When Marie-Helene and I first got together, I rescued her from a deadbeat dad: not hers, her then partner.
His name is Pierre, and he is Daphne and Alban’s father. Marie-Helene’s clever friend Josseline, who was her maid of honor at our wedding, described him as a cuckoo. He took his chicks, she said, and deposited them in other nests to be nourished.
From 1994 to 2010, I was almost exclusively financially responsible for Daphne and Alban, Pierre’s two children with Marie-Helene: Josseline’s “cuckoo” was hardly an unfair description. Marie-Helene smiled wryly when her friend made the observation, acknowledging its veracity.
So how then did Marie-Helene turn into a deadbeat mom?
She saw the effect on Daphne and Alban of Pierre’s almost never having money available to help them or give them. She lived their paternal deprivation as acutely as they did themselves, and spent considerable time trying to hide from them the extent of what he did not give them. She never told them that he refused her entreaties to give them back their toys after she and they moved in with me, for example. They never did see their toys again.
This Christmas, she warned Alex that there would be little or nothing in the way of Christmas presents, at the same time as she filed with the divorce court papers admitting assets of $661,000. That’s still way under her real net worth, about double that to my knowledge, perhaps more, but how can she refuse Christmas presents to her children with a high six figure or low seven figure net worth? When did she become Ebenezer Scrooge?
To put it another way, how did she change from (1) rescuing her two older children in as many ways as she could from their deadbeat dad, to (2) becoming a deadbeat mom herself for her two younger children?
The obvious clue is our divorce. But why did our divorce prompt this change in her when her separation from Pierre after years of living together did not have the same effect?
Oddly enough, I hold the Santa Cruz County Superior Court, our divorce court, in the person of Judge Jeff Almquist, now deceased, more responsible for this evolution during the nine years since we separated than Marie-Helene herself.
She was always cheap. Back in 1997, while I was using almost my entire inheritance to keep the family happy ($75K went into our home, and the rest just seemed to evaporate), I asked her if she could also contribute, say $60K, from her separate property. She wrote “gross déprime” in her diary (terribly depressing), just about being asked, and contributed nothing.
Then came the fear. She became very scared when she finally drove me out of the family home, and realized pretty quickly that splitting my income two ways into two houses was simply not going to work. Mindful of the obvious limitations, I had moved into a rental condo with three small bedrooms, less than half the square footage of the family home. When she looked for a house to buy, she was most distressed to see what she could afford in our expensive part of the world: about half the square feet of the family home, and much less well located.
Of course, she could have then opted for a career to increase our joint income, which is what most people do as well as what the law requires. Our youngest children, Charlie and Alex, our two joint efforts, were 15 and 12 at that point, not an age where they needed full time mothering.
But she used them as a reason not to work full-time, she used an asserted (but of course never proved) depression on and off as a reason not to work full-time, she used my income as a reason not to work full-time, she used other reasons that I forget not to work full-time, and then she used my favorite justification for not working full-time, that getting a real job would be below her!
Here is language that she actually included in a filing with our divorce court in December 2014, explaining why she was not working: being a “property manager suits my personality, skills, social background and the lifestyle I have known since childhood much better than an entry-level part-time position where I feel at a loss.” Poor thing!
The only problem with that argument is that it is not the law in California. The lower-paid spouse after a divorce must make reasonable efforts to become independent, which means at a minimum work full time if s/he can.
And of course she can, but nine years after our separation, and with the boys now 23 and 21, she still only works part-time, carefully controlling her asserted poverty.
Her desire to manage her real property (which includes a half share in two nice apartments in the 17th arrondissement in Paris, as well the former family home in Santa Cruz, much of which she rents out) expresses the third component of how she became a deadbeat mom: her social position, as she conceives it.
She is above real work. It was something that she had to do as a young woman, found beneath her, and never wants to do again. While she would make a great executive assistant (what she did when we worked together at a law firm in Paris before getting involved), and could build up to a six-figure salary in such positions, that is not what people like her do.
Judge Almquist’s failure to make Marie-Helene work, or to red flag her expressed desire not to work, illustrates the fourth, and I suspect most significant, component of how she became a deadbeat mom.
The judge encouraged her to become a deadbeat mom.
This respected and robed figure up on his high bench paid token homage to the law while brazenly allowing and encouraging her to flaunt it for years. And under the law he was supposed to put the children first, and not their mother.
There’s anger in most divorces, but in this case Judge Almquist allowed, even encouraged, Marie-Helene to channel hers into an excessive sense of entitlement and freedom from normal legal constraints. He himself ordered her spousal support increased when Charlie graduated high school and she no longer benefited from his child support, giving her the message that she could expect total support to remain constant. He also told her that child support was part of her family budget, and did not have to spent on the children.
From that moment on, she reduced what she paid towards the boys’ expenses each time what she received from me by court order was reduced. As the judge had taught her, she was always entitled to the same amount, which was around $7,500 per month for the first years (2010 – 14). When this dropped to around $6,000 per month after Charlie graduated high school in 2014, she dropped one after the other various of the boys expenses which she had previously shared, things like medical insurance or uncovered medical expenses, phones and phone lines, or car insurance and repairs.
