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family court: a soul-sucking nightmare with a happy ending

today I feel really good. the fact that I feel really good today throws into sharp relief how NOT good I've been feeling for the last five years.

the bad feelings twisted my gut and interrupted my sleep and concentration. that's what happens when you deal with PTSD and you find yourself in a constant battle to stop an abusive ex-spouse with a personality disorder from destroying your family.

and yes, he did try, and I paid dearly for it in lost sleep, nightmares, anxiety, and physical pain. our children paid for it with emotional scars from my narcissistic ex's efforts to win their devotion and admiration, or, as the family evaluator stated it "inappropriate alienating behavior" by teaching our kids that "the use of conflict is a means by which one may achieve one's desires".

with the custody nightmare resolved and my kids safely with me, the last act in the circus was a hearing to resolve child support issues.

his attorney had over-prepared on a single point, which was whether or not I deserved a credit toward my child support obligation to my son while he was in her client's custody. well, of course I do. the credit was to be for a Social Security dependent benefit for my son because of my disability and paid to my ex as my son's representative payee. it's very mean-spirited to claim I don't deserve the credit solely because there's no spot to enter it in the column reserved for the lower-earning parent on the Oregon child support calculator. the state of Oregon merely assumed that the lower earning parent would always be the representative payee on behalf of the children, not that she might be a custodial and a non-custodial parent. it seems like a stupid assumption, but apparently split custody cases in which the higher-income parent is representative payee for a child's benefit due to the lower-earning parent's disability or retirement were unheard of until I came along. interestingly enough, however, nowhere in the guidelines did it say that a disabled, non-custodial parent in the column reserved for the lower-earning parent should NOT get the credit. it only stated that the parent in the higher-earning column would. upon that oversight my ex's attorney based her entire argument.

well, too bad for her that the guidelines had been recently updated to explicitly allow either parent the credit, and the guidelines were to be applied to all pending judicial cases. since my case has been officially pending for a year, I got the credit retroactively.

since the guidelines change was very clear the whole matter should have been cleared up within minutes, but she argued and argued about how much she disagreed with giving me the credit. she seemed to take it very personally that a disabled mom getting a pittance from the federal government should be granted a credit toward her support obligation to her non-custodial child for the dependent benefit received by the custodial parent... the able-bodied, higher-earning parent. I should have counted how many times she stated that she disagreed with the new guidelines. she managed to stretch a simple matter out into an hour-long argument.

that left little time for determining my ex's income and dealing with the contempt charge against my ex for not maintaining the court-ordered life insurance policy. the judge skipped lunch to hear the rest of our case, which again dragged on because my ex is unemployed by choice and didn't have complete documentation. he doesn't want to work in technical support, although there are plenty of job openings, because working in an office "depresses" him. well, isn't he the lucky one to have the luxury to choose not to work rather than provide for his kids! I could have opted to delay the judgment pending a vocational assessment but I was feeling so tired of the drawn-out process that we left it to the judge to make a determination. the judge compromised between imputing wages at full-time carpenter or IT worker and my ex's present unemployment income and settled on an income that represents less than six months per year of full-time work.

when I was unemployed in 2005, my ex didn't cut me any breaks. in fact, he ridiculed me for not being able to make ends meet. I'd given up on trying to build a consulting business and was looking for full-time work when my ex asked the child support division for a reduction in child support. the judge imputed my previous full-time wage to me, and my ex was happy about it although my actual income at that point was zero and I kept the kids fed by going to food banks. but that was the state of Colorado, which seems to assume that a parent is capable of earning their potential income even while trying to care for an emotionally disturbed child. in Oregon, you're off the hook if working in an office "depresses" you. LAME.

but still, the end result of investing thousands of dollars in legal fees and many dozens of hours in time is that my ex's alienating tactics have been recognized and documented, both my children are with me (the parent who actually cares about their physical and mental health), a money award is granted for shared expenses my ex has refused to pay (so I can go garnish his trust fund again), and going forward I'll be dealing with a modifiable support order.

and I faced my abuser in court and was not afraid.