I sat in the courtroom. The papers I held in my hand dictated the inevitable. There was nothing I could do about it, and I sat watching and waiting for my turn to be called. I didn’t know it would be like this. Who could have? This is sitting in a crowded courtroom on hard benches in front of so many others waiting their turns to be called, waiting for my private shames to be read aloud for all to hear.
I sat next to the attorney, a busy little man who talked too much, cussed too freely and made my skin crawl a bit. My head was still spinning from my ex’s sudden abandonment and the birth of our fifth little boy. I’d been backed into a corner and forced to find a lawyer to represent me, but this man did not represent me.
Had it really been less than a year that my husband and I had stood in Church and renewed our vows? Had I really just given birth to that precious fifth son? How could I be expected to find an attorney and accurately account for demands the courts and my ex presented? I could hardly breathe.
The paper in my hand was fire when I’d first received it, scorching me with disbelief. My husband, the man I’d loved, had filed for a divorce, the charge, cruel and unusual treatment by me.
The divorce was bad enough, but the charges were beyond cruel and unusual. I’d been far from the perfect wife. I wished I could take back words I’d said and things I’d done. I wished I could say and do things I should have said and done but for self-centered reasons had failed to do. I’d made mistakes, but I’d loved my husband to the best of my ability. Over the last several years of our marriage, as my faith and maturity had grown, I’d treated him honorably.
Yet, here was his public declaration that I’d cast cruel and unusual treatment upon him causing him physical, mental, and/or emotional stress. I brought this untruth up at our four-way meeting, and it became a sticking point.
Unfortunately, it became a sticking point only for me.
New York State had not yet accepted no-fault divorce but was expected to soon, and so “no real reason” was needed for divorce. All parties involved said the same thing, “The charge doesn’t mean anything.”
All parties agreed, except me.
Realities of Divorce Court
I sat in that courtroom, listening to other people’s horror stories, of income lost, of bankruptcies filed, of business failures, of homes sold, and of children divided like commonly traded goods. Formulas were applied granting child support and visitation, “granting” as though the judge was a fairy godmother making wishes come true. In my case, the man behind the long robe and gavel was anything but what his title demanded he be called, “Honorable Judge.” The terms were used in his courtroom as a mocking misnomer he arrogantly failed to recognize. Our case was finalized the day this judge called my attorney and me into his chambers telling us off the record I had no choice but to sign. He told me to “get over it.” He gave details of his own divorce and things his ex wife had done to him and then went on to tell of cases far worse than mine, of babies injured in deliveries and of women raped.
And he said we all (parents of injured babies, women raped, victims of divorce) need to just “get over it.” It was a term others had used too, but I hadn’t expected it from this off the record judge as he told me to sign.
This dishonorable man wielded power over me. I sat there looking at the little figure on the desk in front of me. It was the statue we’ve come to associate with justice, a blindfolded woman, holding balancing scales derived from the Egyptian goddess Ma’at and Greek goddesses Themis and Justitia.
I sat in chambers thinking of the many cases I’d seen appear in this judge’s court and of how far we’d come from Christian values. I sat thinking of the elevation of these ancient goddesses and the desecration of the 10 Commandments, but I’d yet to relate the two or understand how they applied to the breakup of the Family. I sat there knowing this judge would make my life worse if I stood up for myself.
I agreed to terms as given.
When the case was settled, I was done with supreme court, but battles for child support, which can only be amended down, and disputes over custody, which can be amended up, both benefitting the runaway parent, meant time in family court.
Through it all, I watched formulas applied and families treated with cookie cutter decrees. Heart-wrenching stories were endless. I listened as the judges and courts cared nothing about emotional abuse inflicted on children. Judges and courts have been made calloused by stories far worse leaving far more visible wounds. I was told of one judge shrugging carelessly while applying the five child support limit to the devout Catholic whose husband left her with eight young ones to care for. I knew firsthand the judges and courts would not demand much of absentee parents because, “They need money to live on,” and “If too much is asked of them, they’ll disappear and give nothing.”
Cookie cutter formulas are written by legal scholars who know or care little about unique family situations.
You never go to court feeling like a winner.
When you’re a single parent fighting for your children,
you go to court with the hopes of
not leaving a total loser.
Where Do We Turn for Truth, Justice, & Inspiration?
