Project 52, Week 44, Part 2 – Divorce, Phase Seven

It’s time for Project 52, Week 44!

44 weeks ago, on my 52nd birthday, I began Project 52. Since there are 52 weeks in a year, each week I’m taking one year of my life and blogging about it. This week, I’m covering the year I was 44 — June 14, 2008, to June 14, 2009.

Last time, I talked about the start of Year 44, when I graduated from Drexel University with a Master’s in Library and Information Science and Jade (then called Josh) graduated from Full Sail University with a Bachelor’s degree in film.

Then for a month, I had Josh and Tim both in my home, but they also spent a good amount of that time at Steve’s.

It was great to have both of my children with me. Though Josh was very ready to move out and be on their own.

On September 2, 2008, Tim started high school at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and on September 3, Josh flew from Dulles airport to Los Angeles. Josh was going to live in my parents’ house and look for a job in the film industry.

Well, it turned out to be a bad time for a new person to get a foot in the door. Josh got there just after a major Writer’s strike, and new jobs weren’t easy to come by. I was happy that Josh was with family, so I didn’t have to worry about them having a place to live and food to eat. And I wouldn’t be tempted to fuss over them finding work.

Meanwhile, divorce matters were absorbing my time and attention.

I was thinking about describing this phase and I’d have to say, “This was just phase one of our divorce.” And then I realized: Hold it right there! Although this wasn’t even close to being the end of our divorce negotiations, it was by no means the beginning!

To review, here are the phases in my divorce:

Phase 1: Clueless
Fall 2004 to March 14, 2005.
“Double Life”
My husband began a secret friendship that progressed to an affair in February 2005.
I had no idea.

Phase 2: Heartbreak
March 14 to June 4, 2005.
Revelation #1: “I’ve been living a double life.”
Affair continued, unbeknownst to me. What I did hear is all the ways I let my husband down over 18 years of marriage.
After the initial shock, I went into a deep depression, taking on the guilt for my husband “needing a friend.”
What helped pull me out of the depression was my friend Kathe’s visit, plus singing a solo at a choir concert, plus switching migraine preventatives to an anti-depressant.

Phase 3: Trying So Hard
June to November 2005
“Working on it” (But not really)
I was trying with all my might to win my husband back. We went to counseling.
I didn’t know the affair was continuing, though this was the phase when my friends kept seeing him out and about with the other woman.

Phase 4: Separated
November 2005 to August 2006.
Revelation #2: “I want a divorce.”
Divorce Filing #1: Steve filed with a lawyer in Illinois. Papers were not served before we left Germany, so didn’t happen. Steve “fired” his lawyer #1.
During this phase, I was living in the family home (rented) in Sembach village, and Steve was coming over regularly to read at bedtime to Tim and feed the kids when I worked late.
I had new support. My trip to Paris. I’d talked with a lawyer at Ramstein Legal, and I could now tell people in my Sunday School class. I started getting Rejoice Ministries emails about standing for my marriage.
I was making plans to become a librarian.

Phase 5: Opposite Sides of the World
August 2006 to August 2007.
Revelation #3: It was an affair all along.
Steve got himself sent to Japan so I couldn’t follow him.
I moved to Virginia and began my Master’s in Library Science.

Phase 6: Money Worries
Fall 2007.
Steve moved to Virginia. Support cut drastically.
My hopes rose when I saw my husband for the first time in a year. But they got beaten down pretty quickly.
We began negotiations about Tim spending time with his Dad.

Phase 7: Legal Negotiations
October 2007 to November 2008.
Divorce Filing #2: Steve filed for divorce with a Virginia lawyer. (His lawyer #2)
I found a wonderful and competent lawyer, Roberta Henault. She began negotiating with Steve’s lawyer to try to create a Custody Agreement as well as a Property Settlement Agreement.
I was still praying against the divorce but was becoming resigned that it wasn’t going to happen.

So – at this time I was in Phase 7 of divorce negotiations! (Spoiler alert: several more to come!)

