February 8, 2017 — We are racing towards Valentine’s Day, a Hallmark holiday on which I generally end-up in divorce hearings. Nothing highlights the highs and lows of life like spending February 14th in the courthouse. (And nothing says a marriage is dead quite like Valentine’s Day with the judge).
A few years ago on Valentine’s Day, I sat in the clerk’s office in Manhattan with my client (a husband). Across the small room was his wife and her friend. This particular clerk’s office has the very special function of giving people permission to by-pass the marriage license waiting period for any number of reasons (for example: she’s pregnant and the baby is due! Or, we need to be married on Valentine’s Day!). The same clerk takes emergency motions when people are fighting in a divorce. While dozens of happy couples were in a line going out the door and down the hall, I sat with my client receiving deaths-stares from his wife, who was seething with anger. Insult, meet Injury.
This year, my Real Housewives divorce case is scheduled for a Valentine’s Day hearing. Mario and I discuss the merits of my wearing a bright red or pink suit to court.
I love the idea, but I’m more a “blue pants suit” type of gal. My office staff jokes about the thought of me in a shocking pink suit.
Then Mario texts me that he’s got “the ring“! Ooooh!
UGGH! What a tease! I’m elated! But I won’t see Mario again until I visit for his birthday! I wonder how he will propose? I wonder if the ring will fit! I can’t wait!
But, as I’m leaving the office, my daughter’s father texts me a photo of my daughter — whom he picked up from daycare earlier — sitting in a house with a woman who looks like his ex-wife. I’m suddenly and immediately thrown from a state of bliss to feeling overwhelmed with fear.
I have no idea where my daughter is and I have no contact information. He left her with a woman who had a 3-years-long nasty court battle with him. I talk to Mario and I’m panicked: “Do you really think that his ex-wife is a danger?” he asks. “I mean, after all we’ve seen from him, it seems like she is actually a good parent.” I let this sink in and realize that she’s probably a good parent. His son is a great kid.
How do you parent when there’s no trust?
All the times I’ve told my clients that they need to trust “Dad” because he’s got an interest in keeping the child safe — my “importance of trusting the other parent’s judgment” lecture — haunts me right now. It feels completely different when it involves my child. This will definitely guide my advice going forward. I could turn this into a huge court fight and get the police involved and get nasty. But, I push myself to have faith that her dad is taking care of her and everything will be fine. Any other response is only going to make our parenting worse.
Eventually her dad texts an apology and explanation that his son is having a difficult time adjusting to his new school, so some of the animosity has been laid aside with the hopes that they can help him. While I appreciate his situation, I have to say that I’ve never experienced so much pain and terror as I did in that moment when I didn’t know where my daughter was or who she was with. I know he loves her, but he used her to hurt me – whether or not it was unintentional. And it is more painful than I can describe.
At the end of the day I am emotionally drained. I don’t want to talk, not even to Mario. But he calls and we just hang out while the phone is on. I don’t have to make excuses or feel bad about not talking. He knows it was a hard day. He putters around his kitchen while I eat peanut-butter with a spoon from the jar in mine. It is as close as we can get to quiet puttering together. Happy Valentine’s Day roller-coaster!