’Men’s Rights’ In Divorce Court: When Domestic Violence Becomes Financial Abuse
By Ingrid Freer
I saw firsthand how the divorce court system caters to abusers at the literal expense of victims.
I n the summer of 2015, I turned 50 years old, feeling fit, strong and optimistic. Married, raising one child, I was enjoying a summer break from the school where I teach writing, and what a lovely, long break spread out ahead of me: After years of applying, and over 20 years of teaching, I’d been granted an academic sabbatical. When summer was over, I’d still be free. For the first time in my life I’d have an opportunity to write without going in to a day job, and I’d still have a paycheck, although it would be half of my usual salary. A sabbatical was a hard-won honor, a writer’s dream — my dream, attained.
Also, after a life of marginalized income, working in the arts and as an adjunct professor, earning poverty-level wages all too often, I finally had money in the bank. My goal was to support our child and create a stable life, for her sake. Money made my husband anxious. He was raised in poverty, by a single mother. As an adult it seemed he could never internalize any kind of financial security. For a decade I cushioned his anxieties. I often covered daily expenses so he could use his income, along with a portion of mine, to invest for our future. It was a balancing act, managing the short-term and the long-term, but we could do it by working as a team.
That’s how families function. He liked to move money around through accounts, as though soothing himself by monitoring the stock market. Over our years together, while I worked and raised our child, I’d also sold two books, one for a very small amount and a second for a six-figure deal. Then I’d managed to keep $65,000 in savings, after paying off debt and buying a reliable car. To me, that was a significant as well as improbable amount, making us part of the slimmer group in what now passes for the American middle class, with more than a month or two of wages in reserve.
I’d put that money aside by remaining frugal despite a windfall from the sale of my second book. I hoped we might travel. I thought we’d fix a hole we lived with, in our kitchen floor, where we’d taken a wall out and the subfloor showed through, and that subfloor was not complete. We could buy real water glasses and stop using jelly jars. To my mind, we had it made.
There was a time, decades earlier, when I had to withdraw a year early from high school. I graduated through the mail, because of difficulties at home. I worked at Burger King. I went to state schools. I hung out with the marginalized, in the world of punk rock, emancipated minors, junkies and artists, and in that fluid stew of ideas, expression and hard knocks, I engaged in the most accessible art form at hand, which demanded virtually no budget for supplies: I wrote stories. I kept writing for most of 30 years, until I sold the book that raised my family and me from poverty.
When I tell someone about my experiences with poverty, I’m met with a cascade of advice on how to do better.theestablishment.co
I wanted our daughter to have a better education than I had been afforded, the kind more readily recognized. I’d like her to be positioned to find work on a fragile planet, in whatever future economy comes about, and to perhaps contribute in a positive way to addressing the many perils that face humanity. She’s a smart kid. I hoped she’d actualize her abilities through education.
I’d raised our family finances accordingly.
Now, two years later my debt load is so great that I can’t always afford to put together even a meager school lunch for our daughter, as she makes her way through middle school. She carries a single nutritional bar, and a bag with a few chips. I struggle to afford shoes for her growing feet. Her arms are too long for last year’s winter coat. I can’t buy a new one. We’re counting our pennies. My salary is just over the margin that would allow us to participate in a free lunch program, but it isn’t enough to cover the interest on my bloated credit card debt.
Every day I ask myself how this has gone so wrong. I’m still financially cautious. We didn’t upgrade our home. We didn’t travel much of anywhere. We still have the same hole in the kitchen floor. We still use the same aging jars as glasses. I have no drug habits. I’ve had three drinks total over the past three or four months, on holidays. The answer to the problem of our poverty is a simple one, and common: domestic violence.
One can find more nuance to that answer by adding male entitlement, ego, and rage.
In the middle of that summer in 2015, as I turned 50, a small press publisher announced the future publication of my third book. It was a beautiful day, filled with kind words from supportive, loving friends. My husband, also an author, had two books out. His had seen no real sales.
