Am I Doing It Wrong?

Earlier today I made a trip into the city to attend a second mediation discussion at the family court. Reiko and I have been separated for almost five months and, as one would expect, she wants to have a reliable and steady amount of income coming in to ensure bills are paid; a perfectly reasonable demand given that she currently has sole custody of our son.

The first discussion took place at the end of July and, on the surface, resulted in little more than the scheduling of today's mediation. However, one of the things that I was acutely aware of during the first meeting was how closely the two legal representatives assigned to the case were watching me. They wanted to see whether I would be angry, vindictive, dismissive, disrespectful, or unwilling to live up to the responsibilities that come with being an adult. They took plenty of notes. They asked plenty of questions.

Why haven't you contacted the plaintiff to work out a payment arrangement before now?

I'm not permitted to communicate directly with her. I had to sign a document upon my release from detention saying that I would not contact nor be in proximity to her going forward. I will keep my word as it's the only thing of value that I have.

Have you provided her with some money before now?

She has sole access to the family savings account. Here is a copy of the transactions from the bank. As you can see, she is still withdrawing money every month, and her credit card is still being paid from here. I do not hate Reiko and I do not want to create problems for her or our son. They will have access to this money until we reach a decision for regular support payments.

Will you demand a divorce?

Yes, when my lawyers agree that there is no chance of an amicable agreement.

They asked questions – good questions – for a solid 15 minutes trying to gauge whether I was being honest or simply speaking nice words to come across as "a nice guy".

When it was my turn to ask questions, I inquired about frequency of renegotiations, minimums and maximums, how the payments should be reported on income tax statements, and the like. I also asked questions that they couldn't help me with, like whether I could visit my son and get my dog or any of the paperwork that was removed from my house could be returned1. All in all, it was an interesting exploratory meeting.

Before finishing for the day, they asked another question:

How much would you be willing to pay in support every month?

I'm not sure how to answer that. Reiko has not provided any expectations so, if I say a number, it may be taken advantage of or intentionally balked at.

That's understandable. Any number that you say here will remain confidential. This is really more to understand what general amount might be agreed upon.

I gave them a number that I considered fair. It was more than the minimum while being about thirty percent less than I expected Reiko to ask for. As I've reiterated on numerous occasions, I do not hate and I have no desire to punish or otherwise seek retribution. All I want is what is fair; something that I have not been able to enjoy for many, many years.

Five weeks have passed between the first and second meeting. During that time Reiko hired some lawyers and used the money in the family account to pay them, withdrew a good amount of cash, and spent more on her credit card. All of this was to be expected, of course, which is why I allowed her complete access to that bank account until recently. Two weeks ago, in order to prepare all of the requested paperwork and financial statements that were requested by the court, I had to reclaim ownership of the main bank account. As it's in my name and contains only the money earned from my employer2, this seemed logical. I've not heard any complaints, though.

The legal representatives at the courthouse today wasted no time in getting down to business. They brought out a two-page document outlining the amount Reiko was requesting along with the breakdown of how the number was derived. It revealed some interesting details that I was completely unaware of with regards to our son and a claim that I consider insincere, but the number turned out to be the very same amount that was proposed at the end of the previous mediation discussion. The number seemed to be more than a coincidence and I said as much.

Do you agree with this this amount of support?

This is the very same number that I gave you two months ago, and I am a man of my word. Yes, this amount is fine.

They both nodded in approval of this answer, as though I passed some sort of test.

However, I want to know whether this is a complete amount. Will I still need to pay for credit cards, utility bills, or anything else?

No. It's just this amount.

Being prepared, I pulled out some statements showing bills and withdrawals over the previous five weeks and also asked about a peculiar situation where it seemed I was paying for natural gas at two homes. Fortunately this turned out to be a misunderstanding on my part due to a complete lack of communication; the gas company also provides electricity, so the higher gas bill was actually gas + electricity. Problem solved.

Some additional items had to be agreed upon after the primary amount was settled.

There is also a payment from the city for your child every three months. This needs to be added to the support payments.

Yes, of course. That money is for my son, not me.

And there may be another month or two of payments for the credit card.

I can agree to some of that, but I will not pay for a shopping spree. That credit card has a limit the size of my annual salary.

How much would you be willing to pay?

Just as before, I gave a number. It was similar to the previous month's payment.

And you'll need to share the legal fees.

Share? The bank statement I showed you says that the legal fees were paid from my account on July 7th.

Will you ask for some of that back?

No. There was no financial agreement before today. It doesn't make sense to argue about it when I intentionally left the account accessible in case they needed money.

Again, the legal representatives nodded with a slight smile, as though they were happy that there wouldn't be a long, drawn-out argument over a few handfuls of cash.

By noon, an agreement had been fully reached. I would provide eleven days of earnings every month and automatic payments from my accounts would be ceased within a short period of time. Documents were signed. Smiles were exchanged. We said our goodbyes. Reiko was never present during any of these discussions, opting to phone in with her lawyer. This likely made things easier for both of us.

While making my way home from the courthouse, a couple of friends commented that they were surprised by how well I was taking this and how uncommon it is to not argue about past expenses. Is it so odd, though? What value would being upset bring? It doesn't make sense.

The way I look at the current situation is like this:

  • children cost money to raise and I have a responsibility3 to offer financial support
  • despite everything that happened before and after the separation, I do not hate Reiko or seek some unnecessary sort of vengeance
  • money is just money, and I will earn more
  • the price that I have already paid as part of this separation, the loss of my son and Nozomi, has been high … but I am far less stressed and anxious today than at any point in recent memory

Despite everything that has been lost, everything that has happened, and everything that still needs to be done, I am in a much better place today psychologically and physically than I could have ever hoped for. A very important part of my life has come to a crashing halt, but I am hopeful that the future will be bright so long as I continue to work towards being a better person, aiming at goals that benefit others.

Anything else would be a waste of time and energy.

  1. The legal representatives could not help with these matters because the course case was about support payments and nothing more. So anything revolving around pets, visitation, custody, or property was outside of scope.

  2. The money that Reiko earns from her employer has always gone into an account that she has sole access to, which makes sense.

  3. This is a responsibility, not an "obligation". There is a pretty big difference between the two.