The worst day of my life at the time was when my ex called the police to wrest the car from me (here), so it was my first blog on my anonymous site.
For the last five months, I have been separated from my wife (a local) here in this foreign land, waiting for the divorce process to start. The story of these five-plus months in itself is a long one, and perhaps I’ll highlight those experiences at another time to help those living abroad get through the process. Such revelations may not help you legally (though some may), but to at least know that you are not alone in such struggles may be beneficial.
Being abroad, when an expatriate separates or divorces from a local, wherever one is, there are unknown difficulties that lay ahead, difficulties that would not exist back home. Things are different in many aspects of living overseas, and that surely includes divorce and all it entails.
We’re definitely not in Kansas any more, Dorothy, when it comes to such issues abroad.
During these months, unsurpassed drama has occurred, and though I cannot take the high-and-mighty road with every minute detail of these events, I can say that most of the drama comes from one direction only, willing to label even 98% of it as one-sided. Although a number of those experiences would provide some insight into the dramatic circumstances that have transpired, one stands out clearly as the most entertainingly thought-provoking (though not “entertaining” for me at that moment by any means).
The police would certainly concur.
All that unfolded on a particular day in early January of 2014 was tantamount to a Jerry Springer-like circus show, yet in unedited, unscripted form, making such happenings much more melodramatic than that silly US TV program ever was.
Although this blog is about said happenings from January 7th, 2014, I need to fill in some of the blanks with a mini prologue, but my aim is to make it as simplistic as possible to save time (which I failed to do, dear reader). What’s important to understand is merely that during the three months of separation that led to that day’s drama, my spouse and I had been having problems, problems with understanding, problems with communicating, and problems seeing eye to eye. Imagine that.
Those months were filled with all sorts of irrational threats and bitter demands on her part, vindictive uses of the children as pawns on her part, and wild accusations that blew me away (such as the claim that I was abandoning my children, which I clearly am not since I had been asking for joint custody from the start, I had wanted to continue to see them for the four days that I’ve been “given”, and I’ve stated clearly that I would pay for half of their education-, health-, and clothing-related costs). I could detail more, but that’s another story altogether.
Otherwise, I explained to her that other issues like her rent and utilities would be decided by the courts (and before any naysayers question me, it must be included that she withheld all the money we’d put into joint accounts over 5-6 years, she paid for six months’ rent out of those funds, and then transferred all to her own new account; thus, I don’t think I was wrong to say the courts should decide all financial affairs). With debates about finances and possessions, there has also been much to prompt chagrin, and one detail of that sordid chapter was our car, the car that we undoubtedly purchased together 1.5 years ago, at the time of writing.
Because my wife hadn’t driven a single time in the nearly nine years I’d known her, afraid of driving, too dependent on others to branch out and try to rely on herself, I felt, rightly so, that I would continue to drive the vehicle after I moved out–as I’ve done for those eight-plus years with other cars/vehicles (and specifically the last year and a half with this particular car).
I commute 30 minutes to my job, each way, and I take the children on outings the three nights per week I have them and every Sunday for seven hours. Since she had never driven the car, not even at times when she really needed to or should have, I was basing all decisions about the car on our history so that I could and would continue using the car until all was worked out with our lawyers or until I could pay off the car completely from the lienholder and take sole ownership–which is what I had wanted to do all along and what I had expressed I wanted to do, for the three months leading up to the pure drama on the 7th of January.
With that said, I also gathered up the car payment slips when I hastily collected documents upon moving out from the house back in September. I’d been given a deadline to get my things out, so I just threw stuff in a bag(s). There really was no time to ‘plan’ stuff out, like she claims I did.
I simply included the payment paperwork so I didn’t have to go back to her each month and ask for one more slip. I was arranging an apartment, which would necessitate my paying utilities, my cell phone, separate bills, etc., and I merely included the monthly car bill as my responsibility (and the kids relied on my driving, too, to get anywhere when together, so it wasn’t just about me using it for my own).
Because I was the sole driver, and because the entire time the kids and she labelled the car as–and frequently called it–“Baba’s car,” I used it as such. Why on earth would I assume she would use or need the car? She never had before. Our history was based on me driving, from back in the days of dating, with our nascent-stages motorcycle outings, all the way through to our first beater, to our better-than-a-beater-but-still-used vehicle, and to our latest, a brand new car.
Moreover, for those keeping track, I also gathered up the extra key for the car. If I were driving the car–just as I’d done for the 18 months prior, why would I not want to have access to a key in case the main one I used got misplaced? That, to me, only made sense. We were not communicating well at all by that stage, and there were already countless dramatic episodes, so it was easiest and most convenient to have the extra key.
Over the three months from having first moved out, I used the car to commute, and for the first nearly two months, that included driving my daughter to school, to and fro (until mom withdrew her from school).
The baby seats for both children were in the car, and every time I either picked up the kids or dropped them off at their mom’s, she’d met us outside, helping to either buckle them in or take them out. There were never any confrontations and life continued as is for those few months (with regards to my driving regularly).
Since she, leading up to my moving out, had relied on bicycling to and from her business and for whatever activities she was involved with, this was the routine. I used the car daily, for school, for outings, for work, and for life. And as she’d done over the years if I were out of town (for conferences, for travel, etc.), she’d get rides with her parents. Even now in her mid-30s, she’d rely on her folks for car transport needs if I were not around–even though she could/should have driven, which I long encouraged her to do.
When I met her, when she was 24 or so, her parents drove her to and from work on their scooter or in their family car. Even when she met friends for social events, her mom and dad drove her–back before we were dating. Then, once we got together, I drove her everywhere. I joked that I was her new taxi service.
Over the years we’d been together, I asked her numerous times to drive and to start learning how to; she always came up with excuses. Years ago, she once drove my Wrangler about in a dirt lot, but that was it. So I at least put energy into encouraging her to drive a scooter so she didn’t have to rely on her parents nor me for all transport needs (I probably pushed her buttons by saying it wasn’t natural to depend on one’s parents for rides in one’s mid-20s; as I still did in her early-to-mid 30s).
For a stretch, she did gather the courage to ride a scooter solo, perhaps for 9-12 months, which she did until she got pregnant over five years ago. Since, she’d not ridden a scooter nor driven a car.
Incidentally, we live in a country whose roadways are chock full of scooters and motorbikes. It was something unnatural to expect or do.
Over the last two years or so since we returned from a year abroad in a European country, there were a handful of events that prompted me to remind her that it was really quite important for her to get a license, such as one 2-hour trip home when I could barely drive because of a terrible intestinal pain attack, or one night when I needed to go to the hospital–but she couldn’t/wouldn’t drive me, so I had to take an ambulance (she’d offered to call her daddy, but I refused). However, she still wouldn’t budge. We drove once in a parking lot to practice in our vehicle, but after that session, she never followed up again. Motivation for her was apparently low; fear, high.
Actually, I was starting to feel she wouldn’t practice nor renew her expired license just to spite me, a license she’d gotten a decade before yet never utilized. She knew there were ample reasons to drive. Adamant she remained, however, about not getting behind the wheel.
The month I moved out, she took a driving course.
Naturally, that prompted a suspicion in me. What was she planning? Why now? After all these years, nearly nine together, why now?
Here lies the result and the pure drama.
The cops would agree. Pure drama; but a drama that was not instigated by me. At least I’d like to not think so!
For the three-to-four months after I moved out, first in a temporary, let’s-see-how-it-goes, state of mind, and then a month later with a this-is-a-real-deal-separation-which-will-surely-end-in-divorce mentality, I drove the car, especially because nobody else ever did. I was the only one. Periodically, over those months, email exchanges volleyed back and forth about what to do with the car, as you’ll see below.
From the start, I explained that I wanted to pay the rest of the loan off with the bank so that I could obtain the title, solely, and to register it in my name (something I couldn’t do beforehand, as I am an expat).
There were never any true demands for its return; there were never any real issues expressed about the car. All continued as normal for the most part, other than my keeping the car at my new apartment. Nothing was said about that decision itself. Nothing.
Never did anyone say (who am I kidding, I am not referring to anyone; I’m referring to my ex), “Hey, it is really unfair of you to take the car,” or “I cannot believe you are keeping the car at yours!” Nothing like that. Never.
Even on the night I’d moved out, and the subsequent visits for the first month to take care of the kids three nights a week until her return from work at 10pm, the only reason why I went, she never said anything about my using the car. Nothing ever came up.
Even my kids, nearly two years of age and nearly five, always referred to the car as “Baba’s car.” Every time my littlest came out after my picking them up, he’d point and use his newly developing language skills to say, “Baba’s car!”
During this span, I, furthermore, explained that I was paying the monthly $500US payments (in local currency, of course), using the payment slips I’d kept for that reason, and I had no qualms doing that since I was using it for work, taking my daughter to school, bringing the kids around on the afternoons/eves I had them (and Sundays), and for… well, daily life for the kids and me. All was just as I’d done for the last 1.5 years, sans the complete family of four.
Out and about with my kids, having loads of fun, taking them to all sorts of places, we were a family of three–with a car.
With regards to paying off the loan, my wife stated, quite clearly, in October, that I should wait until January, for if it was to be any sooner, the bank would charge an early-termination fee if I paid it in full. She’d called the lien holder, and that’s the information that they’d given her, which she relayed to me via email. I took the advice and continued to drive the car, with full intent, expressed again and again via emails, that my plan was to completely buy the car off to obtain the title in my name in January. There was never any confusion about what my goal was.
Over those three months, no real tension was expressed about my driving and maintaining the car. I filled her up, I took her in for maintenance, I washed her. “Baba’s car,” indeed.
Once, my ex had said, in a huff, via email, that she was going to sell the car off in two or three days’ time, but I then asked her to reconsider, for I was commuting to work and because I’d had two coworkers with whom I carpooled, not to mention all the outings with kids and driving in my daughter to school (and back), daily. But that was it, and nothing was brought up again for a while.
Though no direct conflict transpired, I did worry on occasion that she had something planned.
Knowing her, I was right to assume something would happen. Other issues had transpired already that made me concerned. Vindictiveness had been tasted, and I wasn’t fond of the taste.
Now, when we bought the car 1.5 years prior, this was the deal: Foreigners cannot get financing here in this country, and if there is no financing, one cannot register a car in one’s name while there is still an active loan out. Banks don’t trust that such borrowers would stick around to pay off a loan. Makes sense. What could stop someone from simply abandoning a car, for example, and then just bolting abroad without paying one’s debts? Thus, that forces one here–and in many nations, I am certain–to rely on a local friend, a business partner, or, in my case, a spouse, to take out the loan, i.e., all, naturally, was in her name.
