The Thursday before Easter dawned bright and warm.
I’d taken the day off and I was hoping to spend the day relaxing and getting the house back into shape. One and a half weeks of the kids being home all day during the school holidays had meant that everything was in a total fucking mess. It’s not that they’re not willing to tidy up/clean up after themselves, it’s just that they are totally blind to the plates they leave wherever they ate from them, the crumbs they leave behind on the counters and the various bits of daily flotsam and jetsam that seem to waft around the house and settle whilst I’m not there. Before I started the cleaning, I decided to call the CMS to see if they’d received a payment from E to transfer to me. After a refreshingly brief 15 minute telephone queue (accompanied by the usual eardrum bursting, screechingly bad, electronic version of Handel’s Water Music), I got through to a very nice chap, who looked (again) at my case and reported that E hadn’t responded their email, their calls or responded to their text message, within the allotted two weeks they have to give him to respond, all of which meant that they agreed he was non-compliant and they could now move to make a court order to take my child maintenance directly form E’s salary. He assured me that they would do this within the next ten days.
For a moment, hope blossomed, the mortgage payment was going out in exactly ten days and surely this meant that there would be some money in my account to pay for it now? The chap I was speaking to quickly disabused me – explaining that whilst they’d apply for the court order it would take another two months to get anything agreed. Once again, I felt everything crumble. I explained, again, to the CMS chap, that because E had paid nothing for five months, that I was getting deeper into debt and that without any child maintenance for the next two months, I simply could afford to feed the kids, or pay any bills at all. I asked if there was anywhere at all I could go to for support whilst I wasn’t receiving child benefit. It turns out that the only information they can give out are helpline for three charities that help you with debt. I explained that the only reason I was in debt was because I’d received no child maintenance, but there was literally no more the CMS could do.
I was still digesting this and wondering what on earth I could do to pay something towards the mortgage, when my phone rang. It was the Secured Loan Company. I hadn’t heard anything from them since they told me that E had cancelled the direct debt that paid the loan, so I was hoping that this meant E had simply started paying it from another account. Once again, my optimism was unfounded. They informed me that E had missed another payment, and that, with charges, the account was now £1,600 in arrears (despite me making a couple of one-off payments to try and salvage something for my credit record). They explained that he’d ignored their letters and all attempts to call him (something of a theme here) and that therefore, they’d now be adding another £160 charge to the account because they had decided to appoint their “third party providers” to contact and interview E. They were lovely to me (we must have spoken half a dozen times in the last six months, and they know my financial situation in depth), but I was utterly powerless to do anything to change the situation. Last time I spoke to them, they said that if E missed another payment, they’d start proceedings to repossess the house, so I have no idea what will happen next. I’m hoping that if they do track E down, they might be able to come to some sort of short-term arrangement to at least keep making some payments.
By now I’d given up on cleaning the house, and any enthusiasm I’d felt, when I was planning the day, was ebbing away. But I still had a teensy bit of hope. I’d arranged to see a Mediator, to see if she thought she could help E and I come to an agreement re selling house and what he could do, going forward, to support the kids and I. Initial mediation sessions can be individual, and the mediator will either bring the couple together for joint mediation in a room together or do shuttle mediation where each person is in a separate room and they talk to each party before trying to reach an agreement. I felt that arranging a mediation session for me, was an important first step towards getting somewhere with E. I knew that after my session the Mediator would contact him to see if he was amenable to mediation, and if he was, she’d see him individually before proceeding to joint mediation. To me, this first session was a way of keeping a tenuous grip on, or modicum of control over, the circumstances I found myself in.
I must admit I was slightly annoyed that I ‘had’ to try mediation (a case cannot go to Court until a couple have tried mediation). After all – I‘ve spent the last six months trying desperately to come to an amicable and fair arrangement with E, and I resented the fact that it was assumed I was unable to do so because of some deficiency or childishness on my part, but, I knew it was a hoop I had to jump through to try and get out of the non-communicative stalemate that I found myself in with E. I was expecting to come up against a ‘two sides to every story’ wall, what I wasn’t expecting was how utterly vulnerable and upset it would make me.
