I prepared as best I could. Like a busy squirrel gathering nuts, I collected all the information available. Then after studiously composing the necessary documentation, I was ready to present my case – in-pro-per- to the District Attorney.
In my naiveté, I thought my fact finding mission would pay off, setting the record straight, and proving him a liar. In my naiveté, I thought I knew what I was doing, and that the outcome would be to my best interest. However, that was not the case.
The divorce had been final for almost a year and I was working full-time at an Eviction Service my attorney had referred me. The job didn’t pay much, and barely enough for me and three young boys scrape by. After 13 years of marriage, 11 of those being a stay-at-home mom, I was new to the world of gainful employment with no assistance from the ex. He’d throw me a small bone now and then – a 5 or 10 - in a teasing sort of way, but rarely anything substantial.
Even after quitting his formal job to avoid having to pay the court mandated alimony and child support, he was seldom without means. While dodging his financial responsibilities with the court, he was setting new standards for the terms, shameless, twisted and vengeful. He was quite the resourceful one and soon learned how to illegally manipulate the welfare system.
I was devastated when receiving the summons from the District Attorney’s Office requesting me to appear in court. It stated that I owed the county for monies received by my ex for child support for the three short months our oldest son had stayed with him.
The judge and the offense attorney were both women appearing professionally austere at the front of the half-filled courtroom as I entered. My ex sat a few rows back from the front as I nervously made my way down the aisle to sit a short distance away. As soon as I sat down our case was called. “Stanislaus County vs Snell.”
What transpired then reminded me of a bad fever dream. The scene seemed to play in slow motion as the judge laid down the verdict without any invitation to hear my case. The scenario had twisted in a whole new direction than I had hoped for and now I owed the county a sizeable sum which I was unable to pay. Then, perhaps only because it followed proper courtroom decorum, she asked, “Ms. Lee, is there anything you would like to say?”
With shaky hands I felt feeble as I held up my paperwork, and quivered in my voice, “Your honor, I have proof here that my ex lied about his lack of income when he applied with the county.”
I was about to continue but the Judge interrupted me.“Mrs. Lee, your belief that Mr. Lee has potentially committed welfare fraud is not the issue here. The issue is that YOU owe the county for past child support received by Mr. Lee for your oldest son, and if you don’t pay it immediately, the court will pursue garnishment of your wages until the debt is paid in full.”
I felt I had been knocked down some deep dark cavern. Humiliation and despair swept over me as I glanced over at my ex standing 6 feet tall, about 15 ft away to my right, facing the judge. My anger peaked when he turned to me flashing a sinister smirk, arrogant and unabashed. Like a snapshot seared in my memory, I’ll never forget his smugness and also the attorney standing next to him, satisfied they had gotten their way.
I looked up at the judge and pleaded, “But I’m supporting three boys. I can’t afford this!”
The judge seemed unconcerned by the injustice. “There is nothing more to be discussed here. Ms. Lee, the court finds you owe $1200.00 to the County of Stanislaus.”
With panic, I went through the grieving process at break-neck speed. When I arrived at acceptance, I was already formulating a plan of action as I walked down the street, back to work. In order to survive, I had no other choice than to avoid the wage garnishment that required the impossible. I would sadly have to quite my job and humbly depend on Child Support until I was able to afford the debt. It would be a much different kind of existence than I had hoped for.
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