I spent the day at work, then ran our child to swim team practice, and picked up and later dropped off her friend, fostering her social life. I was the primary caretaker and primary wage earner, and still I’d written a third book “on the side,” wherever the side was, in days and long nights of steady labor.
My husband came home that evening in a white-lipped rage.
There were only two significant events of the day: My next book was announced. My husband came home violently angry.
Cause and effect?
Male violence enacted in the domestic sphere is cliche. We’ve seen it in movies, TV, and literature: Dad comes home from work, picks a fight over dinner. Dad is angry. Dad prioritizes his feelings, his need for satisfaction, above all else. Dad disrespects the happiness of others.
We know the damage this gender-based paradigm of violence does to children, partners, and community.
I would think a writer would know the role so well that he’d refrain from becoming that particular cliche. One goal of literature is to deepen humanity and self awareness. Readers come to know how plots play out. My husband? He took on the role of angry patriarch as though he’d spent a lifetime studying it. Looming over our child, as she tried to eat dinner, he hissed, “Your mama…she gets away with too much.”
I was caught off guard. “Wha…t?”
He puffed up his chest and swirled a tumbler of white wine in one hand, then repeated himself. Later, in an e-mailed apology that was eerily lacking in self-awareness, he’d refer to this as offering our child “instruction.”
I would think a writer would know the role so well that he’d refrain from becoming that particular cliche.
I don’t care to recall the blow-by-blow. Suffice it to say, after being subjected to an expression of rage that followed us both, mother and child, through the house, that demanded attention and tried to incite violence, on into the night, eventually I left. I left the house, after a terrifying physical encounter in which he assaulted me on our back steps, over a pile of construction debris covered in rusted nails and wire. When I left, our child came with me. Of course she did. I wouldn’t have gone without her. She ran to the car ahead of me. Who would stay trapped in a house with an unstable, alcohol-fueled, violent man? She ran without hesitation. I unlocked the car doors as we ran, and locked them again fast, just as my husband, her father, pounded on the windows. That night our daughter was exposed to a level of irrational rage and male entitlement that no child needs to witness.
My husband apparently believed, as far as I can sort out from his actions, that he had a right to take out his creative ambition and frustration on my body, with his fists. By his words later, I’ve come to realize it was intentional that he acted this way in front of our child. The word haunts me: “Instruction”…
For our daughter’s well-being, even more than my own, once I left I stayed away.
According to reports, one in three women in our state faces violence in the home. One in three women is trying to make a life, while being battered. Most are also busy hiding it, at least for a while. All around, it’s no easy task.
My husband’s anger didn’t abate over the next five days. I stayed away, giving him most of a week to clear his head and calm down. Then I asked him to grant us space in the house by leaving for a bit. Our daughter needed to pick up a few things, safely and without arguing. I was aiming for the least dramatic approach to navigating our days. I’d allotted ample time for my husband to de-escalate his fury. After he refused my request for time alone in the house, I looked for another option, another way to enter the house without facing his violence: I filed for a restraining order. He was removed from our home by the police.
When my husband hired a lawyer to contest the restraining order, I was forced to hire a lawyer in response. I couldn’t adequately represent myself alone, while going up against a professional. The lawyer I retained advised me to file for divorce simultaneously. “You’ll have better luck in court,” she said. To file for divorce, along with the restraining order, would show that I was serious.
In my experience from that moment forward, carrying domestic violence into the courtroom creates what is politely, euphemistically perhaps, referred to under the umbrella of “contentious divorce.” That became a phrase I heard repeatedly: Contentious. It’s a word which points no fingers, and names no acts. It’s a word that situates itself between people or events, not looking in either direction, and so linked us, my ex and I, throughout proceedings, as though we were merely arguing. It seemed inadequate, perhaps disingenuous, in the way it smoothed over the surface, ignoring the distinct act of violence which had caused me to remove our child, and myself, from the home. The word made us both equals in our separation.