Here’s what I wrote to my email mentor about the case on August 13, 2008:

Okay, then tonight I got a phone message from my lawyer.  She says it’s time to do Discovery for our case.  She has tried to call Steve’s lawyer, and they’ve each left voicemail messages but haven’t made contact.  We still hadn’t heard from him after sending in our agreement proposal.  (Wasn’t that February?)
So — I decided to call Steve and just ask him if he’s going to try to work out an agreement.  I ended up talking to him on the end of his call to Timothy instead.  I was soooo nervous!
But it was one of the most polite conversations we’ve had in years!  He said that he is still hoping to work out an agreement.  I said I would like that too.  He said that 6 weeks ago, he sent his lawyer 3 pages of notes about a counterproposal, but he hasn’t heard back from his lawyer yet.  (“He’s hard to reach.”)  He also said that he has told his lawyer that we agree about custody.
So — I was encouraged that Steve is going to try to work out an agreement.  I’m a bit worried that we will run out of time to do it, though.  If he had 3 pages of notes, then we’re not terribly close yet, and it’s taking way too long for each stage of negotiation.  Even though you’d think that avoiding a trial would save money, I don’t want to agree to a proposal that won’t meet my needs just because we’re running out of time to avoid trial.
I will call my lawyer in the morning and talk with her about it.  She may want to proceed with Discovery anyway.  I’m not sure how much needs to be done except gathering financial statements and bills — something that will be fairly easy for me but hard for Steve, probably.  (I wonder if starting the Discovery process might hurry him up on negotiating….)  Anyway, I’m going to yield to my lawyer’s judgment about how we will proceed.  In a way, I’m very relieved that she brought it up, because I was noticing how close it’s getting, and I was a little afraid she was forgetting about me.
And it was good to have it confirmed that we both think that we agree about Custody.  So we should be able to sign an agreement about that and avoid that first trial and mediation.  I wonder which lawyer will draw up the smaller agreement if we can’t come up with a large agreement to sign.
I admit, I still get to hoping that all those rainbows [I’d seen three rainbows during my Florida trip] meant that Steve would say, “Let’s forget the whole thing!  Let’s not get divorced!”  And maybe he’ll get transferred to DC….  But if we are getting divorced, an agreement will definitely be a better way to go.  My lawyer has already used half of the retainer I paid her (from my parents’ money), and if we have a trial, I’m sure I’ll need to give her more….

Well, Steve’s lawyer didn’t get back to my lawyer about an agreement, so it was getting too close to the trial dates (set up in June), so my lawyer said we needed to issue Discovery.

Steve wasn’t at all happy about the questions my lawyer asked. Including questions about his sex partners during the marriage. But also about his finances, especially in Japan.

When I gave my lawyer my answers to their Discovery questions, her assistant said they were the most organized files she’d ever seen! This was with 27 Interrogatories and 23 Document Requests.

Yes! I’m a Librarian!

And while I was assembling the papers – it took a long time – I made a discovery. I thought that Steve had never admitted in writing to his affair. But after I had an abnormal pap smear – which they later tested and discovered was not HPV or anything sexually transmitted – I asked Steve if he had ever had sex with anyone besides Amy, where he could have gotten the germs and spread them to me. (My first abnormal pap smear was before his affair.)

Steve got pretty mad at the question, but said that before “my affair with Amy” he had not had sex with anyone else.

And that put it in writing.

I also had emails where he mentioned his Letter of Counseling and Letter of Reprimand for the “appearance of an inappropriate relationship.” He was blaming me for them – but it proved they existed.

So – September was when I put together my responses.

My lawyer made plans to send off my discovery responses when they got Steve’s. His didn’t come within the 21 days required. In fact, when they hadn’t arrived by October, my lawyer filed a Motion to Compel to get the answers.

Here’s from an email I sent to some close friends on October 16:

