The day had finally arrived; my next, and what I hoped will be my final, court date. Though I was much more put together and composed than my first court date, a few months prior, I still needed my mommy- so she flew to LA for the occasion. That morning my dad called, he wished me luck, told me he loved me and said, “go in there and kick his ass!” My dad is the one man in my life I can always count on to be on my side, have my back and help me kick ass…. he is the one who taught me how to kick ass!
The day prior I had spoken to my lawyer and asked him point blank if I should expect any surprises in court, he assured me everything would go smoothly and I had nothing to worry about. I didn’t believe a word he was saying.
As I walked into the Los Angeles County courthouse, I was feeling much stronger than the day in September. I was still nervous, but it was different, under the nervous energy I was pissed off as well. My grief stage was now, raging fucking pissed. The thought of seeing my husband made my stomach hurt, but I felt more prepared, in the way you do when you have done something before so you feel like you know what to expect- even if it is awful.
As my posse sat outside the courtroom waiting for my name to be called I had my usual support group; mom, my best friend and business partner, my longest friend Erika, Sarah, and an associate in the office Mackenzie, oh and of course my lawyer.
A woman on the bench next to me was also meeting with her lawyer. She was tall blonde, in her later 40’s early 50’s, dressed in designer clothes, elegant, beautiful and put together in an effortless but chic way. She looked great on the outside but, I felt bad for her- she was alone. When she started speaking to her lawyer, it was evident she was a bit nervous, not overly jittery she just seemed like she needed half a Xanax, but you could tell it wasn’t her first rodeo. She had been through this, maybe multiple times. As I looked at her part of me wanted to be her; she was elegant, so pulled together and stylish with just the right amount of filler and botox for a woman her age. On the other hand, I was terrified I might end up being her. Reaching that point in my life that I have gone through so many divorces that I stop asking my friends to come with me to court for support. It was a scary thought.
As they called our case, Erika grabbed my hand and stopped me. She took my wrist and gave me a gift. A simple chain with a cross on it that fit perfectly around my wrist and I rarely have taken it off since that day. Erika and I met the year I won Miss Teen USA; she was Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA, and we clicked instantly. Twenty plus years later we are still the best of friends, to say she knows me well would be an understatement. We have been through marriages, boyfriends, moves, career changes, nights out dancing till dawn, road trips… you name it and we have done it together.
My husband had rejected every settlement offer I put on the table so I knew this wouldn’t be easy. He didn’t want to pay alimony; he didn’t want to pay a settlement, he didn’t want to pay my lawyer fees, and he didn’t want to pay my health insurance. He had given me money sporadically over the last 12 months but nothing I could live on. Basically, he was willing to give my belongings back if I made a list. This is what I found really fucked up, in the eye of the California family court system I left my marital home after four months of marriage. So half of that time was two months, and that was too little of a time for them to be concerned with what I got. It didn’t matter that we had lived together for five years, that he had lied to me for seven years, that he had a double life or that he cheated on me- repeatedly. None of it mattered. We had passed the one year mark but since I left the home that is when California counted as our marriage ending. What did California want me to do, stay with my cheating lying husband, sleep next to him each night and drink our coffee together each morning since we were still married? Where was Judge Judy when I needed her, she would have told my x what an ass he was.
After a simple opening statement, our lawyers started going at it. His lawyer hammered on the point that I walked out and when my lawyer discussed money my x had hidden from me she argued that we were not married long enough for it to matter. Blah Blah Blah…. Finally, the judge got sick of our lawyers going back and forth trying to reach a settlement in court and he dismissed us with no resolution. When that gavel went down my heart sank. He then he asked that the lawyers meet and try to work something out face to face. We walked out the courtroom and agreed to go to the cafeteria to talk.
Frist the lawyers spoke, and I sat with my mother at another table. My lawyer came back to the table and explained that they had a hard time reaching an agreement, and his side wouldn’t give at all. He wanted to give me nothing but half of our (basically all of my) belongings and walk away. I hit a wall, I saw red and the words of my father rang in my ears. I was D-O-N-E! I stood up, adjusted my skirt, and started to walk toward my husband, my lawyer calling after me saying, “Ms. Sanders, I don’t think this is a good idea, you should let us work this out.”
Bullshit. I was sick of their lame ass attempts, they weren’t working out dick and I was not going to sit back any longer while someone else fought my battle.
I walked over to my husband and said, “Look, I am not leaving this courthouse until you and I have reached an agreement and settle this. I refuse to let this drag out anymore.”
The look on his face was one of shock but also a look of exhaustion, for a moment I realized he was as tired as I was dealing with this as I was. It was the first time that I realized he might not want to let go of our marriage, but he realized I was not giving in. We sat and talked and talked and talked. He and I talked; we talked to our lawyers, our lawyers talked, I talked to my mom; I called my dad it was a constant conversation for hours! He and I even shared a few laughs, for a moment… just a very brief moment, I saw a glimpse of the man I fell in love with, even if it wasn’t a real person.
I told all my friends they could leave; they didn’t need to waste their day sitting in a courthouse cafeteria, Erika and my mom stayed. Mom and Erika ate lunch, I couldn’t stomach food but proceeded to drink about a pot of coffee which was probably not the best idea. At one point I excused myself to go to the ladies room and Erika followed. When I came out of the stall she was standing there and I lost it. Tears were pouring down my face, I wasn’t even sad I was just so over it I didn’t know what else to do.
Finally, we reached an agreement, my lawyer wrote it up; his lawyer reviewed it, and we got back on the judge’s docket for the last cases of the day. As we marched back into court, it was surreal. It hit me that I was finally going to be “done” with my marriage. I was finally able to put the past seven plus years of lies behind me. I could see a tiny little light at the end of the tunnel.
We presented our settlement; the judge asked if we both agreed we said yes, and the gavel went down. In the end, I didn’t get near what I wanted or what I deserved. The fact I had to pay my lawyer’s fees will always piss me off but after eight hours at the Los Angeles County Courthouse, we were done! All of the money and belongings were just “things,” as my father kept telling me (he loves when he is right), and it wasn’t worth the fight. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry, laugh, jump for joy or punch someone in the face. It was a mixture of all those emotions at once but I did know that I wanted a cocktail.
I thanked my lawyer, hugged my mom and Erika. By the time, I looked up my husband was gone, out of the courtroom. I prayed at that moment that I would never see him again