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In other words, with that soothing term, other than when speaking specifically about the restraining order, for the majority of our divorce the violence which led to a restraining order was held outside the door of the courtroom, and outside the conversation. One branch of court recognized the violent events and approved the restraining order, three years in a row; another arm of family court seemed to obliquely pretend, in silence, that the violence didn’t happen or somehow wasn’t a proven fact at all, though evidence of the restraining order remained on papers made available to the judge.
My husband retained two lawyers in succession. Both lawyers he selected worked with firms advertising under the banner of “Divorce For Men.” This is a specific corner of the divorce industry, linked in part, if not in entirety, to a “Men’s Rights” movement which perceives family law as leaning in favor of women and mothers. It’s an approach which appears to view men as victimized by feminism, in danger of being marginalized, and inherently set to lose parenting time and custody rights simply by the nature of their gender. It’s a worldview which shows up in threads on Reddit, among other places, and with certain ties to the “Red Pill” conversation, and theories of male dominance, feminization of culture and possibly, from what I’ve seen, an underlying belief that women are born manipulators.
One of the early steps of reaching an equitable division in divorce is for both parties to submit what are referred to as “Discovery items.” These include documentation of bank accounts to be divided. In theory, this is not a gendered practice. “The court has no patience with hiding money,” I was advised by lawyers, more than once. When the time came, I turned over all documentation, ready to move forward. My accounts were simple. I then submitted a list of my husband’s banking history, and requested his account information be provided.
The violence which led to a restraining order was held outside the door of the courtroom, outside the conversation, as though perhaps it didn’t happen.
The list of banks my husband moved funds through, at one time or another, is long. It’s so long that later on, perhaps most of a year later, when my lawyer and I still remained without complete information, the Men’s Rights lawyer of the moment let on, by way of apology, that he hadn’t read my list. He said it was too long, that he spaced out, zoned out, fell asleep.
In other words, my ex juggled funds through so many accounts that it bored his lawyer to actually list and consider them all?
Being extremely slow to reveal bank accounts could be construed as hiding funds. In general, they only came forward with information once I produced documentation of each missing account. It was up to me to find an account and document its existence, and then perhaps information would come forward.
This approach cost money on both sides by increasing billable hours, as we searched for and requested documentation of funds which could have otherwise been revealed in one simple email exchange.
At the same time, my ex’s lawyer sent a settlement offer which demanded what my ex perceived to be his “share” of my deceased grandparents’ 1939 shack, as well as his “share” of my aging father’s home. “Parties to sell home and split proceeds…” the lawyer’s documents stated, listing the addresses.
It would be reasonable to imagine that “Men’s Rights” would extend to an 80-year old man’s right to live in his own home.
Instead, the Men’s Rights lawyer and my ex demanded that my aged father be evicted.
I didn’t have the authority — or the heart — to sell the house where my father actively lived, of course. This position of irrational over-reach left me with no option of giving in or letting go. The Divorce Law For Men lawyer wouldn’t back down or revise the demand. He and my estranged husband stood firm. In this way, they mandated that our divorce was moved into the courtroom, the most expensive level of the divorce process overall.
For a lawyer to prep for court creates additional billable hours. It’s not unreasonable to estimate approximately $10,000 a day, in court time, depending on how much advance preparation is involved. From the witness stand, I clarified that my ex had never even been inside one of the two houses he was proclaiming to have a right of ownership over. The other, he’d perhaps been to once, at most, if at all. He’d never changed a lightbulb, in terms of labor invested in either home. Both of these family homes were purchased long before our marriage. In short, they had nothing to do with him.
The cultural presumption that women are liars was used against me in court — and landed us Trump in the White House.theestablishment.co
Approximately $20,000 went out the window to hold the restraining order in place. Another $20,000 or more was spent negotiating real estate, catering to irrational demands, until finally the judge called that line of argument off. “Let’s leave grandpa’s house out of this,” the judge said.