The Mediator asked me to tell her what had happened. This meant I had to go back to the beginning. I had to tell her about the affairs, about the lies, about the awful humiliation of E’s marriage to P just months after he had left me. I had to recount the circumstances of Youngest Daughter’s overdose attempt, of Oldest Daughter’s anxiety and of my sons’ reaction to what had happened. I had to go back through the last six months of having every single penny of financial support taken away from me, with no explanation and no assurances re the future, and how frightening this was for the kids and me. I explained that I had given E every possible opportunity to pay child maintenance without legal intervention, but that he had given me no choice but to go to the CMS and that I very much felt that I needed some sort of legally binding arrangement between us re financial support in the future. I told her that I just couldn’t take any risks with my kids’ security and that, given E’s recent history, I couldn’t see any other option other than to form a legally binding agreement
At this point, I was feeling quite proud of myself. Even though going through what had happened had made me feel a bit shaky (it never fails to surprise me how much it still hurts to talk about what’s happened from the beginning), I’d kept it together and was (I think) still sounding quite sensible and grown-up. But the next thing she said completely threw me. She said that she didn’t do shuttle mediation, and that, in her opinion, even though it was much harder work, it was better to get two people in a room together to try and sort things out. She also explained that mediation could never provide a legal settlement and that the only way this could be done was via the Courts.
The first wave that hit me was the realization that, after ten years of being cheated on, and six months of E’s not meeting his legal obligations regarding child maintenance, there was no way I could ever believe another word that came out of his mouth. He would just say whatever he thought he needed to say to get what he wanted. He would be charming. He would be good mannered. He would lie. I was shocked to realise how completely my trust in him had been broken. It wasn’t that I wasn’t prepared to put in the hard work of trying to negotiate. It was that I knew, with sudden and absolute clarity, that agreeing to this kind of mediation, would put be me back in the position I’d been in for twenty-five years – that of trying to find a compromise with someone who had no intention of ever honouring his commitments. I realised that it would be utterly futile. Six months ago, I would have been perfectly prepared to try and negotiate via mediation, but E’s actions since November were a stark and very nasty reminder of just what he’s capable of when he doesn’t get what he wants when he wants it. I realised that I needed something legally binding and that there was no way I could trust the kind of informal agreement that mediation would aim to bring us to.
The second, much larger wave, was the concept of being forced to sit in a room with E and listen to him and treat what he said as reasonable/ok. The idea of being in such close proximity to someone who had cheated on me numerous times, who had treated me with such utter contempt for the last two years, and who had deliberately hurt my kids by withdrawing the money needed to feed them, made me feel sick and very, very, vulnerable. I honestly didn’t know if I could face it. I didn’t say anything, but the Mediator gently suggested that perhaps I needed to think of my own health and wellbeing, and that, maybe, given that I needed a legal agreement and that I was clearly distressed at the thought of a ‘both of us in a room mediation’ this meant that mediation just wouldn’t be right for me.
In the end, the Mediator and I agreed that mediation was probably not the right path for me, and she agreed to sign the forms that would let me take the whole thing to Court to come to a legally binding agreement (which would either be an order to sell the house, or an order securing maintenance for all four of the kids as well as terms re selling the house) .
So, there we are. If I was hoping that the day might provide a little certainty, I was very wrong. On the contrary, I still had another two months to wait to get any child maintenance, the house was still under threat of repossession, and I still had no money to pay the mortgage, the bills, or for food and (unsurprisingly) despite writing to E (again) to tell him I’d had the house valued and that I was prepared to discuss terms of sale, I still hadn’t heard anything back. I have honestly never felt do defeated in my life.
It’s rare that I spend time thinking about what E is doing, but on Thursday night, I must admit I did wonder where he was and how he could live with himself. After all the years we spent together, after the laughter and tears, after the places we’d been and the four incredible children we’d created, I honestly never once thought that I’d be forced to take him to Court to make him do the honourable thing. As the day closed, I felt that things were at an all-time low, and – not for the first time – was really scared about what the future held.