Revelations On Trump From My Time In Divorce Court

By Ingrid Freer

The cultural presumption that women are liars was used against me in court — and landed us Trump in the White House.

I f Hillary Clinton were married to Donald Trump, we would’ve seen both their taxes in full, upfront, probably filed jointly. It’s hard to imagine the two of them as a couple documenting their income, political work, investments, and paid speaking engagements — alongside bankruptcies and any payoffs, payouts, shady business deals, debts, and church donations (or lack of the same) — but in the world of “alternative facts,” we can consider a parallel universe in which they mistakenly united themselves under the law. Who doesn’t know a couple that’s grown apart?

A decade of marriage, once it’s in the rearview mirror, can come to look like a parallel universe, a time slip, a cosmic mistake.

I spent the primaries, then election season, and now these months of our new regime, undergoing a litigious pummeling by an angry ex in divorce court, a man who said out loud that I need to suffer more. It’s been most of two years since the day he came home furious, steamed, acting out in a scary sort of way that caused me to flee the house with our child. Perhaps not at all coincidentally, his anger surged on the same day I’d found a new level of professional success. My career had advanced, and friends were happy for me! The day was lovely. I was happy. But that celebratory feeling didn’t mean for a minute that I’d stopped working and taking care of our child, making dinner and tending to the rest of life, right up until my husband came home and acted in a physically threatening manner, launching us on the way to divorce.

A decade of marriage, once it’s in the rearview mirror, can come to look like a parallel universe.

His anger and threats of violence sent us into not just ordinary divorce, but apparently the kind without negotiation. The brutal route. I had no idea what was up ahead, I only knew I needed to protect myself and our child.

And all the while as our legal struggle played out, I watched as a political one did, too.

The primaries turned into divorce court, writ large. And my own life began to reflect the election in alarming ways.

While Clinton was challenged and called a liar in public circles, I was, on many of the same days, dressing in the modest, grey tones of court-appropriate, mid-calf-length sheath dresses, brushing my thick midwestern hair, brushing my teeth, and dutifully showing up in family court to listen to accusations and implications about my character. There, in the courtroom, various renditions of reality were delivered, always as though it were a given that an ex-wife would be unreliable, presumed a liar, and also not the primary source of a household’s income. My ex and his lawyer didn’t really substantiate their implications. For the most part they didn’t need to; their presentation ran along on the cultural gift of gender-based assumptions.

While Trump followers chanted “Lock her up!” at their rallies, I was, oddly, repeatedly dragged back to the witness stand to answer questions about my own existence as though I were a criminal. The days were dizzying, and not in a good way. I was sure I’d missed a step. There was no crime, I only wanted a divorce, but still I had to appear in court.

There, my ex and his “Men’s Divorce Lawyer” worked to recreate the narrative of my human existence in the package of standard stereotypes about deceitful women. The woman-figurine who propped up their storyline is one that only has access to cash — which is to say, power — through manipulating a poor, unfairly undermined but otherwise upstanding, hardworking, misunderstood man. The kind of man who deserves a beer or six, whenever, basically. In other words, they made an effort to offset their own package of toxic masculinity by serving a hot dish of an imagined, approximated version of toxic femininity, and hoped it would stick.

They made an effort to offset their own package of toxic masculinity by serving a hot dish of an imagined version of toxic femininity.

You can’t do much about general ill will, but there’s no rule it needs to be unspooled in front a judge. There’s a high hourly charge, to be in that punishing space. I paid a fortune in legal fees to listen to a fantasy version of myself as some evil, fallen woman.

I am not promiscuous, but even if I were, that isn’t supposed to matter in divorce in our state. I also didn’t turn to my husband to pay for much, ever. I provided the majority of our funds.

At some points, I listened to my ex or one of his lawyers blame me for his drinking and rage. His first lawyer asserted that I had, at times, offered my husband drinks, and that therefore whatever happened in our lives — however threatening he acted, however much booze he poured down — was my responsibility. (Is everyone who pours a man a drink responsible for what comes next, forever? If that’s how the world works, I would not want to be a bartender. It would be worse than being God.)

In court, I was presented as overly controlling, in control, out of control, and unable to keep my husband under control.