Nothing was accomplished with the overreach of demanding property, failing to conform to divorce law, other than increasing legal fees paid to lawyers, and it was the Men’s Rights lawyer driving this forward.
There are three basic, overriding guidelines to divorce in the state where we live, and they are essentially as follows: no fault; presumption of equal contribution; equitable distribution. This translates roughly into: Nobody cares who did what; both partners somehow contributed to the family’s ability to earn money, independent of who actually went to work or not; and the goal is to split funds approximately down the middle, as is fair.
That’s it. None of those are gendered. None are “for men,” any more than they are “for women.”
In practice, what I saw was quite different.
At various times in court, the opposing lawyer claimed that I must not have been doing a lot of parenting, since I’d managed to write three books. The implication was that I didn’t deserve my portion of marital assets, as though I were a remiss servant rather than an equal partner, despite the fact that I was also the primary wage-earner. He was trying to build a case that I was at fault, in a no-fault divorce state. He was trying to build a case for an inequitable division. My sabbatical? That word was spit out as though on par with a heroin addiction. The phrase used was “on the hook.” The lawyer repeated that my ex shouldn’t be “on the hook” for my sabbatical.
It’s hard to imagine a man being treated with contempt for successfully publishing books and earning a prestigious period in which to work, while also raising children. In a no-fault divorce state, my success was repeatedly addressed as though it constituted some kind of fault or failure. Technically, according to the law as I understand it, even if I’d been staying home getting high, there should be no time wasted on the question of fault-versus-earnings. But, that aside, the actual truth was that I had always been doing the majority of everything at home, and my professional work only benefited the family.
There are three basic, overriding guidelines to divorce in the state where we live. None are gendered. None are ‘for men.’
Finally, over a year after the day I’d been forced to flee the home, the day of our court-ordered settlement arrived. The judge requested that we not meet in the courtroom. Instead, she asked us to meet by speakerphone, each staying in our respective lawyer’s offices. We were all within easy walking distance from the courthouse, but rather than gathering, she held us apart from each other and from her, on the bench. I asked my lawyer if this was normal. She said she’d never heard of such a thing, in 17 years of family law. It was as though the judge were hiding, or somehow afraid, or otherwise adverse to seeing us in the formality of the courthouse.
I sat with my lawyer in a conference room, a phone on speaker between us. The judge’s voice was croaky, as she rolled forward, over the static of an old landline, determining the value of our house as a starting point. She stated that I would pay my ex half the value of the house. I would pay most of a quarter million dollars. My lawyer and I leaned into the phone, waiting for the next aspect of the ruling.
But the judge was done.
I would pay. My lawyer pressed one finger on the speaker phone, cutting in to ask if the amount I’d pay would be offset by accounts now handled by my ex, formerly our marital funds by any reading of the law.
“No,” the judge said. There would be no offset. My ex would be granted all marital funds. He would leave the marriage with hundreds of thousands of dollars. I had left, to protect our child from witnessing a level of violence easily classified as child abuse, and now I would become most of half a million in debt. The court agreed that a restraining order was necessary, but the court was simultaneously stripping me of all finances.
“She’s a spender,” the judge said. “She spent more.”
“A spender?” I asked, quietly.
There is no law against very ordinary spending, in raising a family. Spending money can’t be against the law in Capitalism. If it were, the entire economy would screech to a halt. The ruling was absurd. Of course, my husband had spent some money too; the proceedings spread out for a year, then on into two years and eventually near three before the divorce was resolved. To consider our living expenses as though pointing toward some kind of fault was a line of reasoning which hadn’t been addressed in the courtroom, because it had no place in our state’s divorce law. The phone, on the other line, my ex’s side with his lawyer, went momentarily dead. In that silence, my ex and his Men’s Rights lawyer were surely raising a high five, celebrating the court-created poverty of the mother of his child, the manufactured poverty of the home where his daughter would live and spend most of her days.
