Family Court Resolution

Many readers may remember my friend Robert, and his tremendous legal difficulties documented in Custody Court Massacre. His divorce and child custody legal ordeal was horrific. Luckily, it appears that some of his problems have been resolved.

He told me on the phone, before he was last called before the judge, 'I don't care what happens. I'm willing to go to Riker's if I have to. I've prepared for the worst.'

The previous judicial ruling stated that Robert had to pay over $5,000 a month for ex-wife and child upkeep. He shared with me that this was the same amount Latrell Spreewell was asked to pay, and there is a hundred million dollar differential in economic power between Robert and the famous basketball player. He had been delinquent on past payments as his net income was less than $2,000 a month. Out of his $2,000, he dutifully forwarded her $500 on the first day of every month. He also became part of New York 's food stamp program, and Robert brought his food stamp card with him to present to the judge if asked.

The best news of all was that no sheriffs were waiting to arrest my friend upon his arrival to the courthouse. He anxiously hoped to receive a fair hearing on this occasion.

After eight hours of negotiation, both parties signed what was called 'A Global Settlement.' It turned out to be a 65 page piece of bureaucracy, and was the byproduct of $50,000 Robert spent in legal fees. He laughed about it later as he described his ex-wife's mental illness as being the main impediment to the settlement. He said, 'Being crazy is an incredible weapon in the art of negotiation'just ask Kim Il Jong.'

Ultimately, what made her sign on the line was that Robert's parents dazzled her with cash. More specifically, his father snake charmed her with part of his retirement savings. My friend's dad is a healthy and spry 68 years old, and he had previously hoped that his savings would only be used for emergencies. He decided that Robert's custody drama was just such an emergency.

Money alone wasn't the only sacrifice. Robert humiliated himself by giving her the grounds for divorce. The settlement states that he treated her cruelly and inhumanely. This was done principally so she can petition the government for a green card. This infuriated my friend as his reason for marrying her in the first place was so she could gain the status of a legal immigrant.

His lawyer wrote the language in such a way that Rob hoped it wouldn't interfere with his visitation rights in the future. Although he told me, 'now she is officially a battered wife. It's absurd, but it should be enough for the INS.'

As for the son that has become the focal point of his life, the court reduced Robert's child support payments to $1,000 a month. His father flew out to New York for the hearing, and he signed that if Robert could not make the payments then he would do so. This satisfied the court.

His father forwarded his ex-wife $10,000 in exchange for her dropping requests for alimony and spousal maintenance. His dad then paid her landlord $5,700 in back rent and legal fees. This further embittered Robert as he realizes his parents are far from rich. If his family did not live so frugally in his youth, who knows what may have happened during this court case.

One benefit of the cash payments was that it kept his son from having to live in a shelter because his ex-wife was officially evicted from her apartment the week before. Unfortunately, his father had more blood to shed before she fixed her signature to the settlement. His parents paid her lawyer $8,000, and then an additional $12,000 to prevent her from declaring bankruptcy. The $8,000 to her lawyer was well spent, as Robert said that, if it was not paid, her lawyer was going to quit the case. His ex-wife's lawyer forced her to sign the papers. He noted that his former spouse's childbirth provided her with funds that she never would have seen under any other circumstance.

As far as child visitation is concerned, the hearing was a godsend. He received two additional overnight visits per month. This increased the monthly days he spends with his son from six to eight. Robert was further allowed three total weeks of visitation over the summer months (as he is now studying to be a teacher). Extended holiday time increased to six days. In total, he now gets nearly 38% of his son's time. This is not enough in my friend's mind, but it is a far better state of affairs than he ever thought he'd see before the hearing.

In the end, Rob's dad saved him from jail, and also saved his son from living in a woman's shelter. My friend was satisfied that the little money he does make will now go to his son as opposed to his attorneys.

Robert ended his letter to me (we also talked on the phone) with the phrase, 'Thank God it is over.'

Yet, as I began to write this piece, I received an email from him. Apparently, his ex-wife was not satisfied with his level of suffering. As he sat with his son one night in his living room, six policemen [six!] came to his apartment and presented a court order from the previous settlement stating that he was not to be with his son on that particular day. To no avail, he tried calling his lawyer but no one answered the phone. He impotently watched the police carry his screaming son down the stairs to his mother.

I'll let his words end my tale: 'What really got to me was that she was down there at the bottom of the stairs smiling. She was wearing a huge grin that I rarely saw when we were married. It made me sick. I wish she'd pay for what she's done.'

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Bernard Chapin is a writer from Chicago.