Monday was MLK Day. The kids had the day off school. My husband was home as well. I couldn’t make phone calls while they were there but I knew my husband had planned another trip for laser tag. Once they’d left the apartment I started calling to price the services of local lawyers.
It was a bit of a shock, to say the least. The very first law firm I called was pretty small. Two partners, one of whom answered the phone himself. Their retainer fee was $1500 and their hourly rates were $200. No, they did not offer payment plans. Even knowing I couldn’t afford to hire them, though, the man I spoke with asked me about the circumstances of my divorce and checked some kind of system he could access to see if my husband had filed for divorce on Friday. He had not. I asked and was told that it would probably take at least 5 hours of work for a lawyer to prepare my case for a first hearing because it ‘had a lot of moving parts.’
I thanked him and moved on. From what I’d researched, $200 was the low end of average for the services of a lawyer in a metro area. In a rural area it might drop as low as $100 per hour. I had approximately $400 to work with and was estimated to need at least 5 hours of work to get me to a provisional hearing. This was not shaping up well.
The other law firms I reached did not accept payment plans, either. I found one that said she did on the site I was using to find and contact local lawyers, but I didn’t get through and had to leave a message. Finally I talked to a paralegal at one of the potential firms and she was sympathetic but generally speaking, how they made things easier for clients was to allow the retainer fee to be paid half at a time. $750 up front, and $750 before the first hearing. That was still too much for me. She said she’d talk to the lawyer she worked for and call me back if there was anything they could do.
I was done for the afternoon, though, as I wasn’t sure when my husband and the kids would return and did not want to be caught calling lawyers.
I vented a little to A & H and said I had an idea on the back burner – threaten my husband with turning this into a he said/she said situation by going public with his behavior if he didn’t put my half of the savings he’d taken, and half the tax return, back in the joint account. Between the two of us, I knew which of us could state our case more eloquently, and which of us had 9 months of blog posts, some screen shots and a recording.
Of course, then I realized there was a flaw in that plan. If I dumped all that info so that people could see what kind of person my husband really was, he’d retaliate – but he might retaliate in a way that would drag H into it. It’s one thing for my husband to privately accuse me of carrying on with H, it’s quite another for H to be publicly accused of carrying on with someone’s wife. I know there are some people that probably wouldn’t give two shits about an accusation like that, and might even find it amusing, but H is a very private person and getting dragged into someone else’s public drama, even though it was a false accusation, would probably be intensely embarrassing to him.
That idea seemed distinctly less useful, now. I’m not going to harm my friends to try and save myself.
All I needed was for someone to work with me on a payment plan until I could get through the provisional hearing and force my husband to restore my access to funds. That seemed to be increasingly unlikely, though.
I had family movie night to attend and I went to bed after, still feeling sad and wishing for comfort, again. I had an idea, though. Maybe if I pared down my threat simply to disclosure of his attempts to control me financially. Maybe he wouldn’t leap to retaliation that might include H. I made a note to run the idea past A & H in the morning and see if they had any thoughts on using it as a back-up plan. I was still hoping to get a call back from someone, and could keep checking entries for additional lawyers to call.
It was a relief to arrive at Tuesday morning and know that my husband would be leaving for work and the kids would be heading to school. I wondered if my husband would take time out of his day to go file now that we’d reached the 6 month requirement.
After everyone else was gone, I asked A & H what they thought of my idea. A was very leery. She believed my husband would feel cornered and retaliate, even with a lesser threat. I understood that, but as long as he wasn’t lashing out at H to try and embarrass and hurt me by attacking a friend, I’d deal with it. A still didn’t like the idea because I was in a vulnerable position when it came to retaliation. I pointed out that I was already in an incredibly vulnerable position, and that without funds for a lawyer I wouldn’t have a way to get less vulnerable.
If my husband filed as early as he could, I’d get 20 days to respond after being served. Even if I got hired right away, that wouldn’t be enough time to accrue $1500 for a retainer fee. And it was unlikely I’d get hired that fast, since most places required scheduled interviews and such that took time to complete.
H finally entered the conversation and said if it came to needing an emergency response like that, he would probably be able to loan me the $1500 for a retainer fee.
My reaction seemed to be the equivalent of going into shock but on an emotional level. It felt like my brain had short-circuited. I was still able to respond, with gratitude, for his offer. While tentatively accepting the help, I made sure to express my concern that I couldn’t guarantee when I’d be able to pay it back since I didn’t know how long it would take the courts to force my husband into compliance, and didn’t want H to be unable to access his funds if he needed them. I didn’t want him to make that offer if there was a chance he’d get screwed because of it.
I couldn’t seem to access an emotional reaction to this surprise. I was having a physical reaction though – an entire portion of my face was twitching and I was trembling. I’m so used to my friends being poor and living paycheck to paycheck that I’d just assumed something like a loan would be out of the question from anyone that would be willing to help. The spirit is willing but the wallet is empty. Now I’d been offered the help I needed, basically out of the blue, and my mind couldn’t shift gears to keep up. It was used to shifting into gear for sad, anxious or angry moods. It didn’t know what to do with good news.
I was chatting with A privately later talking about my body’s response to the offer and said I thought part of my short-circuit reaction was the fact that I simply don’t have enough experience with this kind of thing to have a pre-programmed response. On top of that, I’m just not used to receiving kindness as a regular thing. I also quipped that I felt like a character from a Victorian era novel, having to lie down over a shock – because I had needed to lie down and spent some time back in bed because of it.
This morning I’m still feeling – confused. I’m not used to help. This last year’s worth of work has been like trying to crawl out of a pit while people grab my ankles to pull me back down or kick me in the head to prevent me from crawling over the edge. Having someone hold out a hand to help me up is incredibly unexpected. For several years now I’ve been settling into a mindset that the only one that could or would be there for me, was me. There are people that would be there for me but can’t, like A, and people that could be there for me, but won’t. Having someone that both can and will be there for me? I don’t even know how to process that!