Though the judge had witnessed all of their arguments as faulty and crumbling, she created a new avenue for alloting all marital funds, so clearly defined as joint funds by law, to the man who perpetrated violence; she gave my ex-husband a gift of all the money we had in the world. He was paid for his violence and financial control.
I was held as at fault for spending money, in an undefined way. In short, my life — my human value, my parenting and adult autonomy — was being shaped into a story that didn’t belong to me, and didn’t reflect my life, decisions or experience. It had been judicially rewritten into stereotypically feminine terms of bad drama, as though I wore a Shop ’Til You Drop T-shirt into the courtroom, or as though I were a caricature of a woman who ran to the mall on weekends. When I spent money, most often it was to meet our child’s basic support. I bought groceries. I paid a fortune in legal fees to address my ex’s violence. That was money I would have rather saved. Through the marriage, I made our lives comfortable, in the simplest of ways. My husband managed our joint investments. That was all.
“That’s not how the law works,” my lawyer said, once we were off the phone. She said it again, and then again, caught in a loop of righteous anger. “It’s not. It’s just not. It’s not how the law works.”
To pair women with frivolous spending is to buy into a ready cliche. Law is set by precedent. If this were allowed to stand, it would assert that any woman who spent any money, even on groceries, for the family, could be stripped of access to marital savings and retirement through divorce. It was a judgement which allotted male privilege in relationship to marital finances.
A correlating truth is, I wouldn’t have concerned myself with arguing over finances if I hadn’t been forced to spend $100,000 or more on legal fees defending myself and my father’s home throughout the process. Had my ex allowed us to part amiably, I would’ve asked for little, opting instead for a generosity of spirit. In other words, the system, as approached by the Divorce For Men lawyers, first created massive debt, making money crucial and scarce, then undermined a mother’s relationship to ordinary marital funds. The whole picture was designed to ultimately portray a woman as out for a man’s money.
Financial abuse runs hand-in-hand with domestic violence. The court system entertained absurd demands, made by a lawyer operating under the banner of Men’s Rights, when there are no actual, specific “men’s rights” — or women’s rights, either — in the largely gender-neutral language of divorce law.
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There were only two times in the courtroom process in which I was clearly and swiftly successful in making my point. Both of these were around aggressive acts visible to our child. I had captured the behavior on video, on my phone, because it was prolonged. That is the sole approach which helped streamline the legal process: clear, irrefutable documentation of violence. A phone with a camera can be a life-saving device.
Because of that video footage of my ex’s violent behavior, I was granted sole custody of our child. The custody decision wasn’t based on a generalized courtroom bias against men. It was the behavior of the man involved which determined the direction of the court’s decision. For the same reason, I retained sole use of the home.
Video documentation cut through misrepresentation. Otherwise, presumption did not appear to be on my side at any point. I’ve started to think all women should wear body cameras, all the time.
Over the next two years, seven judges would look at the original restraining order. My ex has asserted more than once that I “manipulated the system” by alleging violence. To claim a woman is “manipulative” is to call on another stereotype of femininity. Each round, the judges were granted access to the same short video, along with court transcripts. Each judge, each time, agreed the situation was and remains a valid use of a restraining order.
My ex? He shelled out a fortune, in his vindictive pursuit.
But this isn’t about him or me, at least not as specific individuals. In court documents I am “wife.” I am “mother.” Most often, I am “Petitioner.” He is “Respondent.”
We are characters filling roles in the mechanics of a system. My ex is embroiled in becoming the logical trajectory of a character who, playing the part of a patriarch in the tiny kingdom of his home, has reeled around the kitchen screaming about “respect!” in that sort of stock, farcical way that never actually brings about respect, but more often engenders the opposite.