Then, in the evening, I’d listen to Trump make the kind of bold, fragmented, and sweeping declarations our nation is by now familiar with. I’d watch Clinton take a deep breath. She was, in various media, held in poor light for a history of standing up on behalf of her philandering husband, Bill Clinton. She was at times called out for taking his side, and for not being able to keep him under control. Technically, her husband wasn’t a contender in this most recent election, but he had his many cameo moments.

As a nation, we watched gender plays enacted under the premise of politics.

When Trump said that Clinton didn’t look “presidential,” it was reasonably understood by many to be code for “female.” Trump was evoking gender bias: She is not like a man, therefore she is like a woman. I’d posit that he was silently calling forward a shared history of acculturation in the concept of Jezebels, Pandoras, and also Eve, all women who fell from grace — or caused the very undoing of man.

We watched gender plays enacted under the premise of politics.

Divorce court played out like a mini campaign, vying for the judge’s vote.

Clinton has more political experience, but Trump has more experience with contentious divorce. He reshaped the primaries into his own familiar terrain.

I had a restraining order in place. My husband and his lawyer stated to the judge that they felt maybe I was only “using” a restraining order to get the upper hand in divorce. The unspoken joke behind their claim was that I’d spent over $10,000 to have a contested restraining order upheld. I’ve prevailed in maintaining that restraining order in front of more than one judge by now. It’s been judicially accepted as a valid use of the law based on agreed upon threatening behavior, actions my ex doesn’t even deny. We live in a “no-fault” divorce state. That’s a legal matter. In a no-fault state, bad behavior doesn’t count toward establishing any kind of financial bonus for the injured spouse, when it comes to a division of assets. Who would spend over $10,000, as well as time out of a number of workdays, along with embarrassment and emotional distress, to get some imagined upper hand by underscoring the fault of violence in a no-fault state?

Their argument carried no internal logic. The glue that held their words together was a cultural conviction in gender bias and assumptions: a belief that women are conniving liars.

The glue that held their words together was a cultural conviction in gender bias and assumptions.

In the outside world, the generators of fake news were busy asserting, among other things, that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex trafficking ring out of a pizzeria. More than one study showed that Clinton was one of the most consistently honest of the candidates in the primaries. Still there were people who had an easier time believing Clinton was running a child sex trafficking ring out of a pizzeria than believing that she was relatively honest.

The takeaway appears to be that lies against women can carry more weight than the truth of a woman being truthful.

I don’t know if my estranged husband considers himself Trump-identified. I don’t know who he voted for, or if he voted at all. I only know that like Trump, he values money to the point that financial management comes to look like a stand-in and signifier for manhood itself. Since money essentially is masculinity, in this formula, for a woman to have equal access to funds upsets a perceived or imagined natural order. To recognize that a woman understands money becomes incomprehensible.

In court, I was faulted for earning money, spending money, and also for saving. There was no acceptable relationship to the family cash-flow allotted to me, a working mother with a solid career. I suggested I’d like to retain funds I’d already set aside for a much-needed dental crown on a broken molar, and the Men’s Divorce Lawyer barked back: Why hadn’t I gotten that tooth fixed already? I clearly had the money, he said. He was faulting me, a mother, for not putting myself first. He was faulting me for not spending.

The same lawyer said that I must not have been doing a whole lot of childcare, because of the amount of my own work I’d been able to accomplish between when our child was born and the time she turned 11. He used this argument to assert that I didn’t have a right to an equitable division of legal marital funds, because clearly I wasn’t doing my job as a mother. The truth is: I was doing it all.

And that is the reason I hadn’t yet gotten my broken tooth fixed. Who, on the schedule of a woman trying to do it all, has time for her own dental appointment?

I was faulted for not spending on dental care, and then at essentially the same time, I was labeled a “spender.” An image was crafted as though I were a shop-til-you-drop L.A. mall shopper, a Kardashian-style wannabe. I was carrying a scuffed leather bag I’d bought in 1984, over 30 years earlier. I have political and environmental beliefs against mindless consumerism.

But none of this is really about the specifics of our divorce. It’s not even about the specifics of the nightmare that was the Hillary Rodham Clinton/Donald Trump election cycle and any related destruction of Democracy. It’s about the crippling, expensive ramifications of sexism, and a culturally conditioned mistrust of women, particularly in relation to money.

