In August, I set a new personal record. Not in a 5k, not in number of pounds lost, or cupcakes turned down. I was in court three times in August. Three times in a single month. Not only was I in court three different times, but I was in three different courtrooms for three different purposes, none of which I had done before.
We started the month in the state’s capitol, having oral argument on an appeal XN filed last June. Yes, on the same day he filed an emergency motion to “affirm his parental rights” he also filed an appeal of his child support obligation. I have never seen so much paperwork in my life. The sheer number of pages and rules for how those pages are laid out, spaced, and numbered blew my mind. Seven copies of four hundred pages was dropped off at the Justice Complex last October, and that was only my response.
My response was returned with “multiple deficiencies” and I was crushed. I had been so proud to figure it all out and then was told that I’d done it wrong. So, I went back to my notes, I researched more case law, I learned how to write a legal argument, and resubmitted. Luckily, I didn’t have to resubmit all the evidence, too. The second time it was accepted.
If one judge in a court room is intimidating, multiple judges in a room with dozens of spectators is downright cruel for a pro se litigant. I was surprised to walk into the courtroom and not see XN, just his attorney. I stood behind the partition, breathing and going over my notes for the two hours we had to wait to have our case heard. When our case was called, opposing counsel was floundering. One of the judges told him flat out that his request to vacate a three-year-old Order was ridiculous and I was relieved. XN was still not in the room. He didn’t come. And what was important and different about that was the way opposing counsel argued. It was not about me. Any other time, when his client is sitting next to him, he spends half of his time blaming me for all wrongs and explaining why I am a horrible person and the absolute worst mother in the state, maybe even the world. Without XN sitting next to him he stuck to the facts. He argued only that his client couldn’t afford to pay. It was a far cry from his written argument about my whorishness, gold digging, and ruthless determination to destroy his client financially.
When it came time for me to speak I froze. He had gone off script and that meant that my scripted response wasn’t appropriate. Though I wasn’t pleased with my oral I stuck to the script on: “At some point I think a judge uses common sense and gets to say ‘these numbers don’t add up. This person claims to make $15,000 a year, but drives a luxury vehicle, lives on a multimillion dollar estate free of charge, and has forced this child’s mother to remain in one of the most expensive states in the nation against her will. It seems fair and just that he pays at least as much as he spends on automobile expenses as he does on child support.’ Add this common sense to all of the nonsensical documentation, the inconsistent figures and ever-changing stories, relentless requests to minimize financial obligations or eliminate them all together, deposit records indicating thousands of dollars a week in cash income, and a significant change in circumstance for the custodial parent, who at the time of divorce lived free of charge and is now responsible for housing, and it is clear where the numbers come from.” Certainly not a legal argument, but at some point, common sense must come into play.
As I stepped out of the elevators leading to the escalator into the main lobby, a sense of accomplishment washed over me. I stepped onto the escalator in my eight-year-old pumps, and watched as the big, cold, steel and glass lobby came into focus. As I stood there, in no rush, a smile came across my face. I had done it. If there is anything my musical theatre training did NOT prepare me for it was to argue a case before a panel of appellate judges, but I did it. No matter the outcome, I persisted.
Two weeks later the Probation Department held an enforcement hearing. This brought me back to the building where it all started, but not in a courtroom. It was different this time. I walked into that Court House with my power that day. If I can handle an appeal I can certainly go into a hearing room and speak the facts of our case without any argument, just facts. And I did. You can read more about that here.
Nine days later I was back at the Court House again. This time I was filing my own emergency motion. After weeks of requesting an itinerary for an upcoming out of state trip the day had come that I wouldn’t see my boy for ten days. I still had no information. My husband wanted me to file the motion. I had no idea how to do it or if I even had grounds, but fear for my boy’s safety and that stubborn persistence set in.
After watching Aidan’s showcase at horse camp, I got in my car and headed to the Court House. I headed to the Court House in sneakers, shorts, a tank top, no makeup and smelling like a barn. When I got the necessary paperwork to file I was told I needed to notify opposing counsel or the other party of my intention. I thought that once I did so they would just turn over the itinerary. Wrong. A few minutes after I emailed opposing counsel with my intention I received a response saying he was going to make sure the Court hit me with “enormous sanctions” for wasting the Court’s time. Apparently, they still had no intention of giving me information, but he did give me more evidence to submit to the Judge.
I filled out the paperwork and turned it in. Then I took the copy down thirteen floors to the cashier to pay the filing fees. Then I took my receipt and the originals up ten floors to Judge’s Chambers. I was nervous and second guessing my decision to do this but there was no turning back. The judge was expecting me. I was a wreck, physically and emotionally, after a draining week of back and forth with XN and opposing counsel. As I turned to walk down the long hall towards Chambers I smiled when I saw my favorite bailiff waiting for me. He has been with us from Day 1 and has always made me feel a little more confident and calm. I have often looked to him in hearings for a kind face. He explained to me that if I took a picture of the actual motion and either texted them to XN or emailed to his attorney that would serve as proof of service. I took the pictures and he took all my paperwork back to the judge.
I sat down and prepared to send the photos to opposing counsel. During that time guess what arrived: an itinerary. Flight details, hotel details, it really wasn’t that difficult or as impossible as they would make it seem. But too late, the motion was with the Judge. This made me feel even sillier for being there and I fought back tears. My friendly bailiff came to get me and walked me into a new courtroom. When I mentioned this he proudly said “yah, it’s a brand-new courtroom.” I awaited the Judge’s arrival, standing in this gleaming new space in my smelly farm clothes.
The Judge arrived and he told me I could have a seat, then asked that I speak up for the recording. I explained that the relief I was seeking was no longer needed as the Defendant had just provided the information. He asked if I still had concerns that XN would run with Aidan, and though I said I always have that concern because of the family’s history and access to an aircraft, I felt better knowing that there was a valid trip on record. On the Order, it says my request was denied without prejudice as the relief sought was already obtained. He also added that neither party can leave the country with Aidan without express written consent from the other party or Court Order. In the statement of reasons that he put on the record it was noted that I provided evidence of correspondence between both Defendant and opposing counsel detailing an attempt to gather information outside of Court. He said, “it is clear that if Ms. Grae had not filed the motion she would not have received this information.” And that was a win. Because I persisted I got the information I needed to have some kind of comfort in my son being away and have record of their unwillingness to provide just the smallest bit of human decency or cooperation.
The other night, my best friend arrived at our house with a gift for me. He works at a children’s publisher and brought me a copy of Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted, which has been sitting in my “save for later” cart on Amazon for months. Along with it he had a bracelet that reads “She persisted. So Should You.” I was moved to tears.
There are times when my persistence seems fruitless. Nothing seems to be moving forward. EVER. But every time I push forward with something I grow stronger and they become more aware and afraid of my power. Every time I persist I am able to look my son in the eye and more confidently say “there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you, Kiddo.” When I started this fight six years ago I had no idea how much it was going to entail or how long it would go on. I often say, “if I had known, I never would have left him.”
We still don’t have an opinion from the Appellate Division and we are still awaiting a rescheduled Probation hearing and the promised Order to Withhold, but in the meantime, I am preparing for my next battle. Each one becomes a little easier and each one prepares me for the final duel that is hopefully on the horizon. Maybe one of these days I will hear opposing counsel say in his ranting about my evil “nevertheless, she persisted.” And THAT will be a victory of its own.