Stop the press!
Yes, the car was in her name.
We were married. Why would I have worried? It made sense, for there were NO other options. I never imagined it would have come down to her absolutely blatant lies 1.5 years later to take the car away.
Her mother’s name is also on the in-laws car, even though her mother has never driven a day in her life. Hmmm… I wonder.
So at the dealership at the time, after negotiating the price, extras for the car, etc., we decided to pay nearly $10,000US up front in cash and then to finance the remainder. That $10K came from our joint savings account, an account we’d set up a few years earlier. There are no ifs-ands-or-buts about that. We’d put away money each month into that joint account for around 5-6 years beforehand from our respective jobs. It seemed right.
Stop the press!
Yes, she put the account in her name.
Why would I have known? How could I have predicted years ago that that decision would be addressed in the presence of the police involvement in 2014?
So it was, that on December 7th, 2013, a Tuesday, I arrived at my ex’s house at 7am to drop off the two kids, which was the usual routine since I had them on Monday nights at my pad.
Admittedly, however, I was nervous pulling up this time. Quite. At one point, when I had turned on the blinker to take a left onto the sidewalk parking in front of her building’s gate, I believe I heard my teeth chatter.
There was certainly enough of a reason that they did.
Two days before, on January 5th, I’d received an email from the ex that hinted that something was in the works. It stated, verbatim, “I need to know about the car.”
My response, not playing any games, just a few hours later, was, “I would like to pay the monthly installment for February, too, and in the meantime, if all goes through with divorce proceedings, the outcome of the car will be decided by the courts. The car is paid (today) for the month of January.”
Honestly, I figured if I had made all the payments and the latest one for the first month of the year, she wasn’t affected in any way. I simply needed time because…
“Why did I need another month?” you might be wondering. Well, that’s easy.
Back in mid-to-late October, she’d written me to explain her ideas about the vehicle, stating, “I would like you to seriously consider what you want done with the car. I personally would like to sell the car now since the price is high, i.e., better for the both of us when we split what is left. After this month, I was told that the price would drop dramatically more, apparently.”
Oh, how I wish she had remembered saying how she would “split what is left” when she told the police what she did 2.5 months later. It seems her memory might not serve her very well.
And a few days later, she added, via email on October 24th, “Michael, I would [like] to re-address the need for us to reach an agreement on the car. As for the car, I would like to propose that the title of the car be transferred so that it is under your name,” she wrote, verbatim, and that message also included a whole bunch of numbers she’d crunched about the value of the car, what I would owe her, etc.
Boy, oh, boy, do I wish she now remembered all that and how she was willing to just transfer the title to my name! Ahem…
She further added, “There is a need for the above to happen sooner than later because the next pay date for the installment is November 6th. If you find the above arrangements inappropriate in any manner, please let me know. Furthermore, if you feel that you do not want the car at all and do not want to have anything financially to do with it, then I could take it back and I would probably sell it.”
Wow! She used the term ‘please’!
She seemed very professional in all of these dealings, and there was nothing in her tone that would have allowed me any forewarning that on January 7th, the date of the police involvement, she would claim that I forced her to be without a car and that I was taking the car without her approval, against her will.
Moreover, she’d even stated that she’d probably sell it. Well, given that she’d never driven in the 8.5 years together, that made sense. However, months later, she actually said that she’d needed the car all along. Why, then, on October 24th did she said she’d probably sell it.
Hmmm… the cogs are turning.
Continuing her message, one that seemed as if she was actually dealing with it all very well, she stated, “If you do decide to own the car, then I can get to the DMV or ask the [dealership] sales guy to handle this with your documents for a transfer. Please let me know when you can,” she offered.
Even a please was provided again. All seemed on the right course for dealing with the car respectfully. No sense of urgency or offense can be seen here. Nothing. Right?
Because the numbers she had thrown at me were a bit questionable, and I wanted to know more about the value and what I really should have owed her, I responded, “No, I am not satisfied with the details of the car. I’ve gotten some really good feedback that I need to sort through with regards to the finances of it.”
However, I asked, “Can I have a title in my name if we’ve financed it? I am an expat. I may not have the right to own a car here in my name, if a bank owns part of it. Can you check into this?!?”
I wasn’t playing hardball at all. She’d throw some numbers into her equation that just didn’t seem ‘right’. After her mail, I actually wrote a financial advisor I know in my country and another old friend who works in fiscal affairs. I also wasn’t sure how to proceed with getting the car in my name (an expat who cannot finance a vehicle) if the lien holder still owned the title, which is why I asked for her assistance in getting details.
Ready to proceed with working out the details to buy the car, I asked again, “Were you able to find out if the car can be in my name? I’ve asked 3-4 times. Yet you’ve avoided answering the question. I have NO qualms taking the car. However, I need to know if I can do it LEGALLY.”
At this point, however, she seemed to not want to deal with any work on her part. The tone changed with her next message.
“I will sell the car to avoid complications,” she countered.
To me, it seemed petulant.
Having made some progress towards getting the car situation resolved, I was surprised she did an absolute about face here.
Thus, I wrote back, “What are the complications? If the car can be transferred to me solely, I will pay for it. You do know that selling the car at this stage will mean we lose money, don’t you? And why are you acting this way? I am logically asking you to find out if I can own it. It is that simple. Why does it have to be avoidance and direct refusal to even go with the same idea you supported once just recently, i.e., my taking the car?”
I just didn’t want her to play games. Without a doubt, all could have been handled effectively and efficiently. She simply didn’t want to do any legwork, I felt.
I received the next idea begrudgingly. Emotions were coming out. Logic was no longer on my side.
She claimed, “You are a foreigner, there will be complications that would involve me. Selling it is the only way. In any case, you have clearly stated that you are getting a new car in cash. So, why are you asking me why I am acting this way??”
By this time, we were having other difficulties in dealing with the separation and pending divorce issues. The backdrop of this car debate (though I didn’t feel it was a necessary debate) was that she had also threatened me with contacting my boss about something which was family related, which my ex did, and then she had actually pulled my daughter from school as a result of her dissatisfaction with my boss telling her that it was a family affair, not work-related. She even claimed discrimination. Moreover, she’d also gotten angry at me for asking some joint friends if they could help me arrange weekday child care because she was using our son as a pawn in getting more weekend hours. That’s a long story, but my revelation that we were getting a divorce and that she’d been reacting unfairly to something, she claims, was public humiliation. My telling people about our separation really caused her to become vindictive.
So, as you can see, the car became complicated as a result of other issues happening behind the scene.
I replied to her wanting to sell the car and her explaining that she thought I would buy a new car, cash, even if I’d said that was an option (which was a total waste of money if we/I already had a perfectly good car), with this:
“Not once did I say, “I am…,” as a definitive choice/decision. I said I might look into it. I said it is an option. I asked, clearly, for you to give me time to make such decisions once you came back with the information about my financing the car myself (which is why I asked 3-4 times over the last 3-4 weeks). In order to make decisions, well, it was dependent on YOUR response, which never came. You’re now demanding to get the car back IN TWO DAYS(????) is completely opposite of what I had asked for: time. YOU’RE leaving me with two days to find a car? This is why I posed the question: Why are YOU acting this way?”
With the above dialogue all happening in an email thread on the same day (November 4th), this continued.
However, she reassured me with the next response that all could work out.
“Then you just have to pay the installment. I am not using the car at all! You are!!”
Huh? She had just said, all in the same thread on the same day, that she was selling the car to avoid complications! Wow.
Though she was emotional (in response to my emotions, I admit), it at least gave me a hope that I could just make the monthly payments.
Yet, as I just re-read this in January, at the time of writing this blog, maybe she didn’t mean ‘installment’ in the sense of paying the car loan monthly, little by little. Maybe she intended to say “the balance of the loan.” Maybe not. I have no clue, actually, for the real meaning of the word is ‘monthly payments’.
That confusion she created is evident in my next message, still on the same day:
“I don’t understand this communication at all. Your email this morning said you are selling the car this Wed. If that is not the case, can you please consider… Can you please find out the exact amount of the payoff for me? If I pay that off, and there is no financing involved, can I transfer the title to my name (if it is owned outright)? I was told that banks don’t want to finance to foreigners, and that it requires a local Taiwanese guarantor/cosigner. But if the car loan is paid in full, can I then get the title in my name?”
That solution, to me, was best. I could have paid off the car from my savings account back in my home country. It would have saved me money on buying a totally new car, for, as we all know, once you buy a new car, it depreciates dramatically from the get go. Being that our car was only 1.5-years old, I figured it would be better to keep it.
Again, I needed her to do a little legwork. In a foreign country, without the language proficiency to handle such affairs, I felt I needed to rely on her to contact the bank.
Then, it seemed, we were back on track. Her next reply seemed less reactionary, more logical.
“I will ask tomorrow morning about paying off the installments. For now, I will withdraw, as I stated, car installment as well as [___________] from the bank tomorrow,” she explained.
Satisfied I was that she would call, though I had no idea why she was taking out money from our joint account for the car installment and another sum of money. I‘d already said I’d pay the monthly bills on the car—and she’d already said it was my responsibility! She didn’t seem to be paying attention to her own demands.
On November 6th, came assuring news from her side. And this is the email that I based all further decisions on regarding the car.
She explained, “I called the car lady (the lady who dealt with the bank loan) yesterday. If we want to pay back everything now, there will be a ‘handling fee’ of over ____________ (or close to one installment’s worth) because we have only paid off 15 installments, not even half of the 36 installments yet. She suggested paying the installments for November, December, and January (16,17, 18 installments) and then arrange with her to pay off the rest in January.”
“What do you think about this situation?” she further queried.
“Wow!” I thought. “She’s now being rational again!”
There was no urgency in her voice.
And she was giving me an option, not a demand, the latter of which was the way she’d been approaching many other aspects of the separation, theretofore. It was the deal I sought, too. I could pay off the balance of the loan. Whew!
Relief! However, two days before, she had threatened to sell the car in… two days! Was she still planning that, or was she really going for giving me an option? Suspicion filled my thoughts.
I asked, “All I can say at this time is that I need time to think about this. Rushing through this, as you suggested by ‘selling the car this Wednesday’ is not feasible.”
I wanted the car, and I wanted to pay it off in January, for sure. However, I still had doubts.
If you recall from Part II of this blog, I’d been warned about getting everything worked out legally. Hesitant I remained. Her numbers were still unclear!
Furthermore, to clarify, I queried, “I thought we had paid [xxx] in cash, no?”
Overall, I was still feeling good about the choice.