Then in 2016 the shit really hit the fan! I lost my biggest client, which had lasted almost ten years, in late 2015, and consequently was unable to continue paying even reduced spousal support of $1,000 per month (child support had already ended with Alex’s 2016 high school graduation). Alex was starting at UC Santa Barbara in the fall, and I guessed that his mom was not going to be a lot of help there.
Indeed, she did not pay a penny.
I spent almost all my savings during the year, and pulled about $15,000 out of my modest retirement account to cover the boys’ expenses, notably Alex’s tuition, room and board. Moving out of the rental condo made the most important needed reduction in expenses, and sent the boys back to their mother in our former home. I moved into a friend’s motor home parked in his driveway and stayed there for 13 months, until finding more real work through a lawyers’ temp agency enabled me to pay real rent again.
Two years later, she still refused to provide the boys with breakfast on the occasions when they stayed with her, or any other meal for that matter, except perhaps for birthdays and holidays.
Her portion of the known real estate in France, together with her equity in Santa Cruz, adds up to at least $1.2 million (about eight times my net worth at this point), and she can’t afford food for her own sons.
Her sense of entitlement, fueled by years of Judge Almquist’s constant and unwavering support (again, of her, not of the boys), led Marie-Helene to extremes at this point. While still finding the money for significant home improvements and regular trips to France (for herself, not the boys), she announced in 2016 when they moved back in with her that she no longer had money to feed them. This was just about the only boys’ expense that she had retained, and I figured that the announcement was a fit of pique that she would soon rectify.
She told the appeals court in 2018 that without continuing spousal support she could not afford Christmas presents, which is what triggered my Scrooge comparisons.
This is the theater of a miser’s machinations, pure and simple, but imagine the symbolic impact on the boys of a mother who refuses to feed them!
I tried to compensate for the boys’ loss of food at their home, giving them Trader Joe’s gift cards, Costco gift cards (for gas as well as food), and plentiful food and meals out myself. The pleasant aspect of that was the frequency with which I saw them for meals when they were in town! But I’m not their mother, and the symbolism remains.
Part of my reason for assuming all of their expenses as their mother washed her hands of them was to reassure the boys that, divorce and appearances notwithstanding, they were still loved. Hopefully, they’ve kind of got that straight now.
But their mother can’t seem to get off her increasingly deadbeat path. Alex spent his junior semester abroad last fall (2018) at the University of Lyon. His mother refused point blank to make any contribution toward his UCSB or Lyon costs, including housing and the weekend trips he made to Italy and Spain: living in Lyon had its advantages! She even refused to let him use her bank account in France, making him jump through the hurdles that French banks erect for new accounts.
How did she get to this point?
She is influenced by how her social world views her actions, and must have continuing support in her own community to act this way. In order to offer that support, her community must be unaware of how far she has gone in depriving her children, or how wealthy she is. Her constant pleas about being the victim here must hold sway.
That is why I am posting this summary. There is so much more detail that I could include, but this will give you an idea of who Marie-Helene has become. And at the tender age of 66, I have retired, which Judge Almquist’s successor held in January 2019 ended my spousal support obligation.
Both boys have less than 18 months to go to graduation, and they will have to borrow to make ends meet, unless their mother finally makes a real contribution toward their education. She tells anyone who will listen that her contribution is earning so little that they are entitled to financial aid! Both Charlie and Alex have been at UCSB since fall 2018, and I was sending them each $800 per month, plus plus, to support them in their studies.
In the three months since I retired, Marie-Helene has not given either of the boys any help with their college costs.
She easily could do as I did, and spend retirement cash, which she won’t need because of her income-producing real estate in Paris and Santa Cruz.
Or she could do a cash out refinancing in Santa Cruz (where her mortgage is about one third of the value of the house), or she and her brother could sell the smaller of their Paris apartments (she told the Court in January 2019 that they are planning on keeping the larger apartment in the family). She could even get a full-time job. None of these is that drastic a step.
But she doesn’t seem inclined to do anything like that. She did give the boys $130 each over New Year’s when they spent a few days with her, and even a few meals, for which they were suitably grateful. But then she called Alex after our January divorce hearing, which had reiterated that she needed to pay for half of Alex’s oral surgery and orthodontics, and asked him not to get his teeth done because if he did so she “would need to sell the house.”
Alex has been waiting since 2015, his junior year in high school, for this dental work to be done: Judge Almquist never pushed Marie-Helene to pay her share, even though I asked him to do so on several occasions. He didn’t like to push her or otherwise antagonize her.
Alex meanwhile obtained new estimates in Santa Barbara and is again asking his mother and me to pay. I have chipped in $2,500 already, more than one month’s social security, and she refuses to make any contribution until spring 2020!
Par for the course: I’m spending my little retirement nest egg.
She grits her own teeth and hangs on like grim death to everything she’s got.
Wouldn’t it be nice if some apparition came to her, a ghost out of “A Christmas Carol,” reminding her of how kind and devoted she was to all our children during the years when our crazy blended family took shape in a forest outside Paris, reminding her of how wonderful and deserving of her continuing support are all of the children she mothered and raised? Could you be that apparition?
“God bless us everyone!”