Original story from IMBY.com: https://imby.com/hudson/article/my-mothers-day-gift/
My mother always said that the “personal is political”, a slogan from the Italian feminist movement she became part of while growing up in Rome. As a relatively private person, I never wanted to mix the two. Sadly, the consequences of a six-year divorce saga between my mother and her ex-husband, my father, have shown me how corruption and greed, rampant in the divorce “industry”, can seep into a family and destroy it, financially and emotionally.
My father began divorce proceedings in 2015, a settlement agreement was signed in January 2018, and yet he is still pursuing litigation. Every divorce is unique and comes with its own issues, but this divorce has been an especially good example of the advantage that belongs to the monied spouse, especially with respect to using the legal system.
Divorce lawyers are notoriously expensive and can be used as muscle in litigation or just the threat of litigation. This happened consistently in my parents’ divorce. The monied spouse (my father) would hire his attorney to litigate, exaggerating differences in disputes that could have been resolved by him and my mother. Bringing the legal system into personal disagreements turned small arguments into brutal legal action and imposed major financial, mental, and emotional distress, not only on my mother, but on my entire family.
My mother tried to avoid going to court at all costs for several good reasons, including the major financial and emotional expense notorious in divorce court proceedings. This was especially true in my mother’s case, given the history of the unethical judge ruling their divorce.
This judge is infamous for screaming at defendants in court, favoring the monied spouse, and ignoring threats of domestic violence. This was true not only in my mother’s case, but in hundreds of others as well, as detailed in this petition with over 1000 signatures calling for her removal from the bench.
My mother was traumatized by her appearances in this judge’s courtroom and still suffers from PTSD from those terrorizing moments. I have sadly witnessed this myself many times. Whenever she would receive a notice to appear, she would break down in fear and experience panic attacks. The degree of emotional and financial pain inflicted by an unsympathetic court system was shocking.
That my father brought my mother back to court after the divorce agreement had been signed, over a dispute that in my opinion, could and should have been handled privately, only added insult to injury. While these types of discussions are no doubt difficult, they are far better than litigation, which should always be a last resort. The court appearances destroyed my mother emotionally and as a result, my father was awarded receivership of the property in dispute, our family’s country home, which includes a house designed by my parents, and a land art project called Sun Farm.
Sun Farm was begun by both my parents, each of whom devoted a significant portion of the last fifteen years to transforming a barren 60-acre parcel into something beautiful and meaningful.
The original settlement agreement included a clause stating that the property was to be subdivided, so that the house and some of the land could be sold and the art could be retained by my mother, who planned to create a nonprofit art center for the community to use and enjoy. When my father was awarded receivership in the most recent court decision, he decided, without consulting my mother, to sell the property as a whole, including everything he and my mother created there.
‘Sun Farm’ holds deep meaning for my mother and she has done and continues to do everything in her power to prevent its sale. Unfortunately, she has no power. My father holds all the cards.
The judicial system creates a culture that feeds greed, not only of attorneys, but of all those who stand to gain from the assets of the divorcing couple, which, in this case, has included real estate agents intent on getting their percentage.
My mother is not the only victim of this toxic culture. As witness to the dramatic toll it has taken on her mental and physical health, it has deeply affected me. My sister and I have spent countless hours trying to broker a negotiation between our parents, but my father is unwilling even to discuss it. This reveals a degree of greed in him that I have never seen. I am not only deeply disappointed but outraged that a work of art that has been documented and acclaimed can be destroyed because of it. I realize that isn’t new, but I never imagined I would see it in my own family.
I have so much love for both my parents. Their marriage brought my sister and me into the world and raised us to appreciate art and architecture and nature. Their marriage also created something like a third child in Sun Farm. My wish for them is that they find happiness and hope they can eventually move on from this horrible chapter in our lives without further legal entanglement or harassment. Their divorce has been a defining factor in my life. The damage done to all of us, as individuals, and as a family, is permanent.
In this era of COVID-19, we should all be taking the time to reflect on the vulnerability of human life, which ought to bring with it the lesson of choosing human compassion over material greed. But I have to face the terrible fact that my father hasn’t learned that lesson.
The lesson I have learned is the one my mother taught me. The lesson embedded in those four words: The personal is political. To make things change, you must start from your personal narrative. The telling of a multitude of personal narratives can become the agent for global transformation. I wrote this essay as a gift to her this Mother’s Day.