Things with the divorce are really heating up.  I am getting mail from my lawyer almost every day.
So I would appreciate your prayers that I would have a godly response and that God would be at work in this awful situation.
There are basically three things going on:
1.  Steve did not answer discovery by the deadline.  So my lawyer is filing a Motion to Compel.  We did get his answers to the Interrogatories this week, but they were not complete and he still has not answered the document requests.  My lawyer is working out an agreed order with his lawyer that he will deliver the rest of the discovery by October 22.
2.  My lawyer drafted a revised agreement.  She took out everything from the earlier settlement proposal that Steve and his lawyer objected to.  She made small revisions to other parts that they requested.  What’s left is an agreement that would settle custody/visitation, property settlement, and equitable distribution.  All that would still remain to be settled would be spousal support, child support and legal fees.
If Steve signs this agreement, things will get much, much simpler.  Because most of our disagreement involves our different view of the “causes of the dissolution of the marriage” and that is only an issue in dealing with equitable distribution.  Spousal support still has some strong areas of disagreement, but that is more about our financial situations and it’s much, much easier to establish the facts.
If Steve does not sign the agreement, we have a custody/visitation trial scheduled for November 5.  If he’s not going to sign it, we need to start preparing for trial very soon.
3.  Yesterday I received a copy of Steve’s answers to the interrogatories.  I knew I wouldn’t like them, but they are very difficult to read.  He accuses me of constant verbal abuse, attempted theft, obstructing his visits with Timothy, interfering with his career, refusing to work, and many other horrible things.
Part of me now wants to go to court about these things, because I do believe that God will help me “refute every tongue that accuses me.”  However, I’m not at all sure that would be the best thing to have happen!
And, as I say, if Steve signs the revised proposal, many of these accusations will no longer be an issue.  If we don’t have an agreement about everything, there will be a trial on December 10th.  How much will be covered still depends on if he signs the revised proposal.
I did stay up very late last night e-mailing my lawyer telling her what evidence I have against the specific accusations and asking what more I should gather.  As you can imagine, it’s easy to start fretting and stewing over this.  I don’t want to get sick again, like I did right after I sent in my own discovery responses.  But not getting enough sleep is not a good way to protect my health!
I do want to ask for prayer for my lawyer, for her wisdom.  All this is racking up the legal fees, too.
I’m starting to find it absolutely incredible that God has told me to wait and pray for Steve to have a change of heart.  But He is the God of the impossible, and I do believe that He was incredibly clear about that, and confirmed and re-confirmed it.  But I appreciate your prayers that I would have God’s forgiveness.  I don’t want to be foolish or put myself at risk in any way, mind you.  It comforts me that Steve would have to have an ENORMOUS change of heart before he would ever have the slightest desire to come back.  I want to stand up for the truth and for what is right and for what I need financially.  But I also want to be able to remember my love for my boys’ father and have compassion for him.
And to be able to focus on my work and my sons, and put this in God’s hands and in my lawyer’s hands.
And I admit I am starting to really look forward to being divorced and having this settled!
Thank you so much for your prayers!

And that reminds me: I’d already been telling people that whenever there was a step in the legal case, verses from Isaiah 54 would somehow come up. It happened again!

I was using a Read-through-the-Bible calendar to read through the Bible in a year. Well, the very day that I was served with discovery, this calendar had me reading Isaiah 53-55, including these verses:

If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing;
whoever attacks you will surrender to you….
No weapon forged against you will prevail,
and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and this is their vindication from me,
declares the Lord.

But by October 17, I was reporting that Steve’s lawyer had an agreement we could work with. One point was postponing the actual divorce for one year until Steve retired, so I could get lifetime military health insurance. And he agreed to spousal support until retirement, when I’d get a portion of his retirement pay. I was hopeful we’d be able to avoid trial.

After talking with my lawyer as we were working out what we thought was a final agreement, I wrote this to my mentor:

Along the way, she told me that Steve’s response was definitely up there among the very most vicious and angry she and her staff have ever seen.  (And they only do divorces.)  In a way, that was validating!  She said that even when she didn’t have my response in front of her, she could tell he was making accusations up.  But she also thinks that he is so angry, he really believes what he is saying.
She said that she and her paralegal commented that they hope these responses get me to reconsider the idea of ever taking him back!  (And they DID make me feel better about getting divorced — but now the divorce may get put off.  Oh well.)

And next I got some news about the other side. Here’s from another email I wrote on October 24, updating my mentor.

Today I got some rather stunning news from my lawyer.
She did get the documents requested from Steve, and a repeat of the interrogatories.  They were not more complete than before — but they did have some significant changes.
For the question where it asked if Steve had any relationship with anyone, now instead of denying it, he’s pleading the 5th!
She said that he actually gave up his right to plead the 5th when he denied it.  And they were trying to pull a fast one by not marking the new answers as “revised.”
She talked with Steve’s lawyer about it.  Turns out, he told her that he had a shouting match with Steve.  The lawyer said that if Steve does not accept our current offer, the lawyer is going to withdraw from the case!
My lawyer is pretty sure that Steve’s lawyer read our interrogatory answers and learned that Steve had lied to him about not having an affair.  (And I’m comforted that if it was that obvious to his lawyer from my evidence, it will also be obvious to a judge.)