At that moment, there was no foreshadowing of the police being called on me two months later; no idea that I’d be cleaning out the car, transferring all to a taxi, feeling as if I’d just been accosted by her, her father, and the police themselves.
Now that there was going to be some progress in getting the car under my name, I thought I would act on getting information about the banks, what we paid on the car, etc. Because of the language barriers and knowledge of how the system works in this country, I felt I needed to ask her.
However, other issues we’d been dealing with (with pure drama, of course) prompted me to feel that we might have some difficulties in getting those needs arranged.
Hesitatingly, on November 6th, I e-mailed, “Are you willing to let me photocopy the documents that show the car sales originally, etc., and also the two bank accounts? They are, legally, my accounts, too, so I have legal rights to a copy at least.”
The worst I could have imagined came back to my wary ears. Why did such reactions not surprise me any longer?
She answered back, “You can simply look at them and take a picture with your iPad. I don’t want important documents to leave the house overnight. Hope you understand. Yes, please think about the car. It is best to let me know ASAP though. No, we didn’t pay that much in cash for the car. But that shouldn’t affect your decision. It was paid with our joint money.”
Stop the press!
Hey, she admitted we paid the car “with our joint money”!
Why am I stating that with such unbridled exuberance in my voice?
On January 7th, exactly two months later, she told my lawyer who’d come to meet me at the police station, verbatim, that I never paid any money into any joint account. Her father, dramatically animated in his support of her claim, vehemently agreed. They, almost in tandem, exclaimed, in Chinese, “He didn’t pay anything for the car, either.”
What? How dare they! But that’s for later!
Though the above dialogue about the documents and price for the car are exact excerpts from our email exchanges, it is too late to do anything about it.
The car is long gone. Thanks to the police and a questionable lawyer.
So five days after she’d said I could pay the car off in January and I’d asked if I could think about it, she wrote back, “So, have you thought about it? What do you want to do about it?”
Feeling like that five days wasn’t much time, that night I replied with some astonishment, feeling like she wasn’t really giving me time (for I still needed to get some insight into the value of the car and such).
Remember, being a foreigner here, I just cannot open up the yellow pages to get such information. With all the vacillating that had been happening, it was all still utterly uncertain. I knew I wanted the car, but how it would work out was daunting.
Moreover, her not allowing me to copy the bankbooks five days before really just left a bad taste in my mouth in dealing with her. She wasn’t playing fair. To refuse me access to our joint accounts, which she’d done, and to not even let me photocopy said documents, was really harsh. Simply put, she was playing hardball by refusing me that last request. My next response was ‘caps locks’ for a reason.
“YOU WROTE LAST WEEK THAT SOMEONE AT THE DEALERSHIP SAID WAIT UNTIL JANUARY. THAT IS TIME TO THINK! WHAT are you asking?”
Her answer was terse. Things were tense again.
“You never made it clear what you want. Please tell me now what you want to do with regards to the car.”
With a guffaw, I am certain, I tapped out on my keyboard, “OMG, I totally want the time to decide. When you said January, I said ‘good idea’.”
Her response, to this day, two months later at the time of writing, still makes me incredulous. Wasn’t she paying attention to any of the last few weeks’ proceedings, I wondered. I’d taken the car payment slips for that reason. I’d paid the monthly bills on the car already.
On November 11th, she inquired, “Does this mean that you will make all future car payments?”
Of course I was planning on making the payments! She’d given me those three months up until January! Why would I have changed that?
A short time later, another message came into my account from her address.
“[The car dealership] called this morning about getting me a better deal on selling the car. I would like to respond to him soon. Please let me know ASAP what you want to do with the car.”
Egad. What a drama.
With frustration about all that was transpiring, I retorted, “Why do you keep changing the car, [________]. You told me just last week, after having come up with the idea/demand on two-days’ notice, that you were selling it! Then you wrote to say I could make payments until January—[and then I could pay it off!]… Rushing into a decision about the car isn’t possible. The idea of time was promising. Why would I turn around and change that now? Please don’t force my hand with this issue. I am making payments. It doesn’t affect you right now if I keep it. In the long run, yes, something will have to be worked out, most likely, legally, between us.”
I’d inserted the term ‘legally’ at that point because my lawyer had stated quite clearly that we should work to get everything ironed out… legally.
Time passed at this point.
A few weeks later, on November 27th, I explained, “Based on your erstwhile requests and information about the car, I would like to propose this: Since there would be an early-termination fee for paying off the car before January, I believe you said, I would like to simply make the next two months’ payments. If the early charges won’t apply in February, I would then like to pay off the car completely (on my own, naturally) and have the title placed in my name, taking sole possession/responsibility of it.”
I was clear in what I expressed, and I surely wanted the car in my own name though the idea of what I would ‘owe’ her was still uncertain. At least I wanted to get the ball rolling.
Yet, I also wanted to handle things on my own through the bank. I didn’t want to rely on her again, nor did I want to continue the communications, which were surely draining. Thus, I wrote, “Can you please check with the bank which financed the car for us if this is doable? Can you also provide the telephone number of said contact person so that I can deal with things after that, arranging a cash transfer, etc.?”
Clearly, I was aiming at getting the ball rolling.
Unfortunately, there was another delay, which I took as avoidance on her part, something she seems to do a lot of.
On the 22nd of December, she finally wrote back about the car, but with that same old slant again, like she hadn’t read my last message or had avoided it. Surely, from my message on the 27th of the month prior, it was clear that I “want[ed] to pay off the car completely.” How was that not known? Why did she even ask? And I’d asked about obtaining the number so I could arrange a cash transfer.
Her query stated, “January is fast approaching. Please let me know what you plan to do with the car.”
Huh? I wanted to say and surely I thought to say, “WTF!” Yet I didn’t. Wasn’t the plan a done deal? Thus, I had to continue once again with the same message.
“I wrote you 2-3 weeks ago saying that I want to buy the car. I figured you were avoiding the topic,” came my response.
“What are you planning to do with the payment? Did you take the spare keys to the car? If you did, why?” she asked.
Naturally, I wondered why she’d asked about the spare key after more than two months of my being out of the house. What was she planning? Did she need it and then discovered it wasn’t in the cabinet where we had kept the other car documents? In my brain the cogs were turning.
I actually wondered if she was going to get someone to repossess or even steal the car.
More volleys of ideas followed that added to the drama, but it really didn’t have to be that way. The easiest solution I’d asked for, which would have been to have allowed me to make arrangements with the bank to send in the remaining balance amount.
Instead of supplying me with the information I’d sought, she made another effort to get involved. To me, she was playing games.
This time, she explained, “I called the car installment lady today and found out that after the next installment on January 6th, you can pay off the rest of the installment (as she has previously suggested), which I found out today comes to approximately [xxx]. The lady cannot be sure of the exact amount because it depends on when they get the money and the interest rate that adds up.
Naturally, my paying the monthly installment on the 5th of the month, as I’d been doing for the last 2-3 months, wasn’t an issue.
However, she threw this wrench into my plan: “Please wire the amount (which I will confirm with you obviously closer to the time) into my bank account and I will deal with paying off the installment immediately.”
At least she used “please,” but that belied the hardball I felt she was playing. But why would I feel that way? She had been my partner for nearly eight years. Shouldn’t I have been able to, without hesitation, trust her?
Immediately, my mind went back to an email she’d sent a month or so before that stated that she’d “transferred the money from our joint account into” her own account, that she’d “sold all the stocks” and also moved them into her new account (even if a good chunk of that money was from the grandparents to our children), and that she wouldn’t let me get any money from the joint savings originally when I’d asked. There were other examples, too, over those 2-3 months, but her moving all funds out from our account had been enough of a warning.
What card was she hiding up her sleeve this time? Should I have trusted her to actually receive my cash transfer and to deal with it, ethically and morally, by then sending it on to the lien holder? If she were willing to do that, first, what would she then do with the actual title of the car?
I couldn’t help but wonder.
Images of her dangling the title of the car from her fingertips, tick-tocking back and forth with the intended motion of her hand, taunting me, using it as a bargaining chip for something else, came to mind. I could even hear her say, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”
Precedence had already been set. I wasn’t taking the bait.
That same day, which was now the 27th of December, I replied, admittedly in disbelief that she wanted me to send her all that cash.
Incredulous, I offered, “I will wire the money from my account to the bank which owns the car. Please provide me with the account and international wiring number. Or provide me with the telephone number of the bank, itself, and I can make arrangements. Thanks.”
Nervously, I waited. What was going to be the response? This was all very annoying actually.
Her retort came, just as steadfast. “The car is under my name. So I need to do the arrangements. I am going to make another call to the car installment lady tomorrow to inform her of the exact date that the loan will be paid off completely in January. Please provide me with the date that you can wire the money to me (I will wire the money on the same day) so that they can calculate, based on the date, the exact amount that you will need to pay.”
On the surface, it all seems fine, but I just couldn’t get it out of my head all the demands she’d made leading up till that point. With her not letting me photocopy the bankbooks and such, with her not letting me access any of our joint money, I was simply wary (and weary) of her schemes.
Since she asked the expected pay off date, I informed her “January 31st,” for I was going to pay the January 5th installment already. What was the rush? Why not at the end of the month. But apparently, there was one.
To me she sent a quick reply, “Do you know that that is the Chinese New Year period? I propose January 7th. Please confirm this date.”
Still not willing to send her such an amount of cash to her bank, I detailed the following to her:
“Is there anyway which the car can be paid off by wiring the amount from my account in [_____________] directly to the bank that owns the loan on it? I really do not want to send it to your new account. You’re making it more complicated by demanding I send it to your account. It could be remedied quite easily by giving me the contact information for the bank so I can pay them directly.”
And I continued:
“Based on our recent exchanges and all that this process has entailed (i.e., I asked you to not use the money in the joint account to pay your bills—but you have, and you transferred money, after selling the stocks, into your own account), I don’t trust you to make the payment in full nor to provide me with the car’s paperwork if it was paid off in full. I have the [registration] card, but in [my country], when one pays off the loan on a car, the bank will then provide the owner with the actual title, since that person would then be full owner (not the bank). Is that expected here?”
Finally, I explained, “As soon as you said you’d have me wire the money to your account and you’d pay it off, I felt something was amiss. That’s just based on all that has happened these past two months. I really do just want to handle everything by myself. Please consider not having you act as a ‘middle man’.”
This wasn’t intended as hurtful, belligerent, or hardheaded. She’d scared me enough with her antics already, so I wasn’t about to go down that road, obstinate as it seemed.