Between the two of us, along with a handful of gender-based cliches run through the machinery of family law, with a Men’s Rights slant, we have wasted any hope that our child will ever be able to afford much of an education, though I know community colleges can be amazing. I’ve taught at them, and taken a few classes there as well.
When I look for resources for women who have escaped domestic violence and are trying to rebuild their finances and credit history, information seems to center around basic ideas such as how to save money or how to balance a checkbook. It’s often infantilizing, and unfortunately recreates stereotypes that were brought forward in court: an assumption that women generally aren’t the primary wage earners, that women over spend, that women are “bad with money,” and that women aren’t capable of understanding basic finances.
We are characters filling roles in the mechanics of a system.
I have worked as a mortgage underwriter. I have made loan decisions in the six-figure range, easily. I understand money.
My lawyer also understood money, and she understood the law.
Over the course of 10 days, she drafted a four-page letter requesting that the judge re-open our case, reconsider her ruling, or recuse herself. The judge heard her. We were swiftly granted one more short hearing, on short notice. This round, the Men’s Rights lawyer was only available to appear via speaker phone. My ex wasn’t able to make it. I dropped everything to show up. Once I was in the courtroom, alongside my lawyer, the judge asked me to step out of the room. From my place in the empty hallway, standing on a glossy floor, in our old county court building, I could still hear the voices of my lawyer and the judge through the thick wooden door. My lawyer spoke first, fast and with certainty, a flood of words. The judge cut in, asking her to slow down. “Just the law — ” the judge said.
My lawyer started again, this round more slowly. She explained basic divorce law. She clarified how the judge’s ruling had no standing. She confronted the judge on the most fundamental of divorce law terms.
The judge’s voice cut in again. I leaned closer to the wooden door, so close that I could smell a trace of old cigar smoke seeped into the wood of the door as though leftover from past decades.
“You’re right, I’m sorry,” the judge said. I pressed my palm to the door, listening. My lawyer continued with her explanation.
“I’m sorry. You’re right,” the judge said again. And the two of them were two voices, intertwined, in explication and apology.
For a moment, it sounded as though the judge were ready to simply re-divide the assets. She cleared her throat. The Men’s Rights lawyer was a squawk on the phone, to the tune of Now, let’s not be hasty…
The judge changed her course, again, it seemed. She didn’t simply redivide funds. However, we did gain permission to start our trial again, and that was a victory, of sorts. However, to start again would mean more lawyer-hours, more court hours, perhaps another fifty-thousand more dollars, depending on the course of events.
My lawyer’s knowledgeable, muscled approach demanded adherence to the legal precedent and procedure, thankfully, but who had the finances to begin the process again?
In my prolonged experience, the court process enfranchised, excused, and overlooked male anger and aggression. Similarly, the court tolerated irrational financial claims and misrepresentation of information readily contradicted by bank statements and tax forms, and left me to provide all evidence contrary to male assertions. The only one to benefit financially from making a simple division of material good into a difficult and prolonged argument would be the lawyers involved. My lawyer worked hard for her wages. She remained generous and honest, and held even the judge accountable to the letter of the law, in the end. The “Divorce Law for Men” lawyer made more money by counseling for an approach based in aggressive, irrational overreach than he would’ve made through being reasonable, adhering to legal practice, and streamlining the process accordingly.
The gendered atmosphere of the court system — shaped by minimizing domestic violence, overlooking financial abuse, and coddling the kind of entitlement that fuels irrational demands — will leave me drowning in debt, possibly forever. I have full custody of our child, because I am stable and reliable, and I’ve done nothing wrong. I have been granted our decrepit old house, complete with its familiar hole in the kitchen floor, for the same reasons. In my experience, the court system actively manufactured maternal poverty, while diminishing maternal professional and financial success.
Simultaneously, every day of the year of my hard-won sabbatical was taken up with sleuthing for marital bank statements, tracking credit card history, reading accusatory emails, making it to court dates, and navigating constant anxiety. There was no time to write, which would further my career.
None of this is in any child’s best interest.
