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 quickly 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 seen 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 but only for me.
New York State had not yet accepted no-fault divorce but was expected to soon; all parties involved said the same thing, “The charge doesn’t mean anything.”All parties, but me agreed.
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 called honorable, a mocking misnomer. Our case was finalized the day he 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,” and of cases far worse than mine. This
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 there thinking of the many cases I’d seen appear in his 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. 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 courts cared nothing about emotional abuse inflicted on children. One judge shrugged and applied the five child support limit to the devout Catholic whose husband left her with eight young ones to care for. 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 publicly would violate the law.
So what happens when the law is poorly written or written to serve ulterior motives? Doees injustice only occur in divorce cases or does it reach to other spheres as well?
I think 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 or 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. 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.
“This is not my final courtroom. This is not my final judgment. In God I Trust.” This recitation kept me going.
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 was the embodiment of Honorable Judge, representing the best of what could be in our court system. He represented the judge I’d hope to preside over a victim of divorce. He represented the person I’d hoped would write the laws and then preside over divorce.
Upon hearing of his death, I was filled with sadness. I don’t have a lot of faith in our court system. What would happen to our country now with the loss of this man who did the impossible by asking for God’s discernment in his work? 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 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 being who we are created to become that 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 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 In God We Trust.