Because I didn’t hear back from her for three days, and she was expecting the pay off in less than two weeks, I sent a follow-up query that I felt was completely legitimate, hoping to get establish a legally binding agreement so that I wasn’t screwed in the end.
Thus, hoping we could do it with a legally binding agreement, I wrote, “Can you give me a letter, which is signed (not an email), that states,
1. I, __________, am arranging for my (ex) husband, [______] to pay off the remaining balance for our family car so that he can obtain complete ownership of the car under his name. Once his bank in [his country] wires the remaining balance pay off to _______________, the lien holder, here in [our current country], and after said lien holder receives the payment and sends me the title of the car, I will guarantee that I will go with [him] to the Department of Motor Vehicles in [our city], together, to transfer the paperwork and all documents related to the car to his name. I will, from that point forward, on the date of the title transfer, renounce all ownership and claims of ownership. He will own the car outright. Moreover, I will not hold the title of the car or paperwork to use it as a bargaining chip against him during the divorce.
2. Can you provide a letter in writing, with signature, that promises,
[He] will wire transfer the money to my bank account from his ____________ account so that I can make the final, in full pay off of the current loan balance on our family car, which he is purchasing outright. I will not keep those funds for myself or for any other family expenses, nor to said monies to use as leverage or as a bargaining chip in any other negotiations during this divorce period. Once the wired money, in the amount of [xxx], is received in my bank account, I will immediately wire the exact same amount to the lien holder, ___________, to pay off the amount in full. I will not use those funds for another other purposes other than a direct transfer to the bank for these purposes.”
Honestly, I saw nothing wrong with these requests. Yes, it was formal, and, yes, it was unfortunate that it had all come to this. The fact is that I didn’t trust her, as you can see.
Little did I know she would be utterly offended. Then again, I probably should have known that. Taking offense was often the name of the game.
A cynical response came back that afternoon, via email, of course.
“You have the guts to ask me to compose those two documents in writing? Shame on you! Who are you in my life to even suggest that I do that?”
Ouch. Umm. Er.
She followed the above with some number crunching that still don’t make sense to this day when I read through her messages, as I am doing while I write this.
With those calculations, she stated, “I am selling off the car at [____]. You will pay the rest of the installments of [_______]…”
Huh? What the hey?
Why would I pay off all the installments (again, I think she meant the remaining balance of the loan in full) if she were selling the car? Wouldn’t her selling the car then require her to pay off the car in full? If she sold it, she’d have the cash to do so. She wasn’t clear on this, and I actually took it to mean what she wrote: she was somehow getting the money from the car sale, and I was paying off the debt, too, to the bank. It made no sense what she was demanding. I felt she was trying to screw me over.
Was it all playing hardball on her behalf or simple miscommunication… or miscalculation? To this day, I wonder.
She then, in the same message, explained that she would split the left over money with me, but that I needed to send the money from my country to a local bank and then transfer the money to the lien holder because “a foreign bank would cause problems in the paperwork,” which I didn’t see happening. Banks nowadays deal with wiring all the time. Why would it be an issue?
Huh? What the hey?
Why would I send in money from America to pay off the balance in the bank (via a local bank) if she was going to sell the car? It made no sense to me! Zero.
Finally, in the next paragraph, she detailed, “You pay me the amount of [xxx] in order for the title of the car to be transferred. I will remind you again, the car is a family car.“
Once more, I thought, “Huh?”
If she were selling the car, which she clearly stated in the first part of her response, then why on earth would she be giving me the title of the car? It was going to be sold she claimed.
Based on the above, I think she was more confused than me. Was she going to allow me to work out paying off the car so I could own it outright in my name? Was she going to sell it? Who knew?
Simply put, I needed time. We were down to five days. Nothing was clear. Nothing.
On January 5th, she wrote, “I need to know about the car.”
Thinking now that we really needed a mediator or the courts to handle all this, for her claims that she was selling the car and that I was somehow supposed to be sending in money to pay off the lien amount, obviously, didn’t make sense. Merely the amount of confusion within and created by her email needed clarification.
So I wrote back, knowing that I’d paid the January monthly payment already, “I would like to pay the monthly installment for February, too, and in the meantime, if all goes through with divorce proceedings, the outcome of the car will be decided by the courts. The car is paid (today) for the month of January.”
Hoping that we could work out those details, I sent that message to give us time to sift through all the confusion she’d created.
Instead, her aggressiveness got more… well, aggressive.
She retorted soon after, “I have given you plenty of time to deal with the car!! Last year you said this year and now you want to wait further? Please return the car by Tuesday morning when you drop off the kids. This is the last warning.”
Last warning? What was she planning? And why on earth was it a last warning? Where and when was the first?
If it were a ‘real’ warning, I wondered what the consequences were going to be.
That the police were involved is all I can say.
In recap, it is clear to see that the first few months of our separation, especially related to the car, were a roller-coaster ride of miscommunications, emotions, and uncertainty. I’d asked to pay off the car in full, yet she demanded that I send the money to her account first, an account she’d created by transferring monies from our joint savings accounts and a stocks-related bank. She had denied me access, from the start, to any money we’d put away together. My goal was to get the car title in my name without using her as a middleman (or ‘middlewoman’ if you prefer). I’d paid the monthly installments, and I’d paid the January payment already. So on January 5th, when she sent me her “last warning,” I was, undoubtedly, worried.
In her emails on January 5th, she’d also mentioned a few things that caused suspicious alarm, for such accusations were outright lies.
Her statements being lies isn’t even based on perspective; they contradicted all that had transpired. Truly.
She explained, “The family car was purchased before you abandoned the family. I asked you to return the car so I could sell it, you denied. I asked you to share the usage of the car, you denied.”
[By the way, folks, I never abandoned my children. I’ve stated numerous times, and I’ve shown through all my actions, that I want the children in my life and I am devoted to them, regardless of the monetary disagreements we’ve had, which I said should be worked out by the courts.]
First, she never asked me to actually really return the car. From all of the excerpts of all her emails, it is clear that she vacillated. She once stated in early November “I will sell the car to avoid complications,” yet in the same email thread she stated, “Then you just have to pay the installment.” That wasn’t me denying any return of the car. She agreed that I could pay installments! That’s what I opted to do. The key word is opted here, for there was an option!
She had stated that on November 6th she would take the car back to sell, yet in the same paragraph, she included, “If you happen to return the car later than this Wednesday, you will be responsible to pay for your share for the next installment.” How is that denying anything? She gave options to keep it! Where was the wrongdoing in that? Where was the denial of anything?
Needless to say, she was totally confusing herself; consequently, she was confusing me.
As I wrote in Part II of this saga, back in October she’d proposed, quite clearly, that the title of the car be transferred to my name. Verbatim. There was no confusion there.
So how could she claim on January 5th in her last warning mail that I denied returning the car? It was the plan for me to pay off the car, yet there were problems in how that would be done and confusion about what all her numbers meant. It wasn’t a denial of anything!
And her accusation on the 5th of January in which she claims she asked “to share the usage of the car” was inaccurate, too.
Without question, knowing that she’d not driven a day in nearly nine years of knowing her, what was to be “shared”? She did mention something once about having the car on certain days in one of her tirades, but because she had never used the car before, it can easily be taken (and it was) as just emotions coming through—and not a legitimate, logical request to actually share it.
I’ve not found that email exchange yet, for there are hundreds of emails in a divorce folder I’ve thrown stuff into, but I do recall saying that juggling the car for her to take our daughter into school would be impossible, for I had the car at mine and that would mean trying to juggle schedules, to plan timing, and most difficult of all, to communicate clearly, etc. All too challenging given our history. Yet again, I took it as an emotional threat. She didn’t drive! Never.
How would she share if she has always been too afraid to drive?
I’d even mentioned at that time that I was carpooling with two coworkers, so it would have been a total inconvenience to them. She responded that she didn’t care about their needs.
Not once in those months did she repeat such a request. If she repeated something like, “Mike, I really do plan on driving the car a few times a week, for I have taken my course and am prepared to drive the children,” that may have been something to negotiate, but she clearly said on October 24th, early on the timeline of this whole fiasco, just a few weeks after I’d moved out, “As for the car, I would like to propose that the title of the car be transferred so that it is under your name.” That, folks, makes it pretty damn apparent that I was, once again, the de facto owner of the car.
As my kids always said, “Baba’s car.”
In mid-October she talked of possibly selling the car. That doesn’t show any desire to share the car. Moreover, on October 24th, she’d written, “If you find the above arrangements inappropriate in any manner, please let me know,” so she seemed totally fine with working things out together for me to pay the car loan off in full if that’s what I wanted, and that was followed by, in the same paragraph, that if I didn’t want it, she would “probably sell it.”
Selling doesn’t constitute sharing. Right?
With her November 6th announcement that I should make the monthly payments for November, December, and January, which she followed up with “What do you think of this arrangement?” one can see that she didn’t have a plan or need to share it.
Using such excuses on January 5th really was unfair. She was aiming at something. Clear it became that she was accusing me of wrongdoing. Because of her tone, I truly started to worry.
At this point, I’d like to finally get to the police involvement on the 7th. However, I cannot. Not yet.
Believing entirely that I had tried my best through the last rounds of ongoing emails to explain my desires and plans for the car, I replied on the 5th, “I offered to pay the remainder of the car’s outstanding loan balance two-three weeks ago [as I’d done months before]. I said I was willing to pay off the rest of the car, and then the car would be mine, outright, with the title in my name; that’s why I asked for you to provide me with a written contract saying you weren’t going to screw me over by holding the money in your account or paying off the car and then holding the title from me as collateral.”
I continued, “You refused to provide such a written contract–which is binding. You refused, so now I need time to figure out what’s next. Your details and demands about how the car should be paid are not clear. They’re not fair. Thus, I want my lawyer to take a look at your numbers. Hence, I asked for February. What is the big deal with your demanding THIS Tuesday to give you the car? The car is being paid. There is nothing detrimental to you at ALL.”
Still on my mind were her number-crunching messages that prompted my contacts in my country to respond with comments such as the one about her “cracker jack box” degree, about how I should just be paying her half of the current value if I paid off the bank myself, and about how all should really be worked out with a lawyer. I couldn’t just get help from the internet nor look up someone in the yellow pages.
When emotions get involved, problems exist. I didn’t want her emotionally-laden demands about finances bite me in the ass.
On top of those messages, her own demands for me to pay her bank directly made me nervous. Playing hardball was her intent, I felt fully, and there had been precedent for that.