I have distinct advantages over some people who are perhaps less enfranchised, in terms of battling domestic violence. I have friends and family. I have a solid career, no substance abuse struggles, and stable mental health. English is my first language, I have a graduate degree, and I’m reasonably assertive. Still, even with all of that on my side, and doing everything as well as I possibly could, I may never recover financially from a debt which is now roughly equivalent to four years of my income. I can’t afford even one medical or dental bill, or other unforeseen expenses. I can barely afford groceries. When I tell people what I’ve experienced, I hear the common refrain, “Why didn’t you leave him sooner?”
I would like to say, to anyone who peruses this question, how fast would you rush yourself and your child or children into a constant stream of stress, days on the witness stand, strange accusations, and most of all a life of soul-killing poverty that could easily last beyond your own life span?
Late one evening, our daughter and I were watching an episode of the TV show Grimm, which uses fairy tales, folk tales, and fabricated monsters as the basis for a soap operatic drama. We were watching on an old television, with an old Roku that I was grateful to have, because I could no longer afford a new one. On the episode, a character called an “Excandesco” was said to use the phosphorus naturally found in the human body to burst into flames, becoming a skilled arsonist. Phosphorus, the show told us, catches fire if exposed to temperatures of 86 degrees or more. It is apparently naturally occurring, in our systems. My daughter turned to say, “Eighty-six degrees? The human body is hotter than that.”
True. She was right.
“Why doesn’t it burn?” She asked.
I realized how little I understand, in this overwhelming world.
A mid-life hot flash crept through my system, with its burning and suffocating sense of internal unease. I doused the heat with a drink of water. One of the earliest cases of purported spontaneous combustion was a woman named Nicole Millet, back in the 1700s. She was found burned, left as only a skull and spine resting in the ashes. Her husband was initially charged with her murder, though later, through a court trial, he was acquitted, her death ruled an “act of God.” All of these years after her death by fire, I wonder — did the court reach a just verdict? Was her death domestic violence, an act of God, or the mysteries of the human body? Could it have been genuine spontaneous combustion? Was she threatened, I wondered. Was she afraid.
How did we all not explode, in that court, in the heat of injustice and fury?
The legal system, from what I saw, was never looking for justice, so much as it was looking for justification, to hold old narratives in place.
I’d accomplished something with the sale of my third book. Maybe it was a small accomplishment in the scope of the universe, but it mattered in my personal vision: I like the way the book turned out. I’d given myself a voice. I’d leaned in. And in leaning in, I bruised a male ego, as easily as bruising a ripe peach. My husband assuaged his damaged sense of entitlement first through violence and then, when I escaped his reach, through vindictiveness and financial abuse. He closed accounts, moved money, hid funds. He was assisted rather than censured by the process of court. I will probably pay, in a very literal way, for my success in publishing a third book, for the rest of my life.
To give an abuser money is to grant that person access to lawyers. It’s empowering.
There’s a cultural stereotype we live with of the broke, single mother. This role appears as a natural casualty of divorce. I suppose, like many people, I may have grown up in the ambient atmosphere of tacit assertion, unchallenged belief, that this is rooted in a woman’s general underemployment, lack of financial awareness, lower education, or greater investment in raising children. That all might play a part in it. But in my personal experience now, I have been brought from a well-situated, financially savvy primary wage earner, to a broke, single mother, very actively and specifically through my experience in the courtroom. A Men’s Rights lawyer racked up billable hours with an unfounded money grab, and once we’d proven his route wasn’t supported by law, the judge acted on a whim and gave the rest of our marital funds to my violent ex husband. It cost a fortune to again assert adhering to the law, rather than letting the judge’s ruling stand without foundation.
Manufactured maternal poverty is the effect and the outcome of male rage in a world which enfranchises male entitlement, aggression, violence, overreach, and misrepresentation of facts. This is what I know, now. Stock in trade. Common as dirt. It happens all the time.