Gulp. I am not proud that I am asking for help. One thing this terrible separation/divorce has taught me, however, is that I must get better at asking for help and even though I may be wearing an imaginary Wonder Woman bustier under my Mom uniform of t-shirt and jeans, I must admit that I need help.
My second caveat. When reading the other campaigns on this site, I am struck by the intensity of need by many people much more deserving of help. I cannot help but judge my needs as less worthy. My head hangs low but I remind myself not to let shame or embarrassment determine my course of action. I am in desperate need of help and I cannot let my pride stand in the way of taking care of my family.
Here is my story. Sixteen years ago, girl met boy, stars in her eyes. Two years later, they married. They started a family. She stayed home while he worked and traveled to support his career as a university professor and a writer--book promotions, speaking engagements and research trips. They struggled in marriage, he was unfaithful and some would even say emotionally abusive, she withdrew and focused on nurturing the three little bears. They moved from the Midwest to California for a fresh start. Fresh start went sour. He asked for a separation after twelve years of marriage. At first, it was amicable, then not. Long, awful process of divorce has been dragging on for more than two years and still not much is settled. So baffling that he was the one who asked for the end of the marriage yet does not seem to want to settle it. Little Bears in therapy, Mama Bear in therapy trying to heal, no more stars in her eyes. He recently moved out of state for this spring semester but frequently sends angry emails. Trial is at the end of May.
Here is what I need. I need to pay for legal representation to get through custody, support and other divorce issues. But I am barely making ends meet--finances are more than stretched thin. The kids—ages 6, 8 and 10—are with me 75% of the time in general and we are living in the family house, which is great stability for them, but the mortgage is high and including utilities, uses 65% of my net income. And until the case is settled, we will live here. Until we settle, the house cannot be sold; it is still joint marital property. I have been incredibly fortunate to have a great circle of support—friends, family and neighbors have all been so helpful. Friends have dropped off the occasional grocery gift card, a neighbor gives my son his music lessons for free, another family took us with them on a weekend trip to the mountains, my mom helped me with Christmas and even took out a home equity loan to help me pay for legal fees the first year.
But I can no longer afford to pay my lawyer. She is hanging in there, helping here and there to respond to the latest papers from his lawyer. But I owe her over $15,000 and will need at least as much to pay her for her work in preparing for the upcoming trial. I have been urging my soon-to-be ex-husband to meet me at the negotiating table, to work with me to craft a mutually workable agreement. Not only is this less expensive than a trial, but I believe if we both participate in drawing up the agreement, we will be happier with it and both more likely to follow it.
However, to be utterly frank, I am dealing with what the books call a "high-conflict personality", a blamer, a person who is unlikely to feel much empathy. In hindsight, during my marriage I should have noticed that I was living with a man who is masterful at manipulation and bullying. Instead, I blindly accepted his worldview that everything was my fault—I was too busy walking on eggshells to notice what was really happening. I no longer can do that.
He makes a healthy salary and earns extra income from his books and his speaking engagements. Financially, he has the resources to wage a lengthy battle and it is not out of the realm of possibility for him to use whatever tactics, even shady ones, to get what he wants. During the first year of our separation when he was not yet paying child support, he claimed he did not have money to give me for groceries—later, in his first financial disclosures, I saw that during that same period of time he said he had no money for our food, he had earned at least $20,000 in extra income. It also came to light that, during our marriage, he had opened a secret bank account and funneled thousands of dollars into it without my knowledge. He dropped out of our mediation process twice, with two different mediators. I am not asking for anything unreasonable in this divorce, simply what I am entitled to under the law, but he seems to believe that won’t work for him. Clearly, he has made some mistakes (we both have, I have definitely made my share of mistakes too!) and I truly do hope he figures out his issues and finds his peace, especially for the sake of our children. Please know that I do not say these things to disparage him (and this is why I have made the photos the way they are to protect his identity, and ours too). I say these things to show you what I am facing.
Do you know the children’s song and book—We’re Going on a Bear Hunt? The family meets all these obstacles, a storm, the dark forest, a river, a swamp, and the refrain is that they can’t go over it, they can’t go under it, they have to go through it. That has been my own refrain these past two years of tumult—through the heartbreak both mine and the kids, through the adjustment of splitting time with the kids, through the darkness of the shadow of bankruptcy. And now, I am trying to get through that swamp of the legal process.
I believe that with the help of my attorney, I can get through this next part—the messy part of getting a permanent agreement on dividing time with the children and balancing out of our debts and assets and figuring out support—and I am trusting that having a long-term agreement will enable us to move on with our lives. This period of being in limbo, of being attached financially and legally to someone who is unpredictable and rageful towards me, needs to be over. Maybe I am placing too much hope on the legal process but I believe if I can get through a negotiation or even a trial and get a long-term legal agreement and a fair settlement, our lives will settle down, the tensions will be somewhat alleviated and he and I can each focus on the most important job of co-parenting our three sweet bears.
Here is what I want. I want to ensure my children have a stable and loving home with me as well as a stable and loving home with their father. I want to close this chapter on the painful marriage and to end this conflict and tension--it is terrible for the kids and not good for me either. I want to go back to school and reenter the workforce—I have been home with the kids for 10 years and will need time and training to get back into the work force with a degree and enough skills to meet my goal of being self-supporting. I used to teach preschool, I used to work with elementary school students and homeless youth. I have worked in education and social services because I like to be of service. I want to do that again. I want to move on with my life. Please help me do this. Please help this Mama Bear and her cubs get to that sunlit meadow on the other side of this tangled legal swamp. And I promise that when I am back on my feet, I will give back to others in need.
If you have made it this far, I thank you very much for reading my story to the end. And I ask you to pass it on. I am not ready to share this with people who know us yet so the more you share our story, the better chances we have of getting the help we need. Thank you so much.
Oh, also, if anyone here has had experience with a campaign and the tax implications, please share—it is unclear to me how much of the donations I will need to set aside to pay for taxes. Thanks!