers for our car, etc., etc.

After hearing about our financial situation, the judged banged his gavel and sentenced my husband to 180 days (6 months!) in jail for contempt until he came up with $10,000.00 cash, at which time he would STILL owe the back due amount and still be required to keep paying the $700 plus medical every month. A big guard grabbed my handcuffed and SHACKLED husband - who was in a state of shock, and dragged him away. He looked at me with disbelief. This couldn't be happening!

I cried uncontrollably during the long 4-hour drive home. My parents were heartbroken for us. When I got home, I spoke to my husband for the first time since this ordeal began a week earlier. He said he was desperate, pleading for me to find a way to get him out. He couldn't even tell me the horrors that he was experiencing in jail. There was only one thing I could do - sell our family home. I called everyone I knew to borrow money, promising to sell my house and pay them back. My children sat in stunned silence. Thank God for friends and family who pulled together for us - about 25 of them came up with the $10,000.00 that we needed for the purge. Our house went on the market that week, and sold thereafter.

We now have to pay a monthly rent that is MUCH higher than the mortgage on our modest home, and we're lucky that this landlord did not check our credit or we'd be out on the street. We cannot qualify to buy a home because of our ruined credit. We can't file for bankruptcy to erase our past bills because the attorneys said the courts would go after the people who lent us money that we paid back. I just got my real estate license. If we don't start making
money soon, we're sunk.

Here's the real kicker ~ Do you remember the story of the girl XXXX XXXX who was kidnapped and murdered in XXXX this summer? A terrible tragedy. The guy who did it had a rap sheet two arms long. Apparently, just days before he'd been released from jail. Everyone wanted to know why a judge would let him go free to kill this poor young girl. The judge - one XXXX XXXX who had transferred into criminal court from family court - responded "I could not hold him for not having the ability to pay his court fees - - that would be the equivalent of DEBTORS' PRISON - which we do not
have in this country." We can't confine a murderer? I guess not.

Judge XXXX XXXX -- the SAME judge who issued the contempt order to jail my innocent husband for his inability to pay $700.00 per month for the rest of his life to his ex-wife who refuses to go out and work. My law-abiding, good citizen, accountant husband whose biggest crime was that he stayed in a bad marriage long enough for his kids to be grown, to have a decent chance at life. The judge's response? If it was that bad, you would have left a long time ago. And his adult kids? They don't even speak to him - haven't in six long years. His ex-wife fed them a diet of pure hatred for their
father, and it stuck.

This story is unbelievable but true.

So, I ask, whatever happened to equal rights? Aren't we all equally capable of earning a living, whether man or woman? Once the kids aren't involved, why should one support the other? We need to be able to move forward, to get on with our lives and our futures. Personally I think divorce is reprehensible. But when it is unavoidable, when two people just will not work together, one must be able to pursue happiness, and without a financial ball and chain around one's neck.

I was a divorced woman with children - - I got no alimony. I don't even get child support. Why? Because I went before the judge and told him "we're both capable of working, I don't want any money. We'll both take good care of these children." As long as my ex-husband participates in the boys lives and provides for them when they stay with him, what more should I be asking for? We share custody, every other week. It requires that we live near each
other, that we agree on major decisions in their lives, and that we discuss and agree upon any possible relocation. It's a small price to pay to keep the children emotionally well. We all have free choice, and we should choose to be decent, respectable adults who put the children's needs first. They didn't choose this mess, we did. They have no one to look out for them except us, the parents. We should act accordingly. Adult spouses, on the other hand, whether wives or husbands, should be able to take care of themselves.

PS. I was a full time college student but had to drop to ½ time (and lose my full scholarship) while I pursue making some money selling real estate. My major in school is pre-law. If I ever get the chance to get through law school and pass the bar, I'm going to spend the rest of my days fighting against the ridiculous and inhumane practice of putting people in jail because they can't afford court ordered payments.