Court Negotiations in a Foreign Land: Part I

Blogging was therapeutic, so I blogged about the court processes here (here).

April 17th, 2014: The Second Negotiations

[Disclaimer: It must be clear that the tone of this whole experience has to be read through the lenses of an expatriate living abroad. It is a foreign system. I don’t fluently speak the language, though I know a little bit for daily living at times. The cards are automatically stacked against me. I am facing a system that is unknown and confusing and far unlike my homeland’s. Aspects of culture are at play here that interfere with things I don’t even grasp most likely, for culture includes intangibles like values, thought processes, non-verbal communication, perceptions, assumptions, expectations, and, of course, beliefs. It ain’t just food, festivals and holidays, they say. I am also up against a family, not just one woman. Here, family rules the roost. Recently, I realized that in this culture, the family name comes first when written or even introduced. I take that as exhibiting the importance of family over oneself. And I am facing a woman who claims I threatened to take the kids from the country if I get custody at all—and that is based on a bending of the truth of what was said, a woman who took my kids away from me on January 18th, which is now 91 days, saying she would protect them from my women friends and social life, all unfounded fabrications and erroneous perceptions.]

[Disclaimer II: I use the language Swahili here to avoid having to say “local language” and “official tongue”, etc., which I started to say to keep this as anonymous as possible—for fear of her stating that I embarrass her and her family by talking about personal issues publicly. I don’t speak Swahili and that’s not the language used here in this foreign-to-me-still land.]

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On April 17, 2014, the second court-ordered negotiations occurred in the family courthouse, in my adopted city abroad.

Unlike the first negotiations on March 17th, when my soon-to-be-ex didn’t show, with her lawyer simply present, she showed up this time, but with her father in tow, too.

She didn’t stay long.

We were all seated at 9am.

My interpreter didn’t show up on time, so I was sweating bullets the first 6-7 minutes, for I understood little of what was already being stated between all involved.

I’d arranged for my interpreter to appear, since my lawyer stated after the last negotiations that he would not request for one the next time—because he felt that his paying the fees wasn’t worth it, since I’d stated after the first session that she didn’t help as much as she could have (quiet at times, sitting there listening; no simultaneous interpreting). However, I’d been told by legal aid lawyers months ago that the court would provide one for me, and I’d submitted a form for it on my own, which is why I’d even had an interpreter the first session in March. This made me wonder why he didn’t want me to have one present (I have natural skepticism about this guy).

This past Monday, with negotiations for Thursday set, I had enough second doubts about him, and I became worried that he wasn’t going to be able to talk to the negotiator, my wife’s lawyer, and to me at the same time, especially if something became dramatic or heated. I wanted to know all that was happening, so I wrote an email to an interpreting agency I’d met in person a month ago. The woman responded she’d get back to me, but by Wednesday, I still hadn’t heard from her by the end of the day! That night, I text messaged one of the gals who works in that office (she was going to attend the March negotiations, but I got a free court one instead) to see if her boss had asked her to attend my hearing. She stated that she had told her boss on Monday that she couldn’t. Grrr… not good for me.

I’d also emailed three members of the HR staff at my job to call the courthouse on Monday to ask if I had the right to a FREE interpreter (and if so, if they could request one for me), sending the email to three people (two local and one from my country). The western guy wrote and said he’d asked his bilingual counterpart to call (who’d I’d included in the email), but by Wednesday morning, nobody had gotten back to me. I saw the expat in person and asked about it, and he claimed the other guy “was going to call.” By the end of the day, I still didn’t hear anything. When I was leaving my job, knowing that the negotiation was the next day at 9am, I was disappointed—and worried. Again I saw him at the parking lot, and he apologized, saying he couldn’t believe they didn’t call for me. Grrr… not good for me.

So Wednesday night, I texted a gal who interprets professionally. She agreed to be there at 9am.

She was late.

Now, when she did show up 6-7 minutes late, much had already been said, none of which my lawyer explained.

When she sat down, apologizing, the negotiator, the same woman from March’s session asked who she was. My lawyer stated she was a court-appointed interpreter, but rather one whom I’d hired. The negotiator seemingly stated I didn’t need to hire one since the court should provide one! Again, I wondered why my lawyer had told me he wasn’t going to request one (and the fees he mentioned turned out to be false). Does he know anything about family court, I wondered. Or was there something behind his reasons?

The soon-to-be-ex’s father was present (to be honest, I don’t even feel comfortable writing her name any more). I didn’t want him to be. For the eight-plus years I’d been with her, her daddy did so much of the talking and decision making for her, even in my presence. There were times when we went to do something together and he was in total control.   Once when we went to do some legal paperwork, her father did all the talking at the ticket window, even though she was right there—even though she was 29-30 years of age at the time! I even asked her later why she let’s her dad handle so much in those circumstances.  He filled that role a few times. He even went to run errands for her to handle the kids’ passports once or even helped me with something—when I’d asked her to help, which she should have been doing.