I’d even received this message on December 30th from a family member back home. It is clear there were reasons why I wasn’t fully committed to her numbers. I was told, “I think it sounds OK in terms of what you’re asking her for – but I’m still a little worried on this one – and totally confused as to why you’re (she’s) rushing to pay off the car. If you’re going to own it – then you simply take over the payments and any “equity” in the vehicle (which there generally is none since cars LOSE money over time, not gain like houses/land) – is worked out in the details of the divorce. I think this should wait until the lawyers work out the financial stuff and should not be settled now. What’s the hurry? Sounds suspicious on her end – she should have no say in whether or not you pay off your car now or simply take over payments (which it sounds like you are already making payments) – something is off here, so I’d say do not proceed. She can’t force this legally – all finances are to be decided by the courts and since your name is jointly on the title (right????), she can’t do anything about it. This isn’t making any sense and is highly unusual.”
However, the key aspect of that message was “name is jointly on the title (right????)”. Oh how I wished that were the case. Remember, foreigners in this land cannot finance a car. If it were paid off in full, yes, but not when there is a lien holder involved.
On the night of January 5th, her emotions became stronger. She didn’t want me to have until the end of the month (though I’d made the January payment). She didn’t want me to have until February.
It came in a flurry of email threads, like mortal shells from an artillery battery on the far side of the battlefield.
She posted, “The car belongs to the family. You left the family in October and used it solely for your own work and convenience. You insulted me by asking me to sign two documents. My refusal to sign them has nothing to do with your previous agreement to pay off the car. My financial details regarding the car are clear and fair.”
Clear and fair? Really? I begged to differ.
And how could signing two documents be insulting? It was based on her transferring our joint account money and denying me access to any of our savings. I needed to protect myself against her potentially unethical actions.
She continued, “What is the big deal [I’d asked!]??????? The big deal is the fact that I need the car too! I repeat. The car belongs to the family. Your money belongs to the family, so your paying the installments since November is totally fair and should be done anyway… STILL, it gives you no right to take the car for YOUR use and YOUR use only.”
What’s most amazing about this above paragraph is that she stated she needed the car, too. Really?
The day after she called the police on me, which was two days later, she sold it. I only have a Masters degree, but to me, selling the car somewhat contradicts any need for the car. Hmmm.
Outright lies? Check.
False accusations? Check.
Emotional threats? Check.
Now, over these months, she’d repeatedly said I was no longer the kids’ family. Many times she threw such insults at me. Again, as I wrote above, to so steadfastly say that I had no right to take the car now, after three months (Oct.-Jan.) didn’t have much support. In fact, she’d contradicted herself repeatedly, vacillated wildly, and confused the whole process the entire time, not to mention her downright stubborn denial to get me the international wiring number, etc., and requiring me to pay her directly.
Finishing up, she topped it off that night with this: “Tuesday morning. Drop off the car at the guardhouse. AND Return the spare key to the car which you so conveniently ‘took’ and all the relevant documents regarding the car.”
Again, I had the spare key all along so there would be no need to go to her if I lost it, a total inconvenience since we weren’t together any long, since all was full of such drama. Nothing wrong with that, I had thought and still think. Nobody else had every driven the car. No one. Why would I not have the spare key?
Her emotions, it is plain to see, were growing stronger and stronger.
Was that because of some financial concern? No.
Was it that she really needed the car? No.
It seems that jealousy was at work here. Payback, even if unfounded, was the key ingredient in this bitter cake she was baking, a cake she was preparing to throw in my face, with the help of the police, of course.
You see, a mere two weeks prior, I had invited a Couchsurfing.com visitor out with my children on a Sunday outing for sightseeing and dinner, a three-hour visit which the kids enjoyed. In fact, because our family of four had visited with many Couchsurfers in another country a year before, I totally thought it was appropriate to have my kids engage in a social outing with a visiting traveler. I’d even explained that to my ex in advance, yet she demanded that I don’t have the children meet CSers. With the knowledge that there was NOTHING wrong in doing that, based on proven experience, I decided to still take them all on an outing together. As a loving father, I truly judged that there was no harm in meeting an independent female traveler, whom I’d met for a few hours the day before for sightseeing in my adopted home city, i.e., she was polite, friendly, and harmless.
That very night, I received a warning message from her that I could never take the kids out with a CSer again. My ex threatened to write that very woman to tell her of my “indecent behavior” (Huh? Where did that accusation come from?) if she didn’t receive a mail in her inbox that night promising I’d never meet such visitors again with the children.
Threats and demands? Check.
Two weeks later, a friend of mine from abroad, whom I’ve known for 18 years, a woman who’s married with two children, came to travel in the country. She’d traveled to other cities, but when she came into town, I really wanted her to meet my children. I am proud of them. I wanted her to get to know them, if just for a few hours, before she went back home. I’d met her son years ago, so I truly felt that I was doing no wrong in having them meet her in return. Why would a dad not want a long-time friend to meet his own kids?
That day, Dear Reader, was the 5th of January. That same night, my ex’s warning (her first and final) to return the car in two days came saturated with other behind-the-scenes emotions.
The very next morning, I received the following, in bold, from her:
“The car is a family car. You are not allowed to take other women in the car. You certainly CANNOT take another woman when the kids are in the car. Don’t you have any sense of how to bring up the kids? They are still experiencing the recent abandonment of their father and you bring another woman in the picture? Don’t you have any sense whatsoever?”
Another woman? Huh? There were/was no “other woman” the way she intended that to mean. Just a Couchsurfer and a friend of 18 years. One outing lasted three hours; the second, respectively, about 4-5 hours. The kids enjoyed them. The kids interacted. They had a learning experience talking, playing, and interacting with other adults. If a male friend from home had come and I introduced him to my kids, there would have been no such demands. Yet, even though I explained that very fact, it all fell on deaf ears.
By the way, I do have sense in how to bring up my kids. Having them on outings, having them socialize with other people, having them learn… that’s it. Why is it wrong?
This wasn’t about needing the car. It wasn’t about money really. It was about emotions. It was payback for some perceived wrongdoing—that wasn’t wrongdoing. It was jealousy, pure and simple. For no reason whatsoever. Guaranteed.
On Monday, the 6th of January, I became worried enough to take a half day off after lunch. I went immediately to see my lawyer. That night, I wrote an email to my family, and I even included my boss, because I was concerned enough that I wanted to defend my decisions/actions before she acted on her threats and demands.
My gut told me something was in store for Tuesday morning.
I wrote to them:
“… Her demand, last night at 10pm when I read it, prompted me to go see my lawyer this afternoon, taking off from work, since I had NO clue what to do here in [__________]…
My lawyer said, verbatim, that it is a court decision, not hers. And she said, “Why listen to her?” I said I was afraid [my ex] would call the police, to which my lawyer said, “Well, the police will figure out that she cannot make such demands.” When I said I’d be in trouble, especially because I don’t speak the local language well enough, and that I was worried about even getting the police involved (for fear of work reprisals, personal, public, etc., issues), she said not to worry. The police would send an interpreter. She seemed so nonchalant about it all.”
I really knew that the fiasco would be, just that!
I continued by saying, “So tomorrow morning, though [____] has made the threat that I better drop the car, I will not. I need the car. I asked/told her I’d buy it so that I don’t have to worry about buying a used car here later (and I cannot buy a new car as a foreigner with financing, since banks won’t lend to an expat)…. I use the car for a 30-minute commute to and fro, and on M/W/F to transport the kids around in eves/night–and every Sunday. I have NO clue if she will get the police involved, but I am writing this to say CLEARLY that I am acting on my lawyer’s advice. If the police come to [my job] or to my home or wherever, I don’t know what will happen, but [my lawyer] assures me I don’t have to worry. The last note is that she has gone on a roller coaster of emotions about everything, and with the car, she once demanded in Oct/Nov that she wanted the car back on a Wed (and had told me on that Monday night). Nothing happened then. This time, I have no clue. She has recently been very threatening. I hope my lawyer is right.”
The next morning, said fiasco transpired.
My lawyer was wrong in saying, “Don’t worry.”
Because I’d really become overly worried about my ex’s potential for irrational decisions and dramatic outbursts (e.g., she’d chased me down the stairs of a café after our only face-to-face discussion two months before, demanding I give her a copy of something from my laptop, which was too large for an email attachment; another time, she’d held the elevator door open with our son in her arm and our daughter at my side inside the elevator, demanding emotionally to know if we were done), I’d decided to send out that email (Part IV), explaining to friends and even my boss that the next day I expected issues to arise, if you will. I wanted them to know that I was, indeed, following my lawyer’s advice.
I wasn’t going to be in trouble for any legal wrongdoing. It was all just a family issue, the attorney had assured me. I had nothing to worry about.
Wrong she was.
However, one of my family members had sent an email response that evening which had a different perspective. She took my worry as an overreaction. The night before all came unglued with my wife calling the police, after my relative had gotten my mail, she attempted to encourage me.
“I know you’re stressed, [________], but you have got to stop letting her get under your skin like this – why get so incredibly stressed over something that hasn’t happened? And likely won’t – she didn’t do anything last time either – she’s TRYING to get you wound up, and she’s succeeding – blow her (and this) off! So what – she calls the cops – then you call your lawyer. It IS a legal matter.”
There was even a later email that further implored, “Don’t panic until something actually happens!”
At 7a.m. the next morning, it happened.
When I, teeth chattering, pulled up onto the wide sidewalk in front of the guard gate to her apartment complex’s courtyard, a standard layout here in this country, I unbuckled the kids’ car seats by reaching back from my seat (thus, I was still in the front seat). My two children, both below the age of five, gave me hugs and cuddles, and then kisses on the cheeks when I turned around to wish them a good day, telling them that I’d see them the next after, as our every-other-day schedule permitted.
Their mom hadn’t come down yet, so we had a few moments of joking-a-bit conversation. Those moments make my day.
This day was to be different.
Whatever sentimental fatherly pride I took from that moment with my kids was shattered in one moment more.
I then saw their mom, walking hastily, a hard-nosed look on her face, like she had serious business to handle. The image that flashed in my mind was something akin to a crime scene in a blockbuster movie, in which a band of masterminds storm into a bank. Serious. Stern. Not taking any shit.
Moments before that, the security guard of their complex had stepped out to take his smoke break, watching all this unfold. He stood there nonchalantly as the rest of the episode unfolded.
Three steps behind my ex were her parents, walking just as hastily, with a purpose that made me immediately think, “WTF?”
I think my fingers tightened around the steering wheel.
In a mere nanosecond, the image of my in-laws giving me a hug when my future wife and I announced we were getting married over six years before popped into my head.
Times had changed apparently.
Each of the grandparents went to one side of the car and opened up the back doors to, well, extract one kid apiece. EMTs cannot do it any faster even when the gas tank is going to explode on an overturned car at an accident scene. They were so efficient, they must have rehearsed.
