“Hold on a moment!” I exclaimed. “Let me get this right:
“You’re telling me that I have sole custody, but alimony to her is twice the amount of child support? That means I have to raise him with no financial help AND pay her over $1,000 a month?”
The judge looked at me, frowning, and said “That’s correct.”
“What the bloody…”
My attorney took me sharply by the upper arm, digging into me as hard as he could. He was a small man, perhaps half my size, but his grip was insistent and immediate.
“Thank you, Your Honor,” he said. Then he quietly snarled at me.
“Shut up and get out of here.”
I was in absolute disbelief.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I asked him.
He ushered me outside of the courtroom. The judge watched, waiting to see if an affront to the dignity of the court was about to arise.
I wisely shut my mouth and went with my lawyer.
My soon-to-be ex-wife and her attorney walked past us and down the hallway. I watched them go for a moment, seething, then turned back to the man I had retained as counsel.
“What the hell, Barry?”
He shrugged, spoke calmly. “It is what it is. You’re the father, but you got custody. That’s not how it’s supposed to work in this liberal enclave. You’re a known conservative activist. You’re paying for it.”
“A thousand bucks a month?” I was furious. At the time, it was about a quarter of my after-tax pay.
“How about she gets a job, takes some responsibility?” I demanded.
The slightly built lawyer shrugged again. “She doesn’t need to. They’ve imputed income to her, and this monthly result is after that calculation. You want her to get into the job market and start working?”
He cut my sarcastic retort off with a wave of his hand and continued.
“Then we’ll have to come back here, and you’ll end up in a worse spot. They are probably imputing more income than she’s capable of earning anyway. Look at this as the best result you could expect.”
He was right, of course, as ugly as the truth was.
It was a late Friday afternoon. I left the courthouse, picked my son up from day care, and drove home to enjoy the weekend with him. It was summer, and beautiful, and we had a new life to create together.
On Monday morning I was laid off.
“We selected the other candidate for conversion of your contract to a full-time position.”
I was dazed, listening to the newly hired executive I now reported to. “You said incumbents had preference. She and I have the same experience,” I pointed out. “And I’ve run your entire program office for over a year.”
He was inflexible. “She also has a master’s degree in statistics. You have a high school diploma.”
Arguing or discussing was pointless, I knew. Decisions like that are not negotiated with the losing party, only communicated with finality. I cleared out my desk.
It was a long drive home that morning. I had plenty of time to think.
I’d built my career from the ground up, starting with moving boxes of files from one room to another on a simple labor contract in Silicon Valley. That turned into a data entry position, and within six months I was overseeing all the contractors engaged on a $6 billion state sales tax audit.
I had a talent for swift organization and enough ferocious ambition to be in the office at 4am and make things happen. I also had the skills to automate much of the work, freeing up my actual time in the office.
Within two years I was married, a new father, and working in New York as a project manager in one of the largest global technology firms in the world.
Posture is the skill of array, of shaping your encounters with responsive engagement.
No college degree? No work experience? How you position yourself matters. Identifying value, bringing it forward and presenting your bright complementation of need is how the markets of the world are engaged.
I was to learn, very quickly, the crucial importance of posture during the fight for custody of my son.
In the meantime, I had to come up with not just a thousand bucks a month, but a new job.
I could do it, I knew. I’d proven my ability to secure well-paid and prestigious positions solely on my capacity to deliver vision, planning and competence into reality. What I didn’t count on was the tech crash of the turn of the century that was gearing up into full swing.
I was one of the first casualties. It would not be a matter of weeks, or months, or even a couple of financial quarters before I returned to the corporate world.
It would be six years.
You learn much about posture when you are desperate.
That thousand dollars per month went unpaid, accumulating on a frightening scale. “This court finds that you are deliberately underemployed,” the magistrate would drone, and marginally move the payment needle downwards while at the same time the interest on unpaid spousal support surged higher.
Compounded interest on unpaid debt is horrible posture.
“She’s filed a complaint against you,” the detective said. “A year ago you pulled the phone line out of the wall while she was using it.”
“Disconnecting her Internet gaming and insisting she feed and bathe our child during the day while I was at work?” I asked. “Having to be a mother is an actual criminal complaint?”
“Interfering with telephonic communication is felony wiretapping.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
Events and situations have posture as well.
You must learn to ride the flow of it.
My attorney was unimpressed, and framed the situation accurately.
“This means that you’re on probation for a little while, but it didn’t work as planned. You still have sole custody. It’s harassment. Give it a few months to show them you’re a good boy, and the charge gets dismissed, and she finds something else to try. Eventually she’ll give up – no judge will find her fit.”
The district attorney thought otherwise.
“Spousal maintenance arrears are a violation of probation,” he said. “You need to pay her $15,000 and catch up or I will jail you.”
I rolled my eyes in exasperation, as hard as any man ever did. “And she gets custody. You realize this is all about that, don’t you?”
He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.” He was very matter of fact. “Pay it by Tuesday.”
“I can’t possibly come up with $15,000 in five days. You know that’s not reasonable. Work with me here.”
“I’ll do $7,500.”
“Deal,” I said. And that is how justice is concluded in the halls of power.
She bought a thirty-year-old, 97% depreciated trailer home in a remote, destitute rural area with it.
Shortly afterwards the final orders came in. Spousal maintenance was found to be unconscionable, and the remaining debt was wiped out.
I had permanent sole custody.
Within a few months the rest of the issues unraveled.
I won’t ever forget the judge standing up, kicking her chair across the room, and leveling a shaking finger at my ex-wife and saying “I am too angry to continue. You will get an order from me shortly.”
I kept my posture calm that day, for I had learned to master it in a courtroom.
My ex-wife’s attorney had quit the day before and cleared her calendar. She called me on her drive home that afternoon, sobbing into the phone and apologizing for taking the case personally. I told her she was fully forgiven, and that I knew she would make good use of the experience.
Today she is a magistrate herself. Although I have never appeared before her, I believe that my posture of persistence – and final magnanimity – may help shape her own posture to deliver justice for men who do.
The district attorney, furious at being lied to, immediately dismissed all charges against me and agreed to be a positive reference if any future employer had questions.
Today, I am owed nearly a quarter million dollars in back child support.
Interest rates are fixed, and in another ten years I’ll revisit the matter and ensure I profit from it.
I haven’t had to look upon my ex-wife for over a dozen years. I am happily remarried, my son is grown and an adult moving into his own life. I don’t hold resentment, just a smile.
Posture matters. Adaptation to events, to challenges, to adversaries and their plans, matters.
Accord yourself with complementary, appropriate posture.
That is the Way of both survival and triumph.
This excerpt from The Nine Laws holds promise for you.
What posture do you hold as a Man before the gaze of Heaven?
Think of what that means, and deliver appropriately.
Much love, honor, and respect,