I’ve long had the impression that she is a daddy’s girl, and daddy’s “little girl”, i.e., she never grew up and her parents are in control. She let’s them be. Honestly, I’ve long felt she let’s them because she feels herself to be an inept communicator (I have countless emails from her stating how she always fumbles her words, how she gets emotional when pressured, how she upsets her parents because she states things that just don’t make sense) and partly because she is somewhat culturally expected to let them handle things. Even in the midst of her fourth decade of life.

So here, just shy of 34 years of age, she was sitting with her dad by her side.

Daddy’s little girl.

Knowing that in January she asked him to come to the police station when she had called the police on me to wrest the car from me (I’d had it for the three month’s after I’d moved out—and I’d paid each of those months completely on my own—and we’d both paid for it equally for the months until then—and the down payment, too, was equal), and there he lied to my lawyer and to the police, saying that I didn’t pay anything into an account nor pay for the car. Lying is what he proved himself capable of doing.

I didn’t trust him. I didn’t want him present.

Over the last few months, I’d visited quite a few legal aid lawyers, both in the family court and in downtown legal aid offices. Each one I asked, “What if her father shows to the negotiations?” They each said, “You have the right to ask him to leave. The negotiator will arrange that.”

So, I’d told my lawyer weeks and weeks ago that I didn’t want her father present. He’d be there guiding her thoughts, he’d be there explaining things, chiming in in his dramatic way, like he did in the police station (often converting to a local dialect, not the mainstream language in this country, to talk to the police nearby—for I don’t speak a lick of the dialect), and he’d be there to lie—and huff.

I knew her dramatic huffs would be enough; why would I want to hear his, too.

So from the start, even before my interpreter came, I stated through my lawyer that I had a right to have him not be present. I didn’t speak directly to the woman to at least try to placate the situation that was surely going to turn sour. It did.

The ex spoke out dramatically, saying that her father should be there (this was all in the official language, so I understood only a little, but surely not all), and her daddy spoke out to. The negotiator, my lawyer, hers and the two of them had a volley of dramatic exchanges about his presence. I understood that my ex questioned why he couldn’t be there if I could have an interpreter by my side (my lawyer had started off first saying my interpreter was on the way). My lawyer supposedly countered saying I had a right, because of the language barrier, to get help.

The negotiator was shuffling papers around, and she nonchalantly said something akin to “Let’s proceed,” for the ex’s lawyer and ex started explaining things anyway.

I respectfully said, “Excuse me, miss (I don’t know how to say “ma’am” yet)” and my lawyer got her attention, stating again that I didn’t want him present. More volleys ensued.

My interpreter arrived and broke up the conversation by sitting down next to me.

This time the negotiator went over to the corner to adjust some papers on the filing cabinet (why was she housecleaning then?), and again shrugged it off, stating that we can begin. My lawyer whispered, “She thinks we can just proceed and not worry about this all.”

Culture at play? Was she really unbiased?

I clearly, firmly stated back to him (in a whisper), “I will leave if he is present. I have a right to have him leave. This is negotiation between me and her, not her family.”

I spoke up in Swahili to the woman this time. “For three months, I’ve asked lawyers in legal aid (I didn’t know that word in Swahili), and they told me I can have the right…” My interpreter finished the rest because I didn’t have it all in my language skills to do so.

With that, he was asked to go outside and wait.

With that, my wife stood up, and left with him! She said if her father couldn’t be present, she wouldn’t be.

Just her lawyer remained.

Later, after the session was finished, and my lawyer and I were standing outside on the sidewalk, he told me, “She stated that her dad knows what we need to say…”

I guess she didn’t have it in her to speak for herself without help.

During the first few minutes, to backtrack a second, I don’t know if the negotiator mentioned this or not, but I feel it should have been. Did she tell my wife that she should have been present at the first negotiations? Was it noted? Does it even factor in here? That should have been a strike against her, undoubtedly. And that’s not based on cultural perceptions. Human nature would judge her actions to not show as detrimental to this process. Was it viewed as a tactic to further keep the kids from me, to delay by another 4-5 weeks my possibly negotiating to see them, extending the total time they’ve been held against their right to be with their daddy until the 88th day by the time this negotiation took place?

For some reason, though I didn’t understand what was being explained completely, I don’t believe it was mentioned.

My lawyer should have mentioned it himself.

My handwritten notes at this point are sporadic and messy, for I was trying to maintain some eye contact with the negotiator, to see what my lawyer was doing, and to listen to the interpreter at this point.

