It’s funny how a day can suddenly change, can suddenly turn from being a beautiful, positive thing, full of potential, into a nightmare. This happened the day I found out about E’s first affair (we had identical phones, and I picked up his, thinking it was mine, to find hundreds of texts between E and K declaring their love for each other). It happened the day Youngest Daughter took an overdose. It happened yesterday.
Yesterday morning was sunny and spring-like. I was feeling better in myself for the first time in ages (my doctor doubled my dose of citalopram two weeks ago, and I think I’m beginning to feel the benefit). It was dress down day at work, and I was looking forward to my first weekend with nothing to do. I’d seen my solicitor on Tuesday (she’s been really busy and we hadn’t been able discuss our response to E’s letter) and knew she’d be writing to E again that day, to try and reach some sort of agreement re moving forward (his letter was full of ‘poor me’ stuff but contained absolutely no suggestion as to how he proposed moving forward, apart from repeatedly saying ‘I want to sell the house – now’). I’d done my accounts, and even though E hadn’t paid the child maintenance he was supposed to pay in February, I’d managed to make sure I could pay the main mortgage and bills, and still feed the kids and I. I was feeling positive, I knew I had a long hard path in front of me with E and the house and what would happen next for the kids and I, but I felt like I could face it.
I should have known better. History with E tends to show that he has a remarkable sense of timing, and his ability to check a distressing grenade into my life, just when I least expect it, has already been documented here. There were clues – E had disappeared off social media earlier in the week (I don’t see him on social media, but the kids all mentioned that he’d closed his Facebook account), he’d also defaulted on the secured loan that’s in both of our names and not paid Oldest Daughter’s phone bill. He’s also suddenly started getting the train down to see the boys (he’d always driven before).
The fact that he hadn’t paid the child maintenance had forced me to contact the CMS to ask them to collect the money directly from E’s salary. I hadn’t done this before because I wanted to give E the chance to do the honourable thing. True to form, he’d shown that he wouldn’t, so I’d resorted to the collection option. When I got to work, I got a text from the CMS asking me to call them. I assumed it was just a quick update phone call, so I called them back.
In the space of ten minutes my whole world felt like it was falling apart. The woman I spoke to said something about ‘a change of circumstance’ – so I initially thought ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake P’s pregnant’ (the kids and I have been kind of steeling ourselves for this news since he left), but no, it turns out that E has applied for a ‘special financial variation’ on his child maintenance payments. Now I know that doesn’t sound earth shattering, and I didn’t initially think it was a problem either – until the woman I was speaking to told me that it would take at least three months, and possibly up to six months to sort out.
I was looking at three to six months with no income from E, no way of paying the mortgage or bills, and no way of feeding my children. For the first time since E left, I felt utterly powerless, and completely defeated. I’ve always known, as has he, that I’m totally financially dependent upon E, and his withholding all financial support in the two months leading up to Christmas were a deliberate bullying tactic to make me painfully aware of this fact. But, the – legally enforceable – child maintenance that he was obliged to pay, was a kind of vindication for me, an assertion that he did have some obligation to the kids, and it gave me a basis upon which to ensure that the kids and I had some sort of financial security. It made me feel protected. When E didn’t pay the February instalment, I was upset, but I knew I could manage financially for a few weeks until child maintenance was collected directly. Finding out that E was potentially paying nothing for another six months, was devastating.
As I sat at my desk, I literally couldn’t move. I was frozen. It felt like I was being overwhelmed by a deep dark tidal wave. I didn’t know what to do. Even if I gave in to E’s bullying and put the house on the market immediately, with no negotiation re the terms upon which we sold, it would still take months to sell. I had no options. I had no way of surviving financially. My ability to get a home for the kids and I in the future is dependent upon having a good credit record – the fact that E had defaulted on the secured loan and was putting now me in a situation where I couldn’t pay the mortgage, would mean that my credit scores would be wrecked for years. I have a child a university and three at home, all of whom need financial support, and withholding child maintenance meant that I would struggle to feed them, let along provide any other financial support. Pushing this deep, cold, black tide towards me though was the knowledge that E was deliberately treating me with complete and utter contempt, that he was being consciously cruel, that he was showing his financial muscles, and demonstrating that he could force me to do whatever he wanted. He was deliberately humiliating and hurting me and it hurt even more because it would hurt my children.
I realised that I couldn’t stay at work. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing, and I was starting to shake. I was also, embarrassingly, crying. My colleagues were brilliant – I’ve mentioned before what an amazing group of women I work with – they were all incredible. I don’t like to cry in front of anyone, but they were so understanding and supportive, that it lessened the embarrassment a bit. My friend drove me home and once I was in the cool silence of my living-room I cried like I’d never stop – great big, loud, gulping sobs – and tried to process what was happening.
It was a scary experience. I couldn’t get my breath, I didn’t seem to be getting enough oxygen. I’d called Oldest Daughter, and as I was talking to her, trying to explain what had happened, I was struggling to breathe and feeling increasingly faint. Fortunately, Oldest Daughter, could sense what was happening and she just talked to me about University and what she was doing until my breathing was more regular and I was feeling better.
I know this must all sound horribly over-dramatic but, for the first time in two years, I was completely and utterly lost. I couldn’t comprehend how someone (not just anyone, but someone I’d loved) could be so viciously nasty to me, and (even worse) I couldn’t work out what I needed to do next.
After a couple of hours, and 40 mg of propranolol, I decided to try and find out more about the basis upon which E had disputed the amount of child maintenance he was paying. From what I would see, none of the reasons for a special financial variation could be applied to E – apart from, potentially, traveling to see his kids (which would explain the sudden travel by train and taxi to see them), but, as he only seems them a couple of times a month, this would only make a difference of less than £100 to the amount he paid. The lady I’d spoken to suggested it might be the ‘mortgage payment’ he was making – but, as he has a legal, equitable, share in the house, this wouldn’t apply either.
At this point I thought he could just be playing for time and making my life as awkward as possible, but then I saw reason no 3 ‘repaying debts from a former relationship’. Now, as there are no debts from our relationship (there was a car loan, but as E kept the car, that wouldn’t apply) apart from our mortgages, I can only assume that he’s trying to suggest that I am somehow jointly responsible for his personal credit card and loan debts. In the multitude of ‘poor me’ stuff in his letter to my solicitor, he was suggesting that his huge debts weren’t his fault and that he should therefore have more than 50% of the equity from the house (in E’s world, nothing is ever his fault, not even his affairs), so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m still astonished that he won’t even take responsibility for his own financial mess and, frankly, scared about the view the CMS will take. I’m not responsible in any way for E’s debt, and the fair thing would be to tell him so – but life isn’t fair, and I have no confidence that this will be any different in this case.
I still don’t know what basis he’s applied for the variation, I’ll have to wait and see and then I’ll have to wait again to see what the CMS decides, but, suddenly, the world is a less secure place for me and my children.