Note: It’s against military law to have an affair with a co-worker, so yes, admitting his affair would have been incriminating himself.

So the next day I went to my lawyer’s office and signed the agreement, which Steve’s lawyer had approved. Once again, an email from the time is the easiest way to make clear what happened:

I signed a divorce settlement agreement today!
Actually, I signed two.  It’s this way:  I was already planning to come in to the lawyer’s office at 8:30 am to sign a “smaller” agreement — covering everything except child and spousal support and legal fees.  When I did that, and signed that agreement, my lawyer told me that the day before she and Steve’s lawyer had come to terms about a final agreement.
So she wrote up a new agreement, including everything, and I came back in to her office in the afternoon to sign it.  She will send it by overnight mail to Steve’s lawyer, who should get it on Monday.
I think it’s a good agreement.  It does put off the divorce for about a year until Steve has been in the Air Force 20 years, and I would qualify for lifetime health and commissary benefits.  After that time, I would agree to cooperating with a no-fault divorce.  It would be the same amount of child support as I am getting now, with a little bit for spousal support on top of that, and a small fraction of my legal fees paid.  I do think that if I went to court, I’d probably end up with a bigger award, but it’s worth it to not have to go to court.
However, I’m worried that Steve won’t sign it.
Here’s why:  Last night he called me to talk about Timothy’s next visit.  He wanted to set up some further visitation times and asked if he could have Tim visit on Thanksgiving weekend.  I said that I wasn’t sure if the agreement gave him Thanksgiving in odd years or even years.  He asked, “What agreement?”
There was a lot more, but what worried me is that he didn’t seem at all familiar with the terms of the visitation part of the agreement that our lawyers have been discussing for months now and I thought was in the “agreed” part of the negotiations.  And he did make it very clear that if I didn’t come up with a “reasonable” agreement, he wouldn’t sign and he would consider it my fault if we have to go to court on November 5.
I am not sure how much attention he has been paying to what his lawyer has been sending him, and worry that when he sees the actual agreement, he will decide not to sign.  If he doesn’t sign, we will have a custody/visitation trial on November 5 and another trial for everything else on December 10.
Now, maybe what God has in mind for this situation is to have more light shine on our big mess by going to court.  But I admit that I hope not!
So I am asking people to join with me praying that Steve will sign the agreement next week.
Then I will still be married, but we will have financial and other matters settled between us.  There will still be transportation details to work out for every visit, but at least we’ll have a framework to work within.
And if not, we will need to quickly prepare for trial on November 5.

And then, on October 31, the case got dropped! Here’s where I explain it to my friends:

Dear Friends,
Well, I got some half-expected news today.  My lawyer told me that she talked with Steve’s lawyer, and Steve is not going to sign the agreement.  His areas of concern were things I hadn’t dreamed he’d get upset about, and we could negotiate about — only I think his lawyer has had enough.  The lawyer is withdrawing from the case and they are going to “non-suit” it.
Basically, that means they will dismiss the case for now.  My lawyer had warned me that he could do this if I didn’t “cross-file” my own complaint for divorce when he filed against me.
I was a bit stunned.  It just makes it as if he had not filed for divorce.  So no custody/visitation trial this coming Wednesday, and no trial on December 10.
His lawyer believes that Steve will continue to pay the amount of child support he is currently paying, because Steve says that I threatened to go to his command if he doesn’t.  Well, whether I did or didn’t, my lawyer says that if he stops paying child support, I do have some legal options to try to order him to pay support without filing for divorce.
Of course, it’s disappointing — now visitation matters are not settled between us, and I was just scraping by on the current amount of child support.  But on the other hand, I got to thinking:
When Steve first filed for divorce against me, I prayed earnestly over it with Rose Bunda (who was my prayer partner at the time), that this divorce would NOT HAPPEN!  Well, that is precisely what a non-suit does.  If Steve does end up divorcing me, it will be with a new suit.
So — If God could answer that utterly impossible request — even as I prayed I could not conceive of how it could happen — well, then can’t I also believe that He can answer the even bigger impossible request of changing Steve’s heart, bringing him to repentance, and restoring our marriage?  (And, okay, working in my heart so that I want it again!)
So we will see what happens next.  Presumably, Steve will get a new lawyer.  My lawyer did say that it’s possible that the new lawyer will convince him to sign the agreement — it appears that much of Steve’s disagreement with his own lawyer was not believing that the lawyer had gotten him a good enough deal.
I have asked my lawyer some questions about it, so I don’t know if this is true or not, but it seems to me that if Steve has to start all over again, it might not even be possible for him to get a divorce finalized before January 2010, when he will have been in the Air Force for 20 years, and when I will qualify for lifetime military health benefits.
And meanwhile, I will not have to go to court next Wednesday, so that is a relief!  Or on December 10.
This day had some other dramas.  My apartment managers told me that I did NOT qualify to renew my lease on my own income (I’d signed before with Steve), so I had to give them an additional $1590 deposit — by tomorrow, November 1st!
The only way I could figure out to come up with a cashier’s check so fast was to transfer money from my American Express card as a cash advance to my checking account.  I saw the 20.99% interest they were charging, and my heart just sank.  Shortly after doing that, I got the call from my lawyer and learned I would not be getting spousal support any time soon, so I was definitely discouraged, wondering how I could possibly keep from getting behind on paying my bills.
But I tried to remind myself (with mixed success) that my support comes from GOD, not from Steve.
Anyway, about a half-hour later, my apartment manager called to tell me that, because I have a good credit score, they will not be requiring the additional deposit after all!  So — I went back to the bank and was able to reverse both transactions.  It took all morning, but the end result was good.
I do think that I am going to need to look for a cheaper place to live.  I had hoped to wait until the divorce settlement was done.  I know of at least one first-time home buyer program that I can’t qualify for while married.  And I had wanted something stating how much support I will be getting, so I could use that in a loan application.  However, maybe it’s just as well.  I won’t qualify for as big a loan without including support, but on the other hand that means my payments would not be as big.
So I am going to be praying that something just right for me at just the right price will come up for me to move into in six months, when my lease expires.  I do not need as big a place with Josh now fully moved out.  And with all the foreclosures, there are some good deals out there these days, and lots of programs to help first-time homebuyers.  I would probably try to move closer to Timothy’s school, but I can choose anywhere in Fairfax county without jeopardizing his attendance at TJ.  And for now, I can start looking into what I would need for loan applications.
So — quite a day!  I did go for a walk in Frying Pan Park across the street and marvelled at how the Fall colors just keep getting prettier and prettier.  That helped calm my racing thoughts.
Bottom line, I’m going to take the non-suit of the divorce case as an answer to my desperate prayer that that divorce would NOT HAPPEN.  It is a sign that God has NOT given up on Steve and He is still working in my life and in my marriage, even when things look like they are completely over.
Thank you for praying!  God is still up to something….

So – the divorce case was dropped. To this day, that feels like a miraculous answer to prayer.

And although in the long run, I still got divorced, I ended up being the one who filed – which meant that I finally got to the place where I had to face that divorce was the right thing to do.

Thinking back now about those days “standing for my marriage” brings up a whole lot of mixed emotions. In many ways, it was a way to deny reality and try to control the outcome. It was a way to try to be super-spiritual and deny myself nobly for the good of the one I loved.

But lots of good came out of the delay.

I was still having dreams (I read about one in my journals yesterday) where Steve was in love with me again and he forgave me and took me back.

That shows me that I was absorbing his relentless message that the whole thing was all my fault because I wasn’t a good enough wife.

But it also shows me that I still had not fully absorbed that this man I loved had truly changed.

The time it was taking was helping me slowly heal, slowly build a joyful life in Virginia. I was still loving my job at Herndon Fortnightly Library and being encouraged tremendously by folks at Gateway Community Church.

That Fall I started attending Mark and Rachel Morgan’s small group on Thursday nights. Not meeting on Sundays, it didn’t interfere with helping with the driving when Tim was coming home from visits at Steve’s. I also liked that we didn’t need to bring food. (Preparing something on Sunday evening wasn’t something I wanted to have to deal with, even if it wasn’t every week.) Best of all, I was the youngest person in the group, not by a huge amount – but just enough that I felt extra mothered and cared for.

So, that did finish up Phase Seven of our divorce – and I’ll write about good things going on that year in my next post!

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