The negotiator rattled off some stuff about custody rights requiring responsibility, until the children are adults.

My lawyer explained that I’ve asked repeatedly to see them, which I have, ever since she made the decision without my consent to stop them from staying at my apartment for three nights a week and with me every Sunday for seven hours. He stated that I didn’t know anything about how the kids spend their time. Clearly, he mentioned that I request the same schedule as before, a return to normalcy in my role as a father (as much as can be under the new framework of a soon-t0-be-divorced couple with kids).

Because one of her claims continues to be that I don’t help them financially (though I’ve not received a single snippet of communication from her since January 20th, two days after she said I cannot take my children out any more), he further explained that because the schedule would mean the kids would be with me those evenings and overnights and on Sundays, that that would mean I would be financially responsible for them again.

Another (western) lawyer three months ago told me that “by extrapolation” I was in fact paying for them, for they lived with me, too, for I took them out on outings that cost money every Sunday, for we went for dinner, etc., and that my bills, rent, car, etc., also went to being for them partially. Accommodation three nights a week and related expenses was supporting them.

On that note, I told my lawyer ten days ago in a face-to-face meeting that I didn’t think it was fair of her to demand I now give her money because she actually abducted my kids against their will, without my or their consent.

Up until January 18th, I had paid for everything aforementioned. On top of that, she’d sent me an email in Nov/Dec that stated she was sending six months of rent payments in to the landlord from our joint account! I was paying for half of their rent, a huge chunk of their expenses.

If at that time, I took the kids, dropped them off, and stated, “I never want to see the kids again. You handle all their finances, educational and health expenses, etc.,” that would have been wrong. I would have been neglecting them by putting all the expenses on her shoulders (besides the rent already paid from our joint accounts), and I would have been held responsible to pay something, of course.

However, SHE ABDUCTED THEM! I asked her repeatedly to change her mind. I asked via email and text messages nearly every day for 88 days hitherto to see them (she now claims I didn’t come to their house to see them and that’s my fault, which is completely unrealistic and unfathomably false). So, if she abducted them, taking all responsibility for their welfare and wellbeing, which includes financial obligations (except rent, since that was paid), how on earth could she turn around and demand financial support? I WASN’T ABLE to spend money on them on outings, for food, for clothes, for any household-related expenses, which I’d theretofore done. She changed all that.

Wouldn’t my sending them money result in condoning her actions?

“Take my kids away from me without my consent and against their rights.  I’ll pay you!”

Really?

I explained this to my lawyer ten days ago when he was steadfastly pressuring me to agree with her financial demands (which her lawyer said we need to agree to before we even discuss scheduling times with the kids). I even drew a picture of two families of three, showing how expenses were shared up until January 18th. I drew an arrow to represent that if I shoved the kids completely on her, that I should pay for my share to help her raise them. But when she abducted them, she changed that financial obligation somewhat. Did I then turn around and say, “Hey, you’ve taken my kids from me, but, here, let me give you some cash to help you out. Let me assist you in this whole sordid chapter of YOUR abduction of my children!”

That didn’t seem right.

By the way, other lawyers I’d visited in the months leading up to my finally retaining one in March stated that I “shouldn’t pay her anything.” The courts were to decide what legally was obligated for child support (and even with the notion of getting joint or sole custody in my mind, I didn’t feel she had a right to demand payments). Even family wrote, “don’t send her anything; let the courts decide; she doesn’t mandate anything.”

With that said, she had emailed me once in the late fall of 2013 to say, “You don’t owe me a cent!” Then, a few months later, she demanded an absurd amount to be paid in a six-month’s lump to her bank, with a threat of “then we can talk” about the kids.  She didn’t even know what she wanted, and that’s proven by her vacillations.

Naturally, there is an inclination to say I should have given them something more (and I would have if I had them in natural roles of parenting and such), but please keep in mind that she HADN’T responded to single message. And I’ve said this until I turned blue in the face, but she had also kept our bank account funds and sent me a message to say I cannot access the bank. She has played a game the whole time, but yet she claims now (through her lawyer and in the divorce petition she submitted) that I didn’t pay anything for them.

My lawyer at this point of the meeting further explained that we need to negotiate seeing them four times a week, not the one time per week which was brought up in the last negotiations.  I had told him to explain that I wanted four times/week because that was normal fathering, for we could go out, do things, have fun, etc. Once a week wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t right.  It wasn’t fair.  I am still their daddy and I should have a right to their time equally.

The negotiator or her lawyer stated that if I loved my kids, I wouldn’t leave other things out of this all, like asking her father to leave or focusing on old family issues.

WTF?