Simultaneously, you know who opened up the front seat passenger door and hovered at the frame until her parents took the kids away in their arms–of course with no chance for me to say goodbye. Thankfully, I already had.
In a flash, they’d removed the treasures from the vault and made haste to escape.
My former ‘better half’ then jumped into the front passenger seat, demanding, quite sternly of course, “Give me the keys. Give me the car documents. Give me the car! Now!”
I didn’t say a word; didn’t give her the time of day. Calmly, I turned off the ignition with a push of the button.
“Now! The keys! Give me everything!”
As she demanded that, she opened up the glove box and started looking for paperwork, etc. Then into the center console she went, frantically looking for whatever she could get her hands on.
Naturally, I’d left everything at my house.
Unsatisfied, she immediately jumped on her cell and dialed the police. In the language of my adopted home, she proceeded to tell them that they needed to get there quickly, for someone was taking her car (I assumed she stated that I was stealing the car, but I haven’t yet learned the word ‘steal’ yet). At least I knew that she kept repeating “my car.”
Oh how I wanted to interject with a zealous “our car!” I didn’t. Still, I bit my lip.
For the ten or so minutes it took for a cop to show up (it seemed like a lifetime), I walked up and down the sidewalk, calling my lawyer, texting my boss and supervisor to follow up on the previous night’s email that had explained I was worried about what would happen. I figured, quite accurately, that I’d be late for work.
I then called the police myself on my cell and asked for an English-speaking officer (all in my slaughtered local language, and I didn’t even know the word for police officer) because I was worried that I would not be able to get my point across—especially with her potentially yip yapping away simultaneously.
Instead of the term for police officer, I had to use “person”. I think they knew what I meant.
All I could utter correctly was that I was a foreigner and that my wife was angry.
Again, I requested “I need a person who can speak English?”
The cop on the other end of the line claimed they had nobody who could, yet he added that he knew that she had called just before me. Small world!
My lawyer, whom I’d seen the day before to explain much about the finances and the car—since my wife had written on Sunday night to return it by Tuesday (Part IV), as a “last warning”, didn’t really say much on the phone other than that the police would arrange for someone to speak English for me.
Apparently, she didn’t see my immediate need in having someone there, stat!
By the way, on Monday, the day before, she told me in person, “Well, if the police come, so what? They’ll know that it is a family issue and not a criminal one.”
Easy for her to say.
When the policeman arrived on his scooter (typical mode of transport here for cops), he spoke with my ex first, of course.
She went off (in her mother tongue) about how I was taking her car (and for the next five hours, she only used the term “my car” not “our car”). She was emotionally charged. I simply stood 10-15 feet away and observed this all, with jaw agape.
For the first time in over four decades of life, I was experiencing a true Jerry Springer moment.
As the officer came over to me next, she huffed, “He wants your license,” after I didn’t respond quickly to his first request directly to me.
Thankfully, said license is legit and up to date (many foreigners here don’t even have licenses).
Then, she energetically demanded I give him the registration card, etc., for which I simply had photocopies. There was no way I was bringing the original documents. I wanted to pay off the car outright. I knew that clearly. She knew that.
During this time, he didn’t really speak to me at all after I stated that my (local) language skills were quite shabby. I briefly explained that we’d bought the car together and paid equally. Naturally, my message was broken and battered. Very basic, but better than nothing.
He asked for the key.
As I turned it over to him, he implored, “Don’t give it to her, please.” He didn’t. Into his pocket he dropped it.
As he got on his radio to phone home, I got on my cell again and told the lawyer that there was no English officer present.
Generously, for it was not even 7:20am, and she must have been at home still, she talked to him for a while, and afterwards, he called for a car to come and take me to the local precinct station.
[At this point, I felt much appreciation for my lawyer. Six hours later, my mind had changed just a wee bit.]
Parked where I’d pulled up, the car sat there for the next five hours, probably wondering when I was going to return–at least I’d like to think.
Like we were teenagers who’d just had a tiff in the back of Mom’s car, my ex and I rode in silence to the station.
Oh how I wanted to state, “Thank you very much!” including perhaps a few other select words.
Reticent I remained, burning inside with bitterness and resentment, thinking about how her parents had whisked my kids away, wondering how I was going to survive the ordeal.
When we arrived at the station, she went to one corner of the front lobby; I, the other.
Naturally, being she had the advantage of shared language, the police chatted with her first. Throughout their conversation was peppered the phrase “my car, my car!”
I picked out perhaps 20% of the dialogue.
At one point, I could have sworn they agreed to skin me alive and shove a large barbecue rotisserie spit rod up my ass.
I even think I smelled coals burning somewhere in the station.
Next, it was my turn. An officer sauntered over and stood alongside me.
After the first minute of his questioning, I stated, “Uh, I really don’t understand very well.”
“It’s all Greek to me,” is what I wanted to chime in. However, I haven’t learned that idiom yet in his tongue.
From across the room, my ex guffawed, “He speaks enough! He understands no problem.”
Again, I repeated I didn’t understand all that much, adding, to help clarify why, that if I go to a coffee shop, I can order a latte, hot or cold, or that if I want a bowl of noodles or a salad, I can get by. Then I slaughtered, and not intentionally, that if someone were to ask me about the president of their country, I wouldn’t be able to explain my point of view nor understand any complex conversation.
I think he got my gist.
Of course, someone I know just had to chime in that I could understand enough.
The producers of Jerry Springer would have been proud of how it was all unfolding.
After the cop walked away, I turned on my phone’s Internet sharing, got a 3G wireless signal, opened up my laptop and immediately searched for the telephone number of the consulate of my country in town.
I needed some help. Thank god for technology.
A staff person of the consulate chatted with the desk cop in the lobby to explain that I needed an English-speaking officer present. Surely I did.
The phone conversation with a bilingual cop from another precinct that followed the consular staffer’s help didn’t make me feel any better.
First dibs went to my ex, and for what seemed like an hour, she gave him what sounded like a sob story.
“My car… my car…”
Next up, moi.
“So your wife tells me that the car is hers,” I heard him say.
Stop the press!
If I could use the excuse that all was lost in translation, I would, but I can’t. His English was pretty damn decent. I understood clearly. I didn’t agree, of course, but I saw what she was doing.
“Well, whose name is it in?” he queried.
Wanting to say, “You tell me, dip shit,” I instead offered a semi-defeated, “Hers, of course. But, why?” I continued. “We bought it together from our savings account and from our monthly earnings every month after the initial payment.”
“Of course it is hers, Sir. Foreigners here cannot finance a vehicle in their name.”
“Well, then, it is hers, right?”
“But we bought the car together, using money from our joint account. She knows that. Officer, I showed my lawyer in person yesterday that my wife had stated in emails that it was our car. I showed my lawyer that she had also explained, ‘Pay the installments in November, December and January, and then pay off the loan.’ So it is our car. And she knows I planned to pay it off so that it is in my name. She knows I want to buy it outright.”
“Oh, well, then this is going to be difficult. I suggest you take a few days to think about this before you two decide.”
“Sir, you know that nobody is leaving the station today without a decision being made. I can see the car key sitting on the ledge behind the desk cop’s work station. They won’t let her have it; I cannot access it either. What’s going to happen?”
“Well, this is not easy,” he offered.
Really? You don’t say!?
However that conversation ended isn’t clear, but I sat down on a bench in the corner again and jumped back on my phone to call the consulate, feeling as if a policeman who could communicate with me in person needed to be present.
Again, the staffer spoke with the on duty officer.
Again, we waited.
Then, I figured I’d try my lawyer once more.
Again, I called.
Continual ringing. Nothing more.
“Crap, she’s avoiding me now,” I concluded.
Because there really hadn’t been enough drama over the last however many minutes, it was time for some tears to be thrown into the mix.
While I was seated off to the side, my wife had been chatting with two middle-aged policemen. I could understand that they were asking her about family, and they then ventured on to the topic of children. At one point, she’d even asked one of them if he had kids. However, something triggered her tears.
Great. Just what I needed. Whatever she was explaining surely wouldn’t bode well for me.
They comforted and consoled her, almost like they’d bonded.
I sat still, incredulous that all was actually happening. Why couldn’t she have just given me the bank’s international wiring code the month before when I’d asked for it? Why did she have to demand I send the money to her account? Why couldn’t she, just as easily, have provided me with a legally binding letter to say the pay off could be arranged with no sneaky intent on her part.”
If she hadn’t already denied me access to our joint account nor sold off stocks, etc., I would have trusted her to handle it herself, for me. No way, no how.
How I wish she’d recalled that just two months before, she’d stated, “I can help you go to the DMV to get the paperwork handled.”
Times had changed.
As I started to lose hope (actually, I really didn’t have any to begin), my phone rang. It was my lawyer’s husband, which was how he introduced himself. Since she was apparently getting ready, he offered to call me back, stating, too, that he was an attorney himself.
However, whatever sliver of hope that existed quickly faded.
“Well, we don’t think we can do anything for you. This is a family issue, not a legal one.” The conversation ended on that note.
Twiddling my thumbs, I sat, checking out the shackles at the base of the bench I was on.
At least I wasn’t wearing them, right?
At one point, I looked up to check the clock on the wall, and as I did, in came walking my lawyer!
The cavalry had arrived! Bugles sounded!
She made a beeline for me, yet from the corner of my eye I saw my ex come forth to listen in to our conversation.
When I suggested we talk alone, the ex interjected with “anything said between you needs to be in front of me!”
Deftly, my attorney stated that she was my counsel and she had a right to talk to me privately. I actually felt good about her presence.
When we asked the police officer nearest to us if we could step outside, he actually rejected our request! Even you-know-who showed her resistance to the idea.
What the hell did he think I was going to do? Run?
Within five minutes, up came strolling a police officer that explained that he had been sent by the precinct that deals with foreigners.
Bugles sounded! The cavalry had come!
Quickly it was decided that we would go back into the rear of the station where a table could accommodate the four of us. All seemed fine.
However, it was still on my mind that only one person was going to leave with the key that day.
The outcome obviously wasn’t clear.
In retrospect, if I had known I would, merely 2-3 hours later, feel like someone had shoved a police baton up my ass and bent me over the table, I would have maybe run when my lawyer and I initially talked by the front doorway. I should have.
Having had a bad morning so far, with my in-laws having extracted my children from ‘my car’ like the kids were needing rescue somehow, followed by the ex’s having jumped in the car demanding numerous items, like the keys, and including a policeman’s having hauled us into the station, I didn’t have much hope when we walked into the back of the precinct to gather around a desk. However, because my lawyer and the foreign affairs police officer had both arrived five minutes before, I at least wasn’t totally daunted by my prospects.