To be fair, most judges aren’t bad people. The problem is judges aren’t paid to care or get involved. Judges are paid to apply the law uniformly. Judges are taught to assume the laws are the best we can do, ruling according to the law, forsaking God’s discernment because doing otherwise would violate the law.
So what happens when the law is poorly written or written to serve ulterior motives? Does injustice only occur in divorce cases or does it reach to other spheres as well?
The effort to be “fair” has allowed those running America’s court systems to eliminate what is just. The effort to gain power has allowed those running America’s court systems to chose personal agendas over what is good and true. One thing got me through divorce and family court was the phrase which hung above each judge’s head in bold gold letters:
In God We Trust.
I sat on those hard benches of supreme court and in the crowded lobby of family court clutching my Bible and silently praying the Rosary. I sat praying for myself, for my children, for my ex’s return, for the other woman’s eyes to be opened and her heart to be softened. I sat praying for others whose eyes I met and saw such pain or anger. I prayed for those who could not make eye contact with anyone there, but looked only down at the ground in front of them.
There were many times I only fought back tears brought upon by the sentence reached or the questions fired at me only by looking up at those words and taking them into my heart and reciting silently.
“This is not my final courtroom.
This is not my final judgment.
In God I Trust.”
What Antonin Scalia Meant to a Divorced Catholic
Antonin Scalia was a different sort of judge, a Catholic man, a family man, a man of integrity. Antonin Scalia seemed to be the embodiment of Honorable Judge, representing the best of what could be in our court system. He represented the person I’d hoped would write the laws. He represented the judge I’d hope to preside over a victim of divorce.
Upon hearing of his death, I was filled with sadness. I don’t have a lot of faith in our court system and questioned what would happen to our country now with the loss of this man who did the impossible (or was it just illegal?) by asking for God’s discernment in his work?
To me, Antonin Scalia represented something different. He represented one who is good and willing to stand unwaveringly for justice. He represented a man willing and able to compromise where possible but ready and able to stand alone when needed. He represented what could be in America’s courtrooms. He represented a legal scholar focused, not on exterminating real justice or maintaining the status quo, but on caring for and growing truth.
The death of Antonin Scalia left me pondering the loss for his family but also for our country and whoever the next appointee would be. It left me deeply concerned for America and for my children. I believe the country I love is in decline, but that men like Antonin Scalia could bring it back. I believed he could make the difference when it comes to things like abortion and healthcare mandates, in our families and that those changes could reach to our educational systems and our job growth and the love and respect and honor we held once.
I had a lot of hope in Antonin Scalia, but then he was gone. I was saddened, but the words of his son, Father Paul, as he presided over the funeral Mass, lifted me again.
We are gathered here because of one man, a man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to many more; a man loved by many, scorned by others; a man known for great controversy and for great compassion.”
That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.
The loss of Antonin Scalia is a blow to our country but Antonin Scalia was just a man. He accomplished great things, but he was nothing more than a human being.
I believe, he would tell us to take his death and use it to motivate one another, to work, care for, grow and promote our Catholic faith. We place our trust in God alone and in becoming who we are created to be.
That Trust makes us far more powerful than our failures
and far more glorious than our successes.
Whether you are a displaced worker struggling to put food on your table, a wealthy Hollywood starlet with no real friends, or a single mom of five boys standing alone in a courtroom, it is not in the abilities or compassion or rulings or laws of man that we put our faith. We put our hope only in the Cross.
In God We Trust
I am saddened by the loss of this great judge. With his loss, more of us must stand and speak out reminding others we do not put our trust in Antonin Scalia and or in any other judge. We put our hope in one Man, Jesus Christ, because it is truly only
In God We Trust.
**Since this post first published, I have heard of the first ruling that I know of to be affected by the death of Antonin Scalia. A case was brought before the Supreme Court regarding union money spent to support political campaigns and so on. For example, I am a New York teacher. To teach in a public school system I have to be part of the union and part of my dues go to support political candidates I completely disagree with because of moral issues like abortion vs the life of a child. The Supreme Court has recently voted 4-4 to continue forcing this payment, a vote that favors unions over religious liberty and personal choice – kind of strange for pro-choice groups. Antonin Scalia’s vote would have reversed this decision 5-4 against forced union contributions.
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