I have not written for this paper in awhile because our current White House administration is so full of lies and misdirection I don’t even find it a challenge to counter them anymore. Rather, I’d like to draw your attention to something that I’ve experienced in my private life that I feel has some relevance about justice in ‘modern’ America.
When I was in yeshivah high school in the mid 70’s I had a friend whom I had influenced to go yeshivah gedolah and we ended up in the same yeshivah post high school also for about a year. For a number of years after that we continued our friendship and were supportive to each other. At that time we were both trying to ‘find’ ourselves, so to speak. I had gone to college for a year but did not find that fulfilling so he told me of a practical solution for the time being, as far as making a living - which was for us to work for the Post Office. We both passed the test and were hired to work there. I went for it but he ended up declining it, because he wanted to make a committed effort toward the music industry to be a recording studio producer. We remained friends for a number of years but eventually we grew apart and went our separate ways.
Over the years I’ve wondered about him, made some attempts to reach out to him to no avail. Finally in 2010, after about 30 years, we did manage to find each other and catch up to what happened over that time. As it turned out - I had made a career out of the Post Office even while pursuing my political interests all that time. He had worked for a recording studio for awhile, had even been a part of a start-up recording label but nothing had really taken off for him in the music industry. However, he had pivoted to technology which he always had had a proclivity for, taking courses and educating himself, climbing his way up the ladder, getting jobs that had a demand for his skills. Eventually he got a job at a bank in the technology department which paid him a rather respectable salary. He had also told me that he had gotten married and had 2 children (might as well throw in a white picket fence) but the story did not end up ‘happily ever after’.
In 2000 there was the bursting of the tech bubble which had ramifications in all of corporate America. In 2001 the World Trade Center was hit and the ensuing national recession had a devastating effect on our local economy. The bank he had worked for, downsized, and in 2002 he was out of a job with very little prospects for a comparable replacement. With the upheaval in my friend’s financial condition - yes - you guessed it, a great strain appeared in his marriage as well. While the finances weren’t the only issue, it seemed to be the dominant one to force a separation. As a way of compensating for the loss of a salary, my friend committed in writing that the wife would take possession of his share of the gain from a property that they were about to sell, if they could just remain married.
However, as you may have guessed, it did not save the marriage. A partial separation ensued where he would spend some time at the house thereby still having regular contact with his children but eventually, as my friend tells me (and for this whole narrative, I had only his side of the story plus whatever was in the court record) he was locked out of the house and that’s how the full separation happened. Because he had not complained to the police that he had been locked out, in the divorce trial it was construed that it was he, who ‘abandoned’ his family. It is my conviction from years of knowing him, that he always wanted to maintain his marriage, evidenced especially, when he made the sacrifice of turning over his share of the profit from the property to her. That is not the act of someone who wants to abandon his family.
After my friend was let go of his corporate job at the bank, the only work he could find were jobs as a sales rep for retail electronic stores. During the roughest period after the 9/11 attack, the only work he could find was in a meat processing plant. In the divorce trial, which took place roughly 6 years after the beginning of the separation, the judge had to rule on the level of child support and alimony. The couple had been married for 20 years and a period of 6 years for alimony payments, was deemed appropriate. Child support was appropriated at the conventional 25% of pre-income tax level which all seemed fair, except for one thing. You see, my friend had done a very dumb thing; due to his emotional and depressed condition because he couldn’t be with his family anymore and doing jobs that were well below his skill level - he had neglected doing his tax returns for a string of years. The judge therefore calculated all of the child and alimony levels according to his last submitted tax return which happened to be the high salary he earned at the bank. This, despite the fact that it was documented that my friend was working low level jobs all the while since his job at the bank. Not only that, but the judge declared that my friend will (paraphrasing) forever be considered at that level of earning power. The judge had backed up his assessment of my friend’s earning power based on all the certificates and training that my friend had achieved, despite the fact that my friend because of his misdirection in his early years seeking out a music career, didn’t even have a degree in computer science. The certificates and skills that he acquired from courses that he had taken, had a shelf life which is very limited in the tech world besides the fact that the job market was in total upheaval. Additionally, the judge affixed the child support/alimony payments a number of years prior to the divorce even though that would have been only a year and a half after my friend sacrificed his share of the sale of the property with which his wife was supposed to maintain the household until the finances became stable again. Instead, she spent it on various extra curricular activities for the children which were not at all necessary.
At the time of my reunion with my friend in 2010, needless to say, he was 'off gehakte tzaros’ (really bad off). He was unemployed in the middle of the greatest recession this country has seen since the depression of the 30’s and he didn’t have a place to live in. So the first thing I did for him was give him a place in my apartment until he could get himself together. At this point in time, all he was able to get was part time work at $10 an hour. Next thing was, we had to get him a downward modification on his child and alimony payments because SCU was taking so much out of his paycheck plus he was still incurring debt in the form of ‘arrears’ for the amounts that he was not paying from the original court mandate. My friend admittedly, was not sophisticated in legal matters and did not know that he could get a downward modification, especially after he was rebuked and deceived by the divorce court judge when the judge declared that my friend will always be considered for earning power at the high level he was at the bank.