From here on out, the main focus for her lawyer was to address why I took their passports, as I’d done back in the fall of ‘13 when moving most of my things out. Having done that made and apparently continues to make my wife fear that I will leave the country, and they claim that is the reason why I cannot have access to my children now.

The following is what I wrote someone the night of the negotiations.  I wasn’t taking the passports for anything related to planning to leave with them.

The reality is is that back in October, while cleaning out some of my office paperwork and documents when moving out, I decided to keep the kids’ passports from my country when I took mine from the stack of travel-related docs, and I LEFT their two local passports with hers. My mentality was that we are BOTH parents and we can both maintain their official documents, splitting the passports based on the parents’ nationalities (I didn’t take both sets of the kids, which would have meant I could have taken off easily and exercised all control).

On the other hand, keeping all with her when I moved out felt like she would then have total control of their documentation, so I split them up between us. Lawyers have stated that as a parent, I can hold their paperwork, etc., for they’re minors, just like she could, but this scenario has resulted in drama. The very night I split them up, she threatened me by email/text “Bring back the passports or [your daughter] doesn’t go [with you] tomorrow or until you do.” For months afterwards, she claimed repeatedly in emails I stole the passports, and that I better return them because they belong to family “and you’re not family any more.”

I simply responded that my lawyers said I had a right to them, too, and the consulate told me in person “That sounds right,” when I explained the scenario as I have here. On top of this issue, which to me is a non-issue, for we both have sets of passports (and I’ve been told that I cannot travel with them without her easily–and more so now because my daughter’s passport expired when she turned five recently), she has incessantly referred to a conversation we had in November, the only time she and I have met face-to-face to talk since I moved out Oct 5th.

In that conversation, she was explaining how she was going to get sole custody and how she would never give me joint custody, and she was explaining how she wouldn’t give me custody because of some health problems, meaning I wouldn’t be able to take care of them as well as she could, she felt (and I disagreed with, totally). All I had asked for until that point (from moving out until then) was joint custody because both parents should have a say in raising the kids.

However, at one point in the conversation the topic came up of if I had custody at all. She demanded to know what I would do and if I would leave. I stated, “I would only ever take the kids if something happened and you weren’t able to care for them or were unfit.” As a result, she immediately went haywire in sarcasm, repeatedly stating, “Are you saying I am unfit?” and “How can you say you will take them from their mother.”

I kept repeating that it was a conditional tense to say that “if” something happened, I would still have some responsibility or decision making power (I’d been told by one lawyer that if she died, her parents got rights here to take the kids, so I was speaking from my own fears of losing control totally myself).

When she asked how and why I would do that, I pointed at people in the cafe around us and said, “What if that man has a mid-life crisis and discovers he just cannot be a father any more… and what if his wife didn’t have custody? What rights would she have?” And I pointed at a woman and said, “And what about her. What if she has a mental breakdown and doesn’t want her kids any more? What would her ex-husband be able to do if he didn’t have custody?” And… “What about that woman? What if she crosses the street and gets broadsided by a bus? Who would get control of her kids if she were divorced and had custody?”

I explained further… so if there ever was a reason you were unfit or got hit by a bus, I would like to have some power to decide what to do with the children, and that would be the only reason I’d leave.”

She responded dramatically, “Are you saying I’m unfit?” “Are you taking my children from me?”

I kept repeating it was all “if” conditional examples, but she cried.

Ever since, she’s stated, “You threatened you will take the children away from me.”

I never said that. It was never a threat.  She’s used it repeatedly in the most dramatic interpretation. By the way, the whole conversation is recorded and since I just typed more of it up in an excerpt, I recall stuff in detail. I never threatened and I never said I am going to do that. She’s run with it all and is now, obviously, stuck on that notion.

Incidentally, I’ve mentioned repeatedly to friends and family for the last six months (and even dating back to over a year ago when we first had major divorce-possibly-pending issues) that I was willing to stay in this country for the next sixteen years so that I could be with my children and so that she could, too, since the kids deserve both parents in their lives.  I felt that way for the longest time.

So that surely was the focus of this April 17th negotiation (and it was brought up in the last session, too).  It seems that all is based on this fear of hers.

By the way, I am starting to not use the word ‘negotiation’ with much certainty of that actually having occurred.

The negotiator stated that for the scheduling of childrens’ times, certain pre-conditions must be met. She said the parent has to be close to the kids and there has to be a willingness to see the children.

Of course those pre-conditions were met, but they (her lawyer and family–and maybe even the negotiator) apparently don’t think so.

The other lawyer had different ideas on that note, which he was eager to explain, which he did.

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To be continued…

(By the way, dear reader, please don’t leave any comments.  Email me if you’d like to!)

 

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