However, to begin, the foreign affairs cop, the one sent because my consulate had explained to the station (on the phone) that I needed an English-speaking officer, admitted, “I don’t speak much English,” in his native tongue.
What? Seriously? I’d waited an hour for this chump to arrive. And that’s whom they’d sent?
Naturally, once the starter’s pistol sounded for these so-called negotiations, my wife jumped in with her sob story.
“It is my car,” I understood her saying, repeatedly.
“But I’ve said for some time that that I’d wanted to buy the car, haven’t I?” I added. “You didn’t give me the international wiring code nor the banker’s name and contact information.”
Incredulous I was that she followed that with “Oh, yes, I can give that to you now!”
“What? You’ve said for the last month or so that you wouldn’t. You wanted me to send you the money directly to your account! That’s been the problem.”
When my lawyer added, “Well, why don’t you give it to him now?” my ex explained, “Well, I don’t have it with me, but I can call my dad.”
After she called daddy on her cell, merely after about ten minutes had passed, he arrived with the banking information in hand. He then sat down next to her, smirking, joining the conversation immediately.
Admittedly, this exact type of situation had been a sour point in our relationship before.
In erstwhile conversations, her daddy had gotten upset with me, simply because I’d spoken my mind about a few issues that had arisen, usually connected to family matters (i.e., my children and our difference in how to raise them).
Though I’d used a tone and approach that would have been COMPLETELY acceptable with someone like my parents or grandparents in my country, he always got frustrated that I’d dared to ask him to do something differently or because I was apparently disrespectful to my elders.
Cross-cultural communication complexities, indeed, had reared their ugly heads before.
To have him join us was… well, not ideal.
Because he responded to other issues in the past like a petulant child, I simply expected the worst from him. He can be one stern, stoic $&#@, so I wasn’t ready to have him join the fray.
Moreover, even though my wife was nearing her mid-30’s, I couldn’t help but think about her daddy being there. Dependent on others, for they’re always doing everything for her, she, undoubtedly, was happy he’d arrived.
The cavalry to the rescue! Bugles sounded! This time… not for me.
Instantly, the two of them proceeded to explain their side of the story in the language of their land, and they even relied on the local dialect, too, for the father-in-law surely knew that I didn’t speak a lick of it.
Of course it was completely unfair that nearly all was discussed in a language I understand very little of.
If in a conversation I know the topic of here, I comprehend around 15-20%; however, maybe only 3-5% I understand if I’m just eavesdropping in public. I need modified input, indeed. They certainly weren’t will to provide any. Comprehensible input my ass.
Given that my wife’s English is quite good and her father’s is enough to get by, discussions ideally should have been done in English. How naïve I am to assume or wish that.
It was brought up that I’d even asked for one more month to make decisions about the car after she’d demanded a return of the vehicle in two days’ time, so I, of course, explained that I didn’t understand the numbers she’d suggested (i.e., what I was supposed to pay her, etc.) and that it wasn’t easy for me to dig into such things here in this country, not knowing the language well enough.
If you’ve read the previous entries of this blog (it started off in six parts until I combined them into one here), you’d have seen that she had written me an email at one point explaining that I would pay the installments, but she was going to sell the car. Confusion abounded.
Furthermore, as I’ve written, someone in my family had quipped via email, “What, did she get her degree from a Cracker Jack box?” I was also reluctant to accept her numbers since others had told me to let the courts decide on what was owed, etc.
Regardless, it was the here and now. And the here and now was harsh.
At one point in this lopsided conversation, after I’d explained why I needed more time because I couldn’t simply open a Yellow Pages to get help, she even leaned over to the cop and totally mocked me with an all-foreigners-use-that-excuse comment. At least I swear that’s what she’d said even though I could only understand part of the dialogue. For sure she’d said “all foreigners… say…”
He just nodded his head.
My patience challenged, I detailed how she’d also refused to sign a document which would have assured me that she wasn’t going to keep my money nor the title if I’d agree to send the cash directly to her account—which was what she’d been demanding.
Curious, my lawyer asked her why not.
To add a bit more drama, my former better half retorted, “Ms., how would you feel if you husband did this and that? How would you react if he’d abandoned his family?” That part came in English. She was trying to establish a personal connection as a mother with children to another mother with children. She was pleading to gain sympathy.
My revelation went nowhere.
Then came more complications. I again repeated that I still wanted to pay off the car. I asked for two weeks to do it.
I countered with three days.
In tandem, they snickered.
“Today!” they demanded in unison.
To my lawyer I turned and said, “Does he really have to be here?”
Oops. I let that one slip.
Instantaneously, my ex, with claws extended, snapped back with, “Of course. He’s my father.”
Mockingly, she turned to the cop again and with pure, belittling sarcasm explained, “Foreigners don’t understand [something about] families in Taiwan.”
Needless to say, I was growing tired already of the foreigner-directed ridicule.
Each time they turned to include him, he grinned rather uncomfortably and simply shook his head with uncertainty and pseudo indifference.
After they suggested that I pay them that very same day, I stated, incredulously, that the banks in my home country couldn’t send cash that quickly, for it was probably midnight back home at that moment.
“Well, what do you have in your bank here?” my lawyer queried.
“How much?” she wanted to know.
After I admitted the amount, an amount which was not as much as it should have been because my wife had already denied me any access to our joint savings account two to three months before, I came up with an idea.
“I’ll buy the car in three days, sending money from my home country to do so, AND I will sign a document, which is legally binding, to guarantee that I will do that.”
I knew I was worth my word. In the back of my mind dwelled her reaction to my request to similarly sign something binding, herself (to which she’d emailed, in response, something to the effect of “Who are you in my life to ask me to do that?”).
Feeling confident that they’d accept that offer, I instead was catapulted into disappointed frustration when they next spoke.
“You pay the money in three days, but you cannot take the car today. The car stays in our building, with us, until we get the money in the bank account.”
Uggh. Pure ridiculousness.
My offer was legally binding. To do that and then break my word could easily mean I’d have screwed myself over.
Even my lawyer semi-gasped, “Why not?”
“That’s our offer. That’s it.” They didn’t budge a millimeter.
It dawned on me that I could readily be taken for a ride if I concurred. Thus, I asked my lawyer to step out into the lobby area of the station, away from my newly christened, arch nemesis (times two).
Immediately, my head awash with all their BS, I told her that they could simply turn around and sell the car the next day if they wanted. They weren’t willing to sign anything, so what was to hold them back from playing more games, from taking me to the cleaners.
They could just as readily sell the car and then turn around and demand my cash payment to them still, especially since I would have signed an agreement to pay them the cash directly. They didn’t budge on signing a document themselves to give me any assurance.
She’d already sold off our stocks and transferred money without my consent, refused me access to any monies, and even rebuffed my earnest request to take my professional documents from the house. She was prone to playing hardball.
What was next? The potential of something severe was surely strong.
[In fact, less than two weeks after this police station fiasco, she stopped me from seeing my children altogether, which, even at the time of writing five weeks after that cruel decision, has left me totally out in the cold, without even a word about them to follow.]
“Who’s to stop them from selling the car or damaging it somehow? And if I’d already signed a binding agreement to send the money, I’d have to, right?”
My lawyer, as we stood together in the lobby of the station, with me licking my wounds, offered something that still rings in my ears over a month later.
“You’re going to really have a tough case in court.”
“Oh, thanks for the vote of confidence!” I wanted to shout.
Instead, I just cast my eyes to the floor, starting to feel like I was inevitably screwed.
Upon returning to the back room, I observed the father and his dear daughter engaging in light banter with the cops. There seemed to be some hearty camaraderie developing.
Just what I needed.
I detected a slight smokiness in the air. The scent of coals recently kindled teased my nostrils. Certain orifices tightened as I consider the barbecue spit they must have been preparing for me.
As we sat back down, my lawyer stated that I didn’t accept their offer of them keeping the car until the payment came.
They didn’t move an inch. They made it utterly impossible for me to simply pay off the rest of the loan. It wasn’t going to be my car any longer I could sense.
I, my heart heavy, my hope gone, shifted uncomfortably in my chair when they proposed the next idea.
At one point, they asked to see the numbers that she’d shared with me via email, so I opened up a Word document on my computer, to which I’d copied said calculations.
Her father, as if his little baby girl couldn’t think for herself—even in her mid-30’s, did most of the talking and all the walking.
Having just hastily scribbled down his math on a small piece of scratch paper, he dramatically tossed the note down in front of my lawyer and me, like a poker player does in one of those Wild West movies when he’s just accused someone of double dealing. I was waiting for him to stand up, both hands on the handles of his six shooters.
Smugly, he dramatically leaned back in his chair. I envisioned a piece of straw or a toothpick extruding from the corner of his mouth.
Daddy had taken over.
On this paper, a paper I’ll most likely keep forever, he’d jotted down the supposed current value of the car, which they’d apparently gotten from the dealership. Starting from that number, there was then notation of what we owed the bank. Once the bank was paid that figure, i.e., the car loan was to be paid in full, there was then the remaining balance.
Here’s a math question for you, dear reader: How many people would the remainder be divvied up for equally if two people had paid equally for the car?
Well, one’s math doesn’t have to be at a collegiate level to understand this: two.
Easy if one is fair and ethical, that is.
However, ethics is something those two are short on.
They weren’t playing a fair game.
Looking at the computations, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Yet, what was on the paper wasn’t enough drama. There had to be more.
Jerry Springer would have snapped up the opportunity to have us on stage simply because of this.
Once again explaining all in their native tongue, the two of them, synchronized in all that oozed from their mouths, told my lawyer something else, of which I understood very little.
Seemingly doubting me, the attorney turned to me and revealed, “They say you haven’t ever paid anything for the car at all and that you’ve never paid into a joint savings account.”
Because this lawyer had once warned me (via email communication) that I should maintain a level-headedness in all dealings with my ex, lest she use my reactions against me in our future custody/divorce case, knowing that there were cops around us, whom they’d already become chummy with, I bit my tongue. Hard.
Biting my tongue resulted in a bit of blood being spilled.
You know what they say about sharks getting a whiff of blood in the ocean waters.
Inside, however, my soul yawped.
“Uh, can we go out to the lobby please?” I instantly requested to this woman.
There my jaw dropped further… to the point it nearly shattered on the floor at my toes.
“That was an absolute lie!” I wanted to squawk, limiting my volume because they were all in earshot. “How dare they lie so blatantly?”
