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Money

The www.FedPrimeRate.com Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Expensive Road Trip To Hell and Back

Life isn’t fair. Perhaps you have learned this tidbit already. Family court really isn’t fair. You may not have learned this already.

When I divorced my ex, I didn’t realize that the share of justice pie you get largely is determined based upon how much money you can shell out to hire a lawyer. My ex’s family re-mortgaged their expensive suburban Philadelphia house in order to hire him a lawyer. My family smiled and said, “Good luck with that!”

I hired the best lawyer I could almost afford and wracked up debt on my credit cards paying for his services. That was a bad decision, but the only one I had really. My ex was abusive and I really feared for the safety of my children. So my choices were: fight for my children or go into debt. I chose the first option.

Years went by and I happened to go into a coffee shop one day while the kids were visiting their dad. I met the most wonderful man who was a soldier visiting the area for some training. He lived over 800 miles away near the beach in Virginia. We ended up exchanging information after we’d finished our coffee and went our separate ways. I really didn’t expect anything to come of it at all, but life rarely turns out like we expect.

Fast forward a year or so and we are preparing to get married. We went to court to work out visitation because my ex frankly asked the court to NOT allow me to move out of state with the kids. I assumed that the judge would give us a standard “long distance” visitation arrangement. You know, the non-custodial parent gets the summer and long school breaks. It didn’t work that way.

Incredibly, the courts ordered me to meet my ex half way each month in DE to exchange the children with him. Some months, with holidays and breaks, it is even two times a month. The visits are from Friday to Sunday (normal visits, not the holiday breaks) and take approximately 16 hours to complete. With gas, tolls and food costs, we are spending an incredible $500 a month if we have to do 1 visit. This month, we will make two trips—spending an astounding $1000 to obey a court order. His regular monthly visitation occurs a week after his court ordered Labor Day holiday visit and so, in the space of 6 weeks, I will spend $1500 on visitation. Of course, the total amount of money the trip costs depends upon the wildly fluctuating price of gasoline. The ironic thing—he has been court ordered to pay me $930 a month for our 4 children. I spend more paying to take them to visit him than I actually get in child support.


For him, this is really no big deal. His family feels sorry for him and pays all of his expenses, including a rental car to make the trip and reimburses his gas money. I do not have a financial fairy Godmother.

In order to ask the court to re-consider, I would have to save up a retainer fee of $5000. I have asked my ex to re-consider, but he refuses. I have caused him great pain by remarrying and getting on with my life, and he wishes to make it most difficult for me.

I try to not let it get me down…and think of all the things I could do with that money. Right now, I am trying to get the kids ready to go back to school, and that $1500 could surely buy a lot of clothes, backpacks and school supplies. It could also buy a lot of food. But I have no choice. If I can't make those trips, I risk being sued for contempt of court. Conceivably, if I was found guilty, my children could be taken from me and given to my abusive ex.

This month, to make the budget work, we’re eating a lot of Macaroni and Cheese and other pasta meals. I’ve found that if we eat soup once a week, that really helps the budget too. I’ve bought a bunch of back to school clothes at the local thrift stores and I shop on half price Wednesday in order to stretch that already pinched budget even further. I have even learned how to cut hair in order to minimize our expenses even further. As gas prices continued to rise this summer, we cancelled our vacation plans and other fun events we’d planned in order to be able to afford to pay for the trips I was court ordered to make.

Some days, the stupidity of it all really gets to me. My youngest child is 9 years old and I simply can't imagine having to do this for 9 more years, but what choice do I have? With how tight the budget is, there is no money left over to be able to save to go back to court to ask the judge to re-consider the current arrangement.

I don’t for a minute regret marrying my current husband and moving. My children are doing very well and loving life near the beach. Yes, moving was one of the best decisions I ever made. But if I had to do it all over again….I think I’d ask my husband to move too…and we’d go across the country, where no one would tell me I had to go through this insanity every single month. Sure, it would mean purchasing plane tickets several times a year so the ex could get his visitation, but think of the money I’d save!

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