The downward modification case was submitted but his X immediately motioned to stop it and wrapped it up in a bigger ‘contempt’ case, because he wasn’t paying the original mandated amounts. This took the case back to the original court where the divorce trial had taken place. My friend had been in my place for over a year and the contempt case was dragging on so I had no choice but to ask him to leave. My friend had to swallow his pride and go to a homeless shelter. Nonetheless, I was still helping him out. I helped him get current with all of his prior years for which he hadn’t filed tax returns. I, along with the help of a neighbor of mine who worked for an HR dept and an old classmate of mine who ended up working at a high level in a bank himself, were able to rework and adapt my friend’s resume to the current employment conditions. Eventually in the beginning of 2012 he was able to land a job in a technology company, a job he currently holds, earning almost 80% of what he once made in his prime? So are we looking at a happy ending?
The downward modification/contempt case was meandering in the court since mid 2011. Last week, my friend’s court-appointed lawyer told my friend that the other side is offering a settlement and he strongly advises my friend to take the deal because the judge (according to my friend’s lawyer) may put my friend in jail if it goes to trial. Did I just say “jail”? Yes, because the ‘contempt' that my friend demonstrated of not paying his mandated child and alimony payments is so severe that he could end up in jail! Incidentally, because the arrears accrued to over $200k, the payments that my friend would have to pay, to pay them off, would be so high that even with the settlement he wouldn’t have enough money for himself to be able to have an apartment, anyway. On top of all of this, his X was granted to live in the house with the kids until they become of age, which my friend and she still own but she stopped making mortgage payments on it 5 years ago! So is she being held responsible for that? NO! According to my friend’s lawyer, the judge said that it was my friend’s fault - because he wasn’t paying her enough over the years and even though it was her decision not to go to work because she felt it was more important to home-school their children for the last 10 years! Her financial status wasn’t even considered for this last case up to the point of the proposed settlement. I have learned that a custodial’s parent’s income does not get calculated towards the regular costs of child care but logic says that it should definitely be computed when the custodial parent has a responsibility to make mortgage payments. In this case it appears that she didn’t even make the effort. The house was his too and the equity that he had or could have had at the time of a sale, under normal conditions, could have been a great help towards repaying her the money owed in arrears! That was the idea of the divorce court judge but now with the contempt case that responsibility on the part of the X didn’t matter anymore.
Torah looks at truth. The American system of justice, perhaps the best in the world, still gets caught up with technical protocol, personal egos (yes, judges can be arrogant and vicious) and last but not least, politics which are in vogue at that time. Liberal politics are very much in vogue at this time and judges play to the prevailing winds of corruption that men should be vilified at times of divorce. It was false for the judge to tell my friend that he would always be considered at the high level of income for support purposes.
Instead he should have said that that verdict is not permanent in that - any time that the taxes are completed and a true financial record is established that he would be reconsidered for another level even retroactively! Certainly the judge did not advise my friend that when or if his financial condition changes that he is eligible for a downward modification. The judge was too busy being irate to provide him this appropriate advice. Furthermore, both parents’ income should be considered for child support and alimony and one parent shouldn’t be able to take the luxury of homeschooling children (when the rest of us are paying taxes for public schools to be free) and then stop paying the mortgage thereby destroying the equity that both parents should retain. Furthermore, the court had harsh words only towards my friend but not a word of rebuke to the X for allowing the children’s home to get to the point of being in foreclosure. Not a harsh word was said to her for squandering the whole profit of the property (his and hers) on what she described in court as all sorts of things that were not necessities for the children. My friend should not have to live in a room for the rest of his life (which is the court’s advice according to my friend’s court-appointed attorney). My friend should have the opportunity to supplement his own Social Security in retirement with earnings and investments from his working years but that won’t be possible anymore and wasn’t for the last 10 years or so. The only hope for my friend is that the government will have the programs and the funds to provide him with subsidized housing which people have to wait for years to get. And there again, the solution would be with more government spending rather than prudent policy to begin with.
A Rabbinic court would not have dealt with my friend in this S’dome (Sodom and Gemorah) manner the way the American, NY courts have. Yes, Torah teachings are still relevant in the modern world. Perhaps his situation could improve with an appeal to this last case. He was given perhaps a half hour to look over the agreement and he even stated in court to the judge that he agrees to it “under duress” with the threat that he could be locked up in jail. I’d like to add also, that if there are any lawyers out there who feel for the plight of my friend, to please get in touch with me. Maybe we can help him out. We should strive to seek justice. This is what the Torah encourages us to do.