Less than 24 hours before, I’d taken half a day off of work to go see this woman. I’d opened my computer to show her email excerpts that revealed that I’d asked to pay off the car in full, that I’d requested to have the title in my name solely. I’d even explained that the car was owned by both of us.
Yet she had the audacity to ask, “Did you pay for the car?”
“Of course I did! We paid a large initial down payment out of our joint account, and then every month for 1.5 years we’d pooled money into an envelope in our house to pay the monthly installments, and for the last three months, I’ve paid all on my own.”
“Do you have proof?”
“The bank account was in her name!”
“Can you prove you’d put money into the account?” she continued.
“Well, no. We put cash into said accounts regularly.”
She drove home the point further. “If you’re name isn’t on the account…”
“$@#!%^&_)(*!!!!,” crossed my mind.
“Do you have evidence like bank transfer records that show you sent money into a joint account?”
“No. All was done with cash. We always deposited cash.”
“Well, you’re going to have a hard time with this.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” I desired to retort.
Sulking on the outside and livid, inside, I returned with her to the negotiation table. Who am I bullshitting? There were no negotiations. They were playing hardball. In fact, they were playing bean ball.
And guess who got beaned?
With the knowledge that they’d blatantly fabricated all sorts of bullshit, I sat down at the desk and pseudo listened to the conversations that my erstwhile “family” was having with the police officers in the room (I knew I wasn’t family any longer, for my wife had repeatedly stated that in various emails for the three months before, since my moving out—even going so far, countless times, to say I wasn’t even family with my own children any more).
They’d lied. The lawyer and foreign affairs cop merely sat and listened. Other officers and even a cleaning lady eavesdropped. They mocked foreigners, i.e., me. Their continual usage of a language I wasn’t well versed in further left me hopeless. Even my attorney took the wind out of my sails (what was left of any wind, which had really only started as a slight intermittent breeze).
It wasn’t my day. January 7th, 2014 was pure hell.
Reaching out timidly, I thought I’d try to make sense of the estimations my father-in-law had jotted down on the notepaper.
Value of the car. Comprendo.
Loan balance. Comprendo.
Left over amount after loan payoff. Comprendo.
But what was that?
If they’d simply divided the remaining amount by two, I’d have understood. Whatever was left over should have gone equally to the both of us. Naturally.
Minus $1500US??? No comprendo. Nil. Nada. Nothing.
Glancing too at the numbers, my attorney ally (yeah, right!) noticed what I’d just noticed.
“Why is the remaining figure not equal?” she inquired? “It should be equal.”
“Beats me!” I offered.
Noticing we were confused, the duo across the desk responded, “We’re deducting $1500US [in local currency, of course] because that was the total of the three monthly installments total that he’d paid… and
Well, the rest was lost in translation. My lawyer told me their offer was lowered because there was some depreciation in the value of the car over those three months that I’d been driving the car. Because my keeping the car had meant them losing money somehow (in some nonsensical way), they were recovering their loss back by giving me less cash in return, less than an equal amount.”
The attorney scoffed at their notion.
Why the hell would I get less money, especially when I’d actually paid three months’ worth of the installment on my own! Shouldn’t I be the one to get a little more back? I’d paid more the three months I had the car totally in my possession!
I sat there, alone, surrounded by others.
“That’s our final offer!” came their in-unison voices.
Her father smirked, I believe.
Now, at this point, I felt my hands were tied behind my back. Admittedly, the whole fiasco left me reeling. They’d lied. Outright.
Not to extend this explanation of all by too much, but there was some irony here.
Two months before, I’d thought my wife had lied about something, so I’d sent her a text message saying, “It sounds like an outright lie.”
That one text led her to enthusiastic demands that I apologize to her and even threats that I’d better say I was sorry before a certain set time or she was going to call my boss! A long story, but her insulted notion was one of “Nobody calls me a liar,” as she’d stated via text message and in a FB chat.
“What can I call her now?” I wondered.
Maybe my labeling her as a liar then actually created the monster, for the label undoubtedly fit now. Was it my fault she’d turned into a liar? She’d probably blame me for her actions.
By this time, we’d spent nearly three hours in the station (in addition to the 30 minutes on the sidewalk after her parents had taken the kids out of my car). They weren’t going to budge on my offer to buy the car outright, unless they kept it at theirs until they received the money transfer. I couldn’t trust them to not turn around and sell the car, requiring me to still pay them cash because I’d agreed to sign a document. I’d have no written promise from them to give me the car.
Yet, the other option was ridiculously unfair. Lose $1,500US because I’d made three monthly installments on my own. It was all bullshit.
Undoubtedly, this experience could educate someone on the meaning of a lose-lose situation.
I reflected on an email she’d written back in October when she’d first mentioned possibly selling the car (yet giving me the option to keep it), in which she’d stated, “We can split what’s left over.”
I wish I’d had that printed at that moment to be able to remind her of her formerly fair self.
“What do you want to do?” the attorney prompted.
“Man, you’re a real help!” I wanted to respond. “What on earth have you done to help?”
I didn’t say anything. I just motioned her to the lobby one last time.
I was done. My lawyer seemingly didn’t have any answers, either. They weren’t giving up. The fact that they’d lied between their teeth passed without impact on any of this final outcome.
Losing the car wasn’t actually as bad as what I was focused on, however.
In time, I could buy a new car (a waste of money up front especially in comparison to just paying off the remaining balance on my car already and keeping it for the next ten years or so). It was merely a material possession. They come and go.
An inconvenience I was facing: commuting to my job via subway or taxi to a bus station and then busing it to my job thirty minutes away, not to mention taking my kids around the nights I had them and on the weekends, etc. We’d be walking a lot more.
“C’est la vie!” Right?
However, I couldn’t get my mind off the fact that if they were willing to lie so much for a material possession, what were they willing to do in the future in court for custody of the kids?
“Sad” cannot describe how I felt about the prospect of their pending behavior.
My lawyer and I didn’t even speak much in the lobby that last final retreat to a corner of the boxing ring, supposedly getting ready for the last round.
My corner men at this point would have been debating throwing in the towel. Contusions might have just been ignored. There was no way to stop the bleeding.
She asked me again what I wanted to do. I didn’t have any choice. I suppose we could have sat there for the rest of the day and not agreed to anything they offered.
When my lawyer asked me during a “break” from the action if that was true or not, I clearly explained how we’d put money into a joint account (which was in her name because she arranged it all as the local, herself, and because we couldn’t get a two-person name on the account, she’d once said) all starting around 5.5-6 years before. I explained how every month we’d put in something, and that the car was paid from our joint account every month or from a monthly pool of cash in our house.
Back in the meeting room (at the police station, where we were for almost 4.5-5 hours), the wife and her daddy continued making demands. I felt they walked ALL OVER the lawyer. They walked all over me.
Either way that the outcome could have come, I would have been screwed. The police had taken the car keys in the morning and they wouldn’t give them to anyone until a decision was made. My hand was forced. They blatantly lied to my lawyer and to the cop(s). I felt trapped. I felt betrayed. I was fucked. 97% of all transactions were in the local language. They “negotiated” with my lawyer and when they were totally unfair, the lawyer did nothing to remedy the situation, instead turning me to say, “That’s what they want? What do you think?”
I thought I was screwed.
That was it. They were forcing my hand to sign off on their demands. I still wanted to buy the car. They wouldn’t allow me three days to get all the banking arranged. They didn’t budge on providing a written statement to promise they’d turn the car and title over to me if I let them keep the car in their possession.
Instead of the proper way this should have been handled (in a court of law), it was done their way.
As an expat, I didn’t have a chance.
This lawyer, whom I’d only met twice (once in Oct and once the day before because I was already worried about my wife’s actions the next day on Tuesday, the day she had demanded I give the car to her), really did NOTHING. I appreciated that she’d come at first, but in the end, I lost, big time.
The worst, however, was when I had to take a taxi to my home, for I needed to return to my apartment to get the spare key and registration paperwork, since neither was kept in the car.
As I was leaving the station, needing to wait for a taxi to pass outside, I wondered what she was going to do. I almost asked her to come with me, thinking she shouldn’t be communicating with them without me present. I should have.
The lawyer stayed with them in the police station. In the meantime, I took a taxi home, gathered the necessary documents, and taxied back. All in all, I was gone about 40 minutes. It was one lonely cab ride.
When I returned, they were all joking and laughing, and my wife was explaining something about other matters with my children. They were also talking about “joint custody” (which my wife said once or twice in English) and the lawyer was advising her and her daddy, like they were her clients. It was all pure drama.
I was drained.
I provided them with the paperwork. They provided me an envelope with some money in it, an amount not half and half, as it should have been legally, but minus the three months of payments I’d paid on my own! Really? WTF was I doing?
A police officer came over with a large binder which served as their station log, apparently, and I had to sign next to the information they entered, all in the local language. The lawyer said that it simply stated that’d I’d received money for the car and that I had ‘returned’ the car to her.
We then had to head back to the car still parked at my wife’s building, so that I could clean it out of all my possessions, which I loaded into a waiting taxi, one they conveniently and ever-so-politely called for me. The whole time I was clearing out my trunk, the backseat kid’s stuff, the glove box, consoles, etc., the three of them chatted on the sidewalk two meters or so away.
That took the cake.
They then said thanks to her when we departed, being polite and pleasant (just an hour after they had lied through their teeth to the woman). What a false façade.
The lawyer went in the taxi with me to the nearest subway stop, and I then continued to my house, solo, feeling alone like never before. For those 2-3 minutes, she didn’t say a single word to me on the ride.
She got out and said, “Take care.”
That’s it. I honestly felt she took their side in the end.
In all my years, I’ve never experienced such unethical, blatantly wrong behavior. I’ve dealt with assholes before. I’ve come across many a wrongdoing, but this topped them all. However much a non-believer I am in a heaven or hell, I hope that such blatant lack of principles somehow comes back to haunt them. I hope karma comes back to bite them each in the ass.
All in all, the car is a possession. Possession are fleeting. They’re irrelevant to the overall happiness we should maintain in our lives. However, for many reasons, it made life for me more difficult.
The next day, I taxied back from my job, a 25-30 minute commute, and picked up my kids from their mom’s house. No car, so walk we did. As we turned the corner to walk the lengthy road home, I asked my nearly five-year-old daughter if she saw “Baba’s car” the day before.
She stated, in her ever so sweet voice, “Baba, a big truck came to take the car away yesterday!”
Wow! That was fast, wasn’t it? And it immediately prompted me to wonder if they’d had any forethought of actually letting me work things out. With them selling the car the very next day, apparently, the answer is pretty darn clear.