Yesterday I told V a work story that made her remember one of our favorite movies: The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio. But first, here’s my story:
My client was sad, alright, but the most accurate description I can think of is “exhausted.” She was exhausted as in the really tired sense, but she was also exhausted in that she had pulled out the stops to save her marriage—exhausted all avenues, as it were. It was not to be, despite her best efforts.
Her problem with her professional, graduate-school-educated husband was prescription drugs. He was hooked, had been to rehab twice and had, unbeknownst to client, drained their entire financial reserves, which were at one time substantial—all gone now. Husband was now unemployed and just coming out of rehab for the second time (not cheap) thanks to his parents.
Both sides of the family gave her emotional support as she made the hard decision to divorce. They were about to lose the house and just were barely—again, thanks to family—going to retain the roof over their heads and the substantial equity they had built there. She did not want to cash it out, both because she wanted to keep the equity secure and because she wanted at least some stability for their three kids: ages 2, 4 and 7.
Husband was, quite rightly, conscience-stricken and ready to sign anything. He was signing the house over to his wife. There was not much else he could contribute; he had no money, even for child support. She and I were working to put together an agreement to dissolve their marriage. We got to the college-education-part. I explained that at age 18 or graduation from high school, a parent’s legal obligation is over. The courts will not order any parent to pay anything, including for a college education, after 18 unless the child is disabled. If we were going to get this provision, it would have to be because he agreed to it, and we could bind him to it. I had proposed language.
She hesitated, “You only mentioned him,” she said. “Shouldn’t I, too, be bound to pay one-half my kids’ education after high school?”
My answer: “Absolutely not. I never let my clients agree to this. You can pay for college whether it is in the order or not, and probably will, but I am not going to let you bind yourself to something that the court won’t make you do without something in return…no, way.” She seemed unconvinced (so “fair” is she).
I went on to explain. Let me first say, however, that I KNOW that there are exceptions to the rule about which I am going to speak—I am sure that each and every one of you male readers is an exception. I am sure, too, that each of your female readers is married to one. Still, this is my experience after over thirty years of family law practice, so this is what I told her:
“I seldom have to worry about mothers doing right by their kids. However, your husband is thirty-five and right now he is in a repentant mood. In six months (maybe less) he will begin to see your part in this fiasco and, by the the time it is over, he will come to understand that it is actually all your fault. And he will remarry and have other kids, given his age. They are who will matter most to him. The Rule we all learn in this business is: ‘Whomever Daddy is sleeping with is who matters—and her kids trump the first set.’ Sorry, that’s the way it is. When your kids hit college age, his new wife will not want to pay. Neither will he.”
Sorry, this is a law of nature.
In her heart, she knew I was right. “But how will I explain it when he asks why this isn’t mutual?” She asked, still worried about appearing to be “unfair.”
Unblinkingly, I gave her the answer to use, “Say to him: ‘I am not the one who has preferred my drug habit over the welfare of my kids; I am not the one who has put this entire family into financial ruin; I am not the one who has proven to be untrustworthy when it comes to the welfare of these children.”
Satisfied, she agreed.
So, V and I discussed this. V mentioned the movie, The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio, the recounting of a true story. This was a wonder woman, if ever one lived. She was, indeed, defiant in the protection of the best interests of her kids and their home—even in spite of a very broken, very selfish husband. If you want a full review, follow this link to our seldom-visited review page, but here’s a clip:
I’m telling you, there are mothers who fail in this regard—some of you followers have told me stories of such women in your comments to me, and I know they exist. But, by and large, it is mothers who are the glue and the mothers who are there through thick and thin for their kids. It is the mothers who scrape and save and take extra jobs so their kids have high school annuals and class rings and get to take dance lessons. If Moms remarry and have other children, they are all folded in together, rarely are any left behind. On the other hand, ex-husbands grouse about paying child support and “move on” to have “other families.”
I see it every day. C.