As I was being accused of having money, saving money, spending money, and not spending money fast enough, there were accusations flying through the media that Clinton had taken money, earned money, spent money, and invested money. Trump, meanwhile, was granted space to float along with a recognized history of bankruptcies, in a lawsuit with the university that bears his name that has since settled, while hiding his taxes and possibly working out deals and investments with foreign interests.

The inauguration was America’s wedding, and I became that best friend not afraid to call out an abuser days before the ceremony. All I could think was, “America! I love you. Don’t marry this guy. Don’t do it. Don’t make the mistakes others have made…”

I have only the most limited range of cultural clout, and so was reduced to metaphorically muttering into my hypothetical beer, while literally parenting, working, protesting, marching, still managing life as a single mom, a wage-earner, a member of that working class, and under fire from my ex, circling back to court dates and always sinking further into debt over legal fees involved in the effort of leaving an angry man.

Some mental health professionals have been willing to diagnose Trump as a malignant narcissist. Others tell us that one can’t diagnose a person one hasn’t treated. Either way, with a psychiatric label or armed only with the vague sense of familiarity and unease, there are millions of people who have enough experience in relationships to recognize a pattern of behavior as it cycles through big promises, bravado, and hyperbole into lies and threats of retaliation. It’s common as dirt. This is the pattern of so many an abusive marriage.

It’s the pattern of contentious divorce, heavy on rage. The pattern plays out every day on the domestic front. Now it’s front and center on the world stage.

Among friends, many of us had been privately calling out dynamics of abuse apparent under the guise of an election. Then Teen Vogue went viral with a beautiful piece by Lauren Duca that explained, in patient, direct, and clear terms, the dynamics of “gaslighting” and abuse. The next step in the same dysfunction, the one we all need to know now, is or will be narcissistic rage. Prepare yourselves. A narcissist who fails is an angry animal.

Women in the U.S. still earn about 80% of what men do. Against that backdrop, I have been forced to spend money I don’t have — over $100,000 — to inch my way toward a settlement which should have been obvious and simple from the start.

A narcissist who fails is an angry animal.

I’m trapped under a moving train. There’s no way out but through it. Everything is in place, largely decided, but my ex won’t sign the papers, because he spends his time thinking up minor details he’d like to argue about. He seems to feel I haven’t yet been punished enough.

I’ve spent more, and in the past earned more than my husband, but always while carrying less earning power. The cost of our divorce was driven up greatly when my ex claimed a financial interest in my elderly father’s home, and demanded eviction of an aging man who has always and only treated him well. He lost, on that demand, thank god. At the same time he, my ex spouse, withheld financial information, and my lawyer had to backtrack bank paperwork. Those games of entitlement and deceit contributed to exorbitant expenses.

Lying is gender-based, in both action and presumption. The cultural presumption is that women are liars. The truth is that entitlement breeds contempt and justifies lying, at least in the liar’s mind. In short, I’ve paid in many ways for my husband’s lack of character.

Lying is gender-based, in both action and presumption.

I gained traction toward truth when I brought 12 years worth of taxes into court, along with documents from the purchase and refinance of our house, to show the error of several of my estranged husband’s statements under oath. In a normal divorce, under state law, it wouldn’t have been necessary to bring in taxes. All assets would have been considered earned jointly, then divided approximately equally. It became necessary to bring in taxes when my ex misrepresented facts, and in a gendered climate where his words about money carried more weight than mine. When I brought in my taxes, I revealed my husband’s financial history entwined with my own. We’d filed as one. Taxes tell a story. The story they told was that my words were true.

Because of multiple campaigns, it’s my understanding that the Clinton’s joint tax filings are on the public record dating from the present back to 1977. Trump? Other than what has since been leaked via Rachel Maddow’s show, he’s still withholding, and is now the first president to refuse to show his tax history.

The country is allowing this to happen.

Feminism is the radical idea that culturally, we don’t have to live as though trapped in an intergenerational, ever-expanding version of contentious divorce court.

America’s institutional gender bias has left us vulnerable as a nation. As a populous, we’ve bought into fake news and cyber tactics that sold gendered plot lines with lowest common denominators. Our weakness plays out large and small, in courts and corporations, and recently in the election, and now we are left with Donald Trump and his crew at the helm.

America’s institutional gender bias has left us vulnerable as a nation.

Nobody benefits by creating maternal poverty through a cumbersome, expensive, gender-biased legal system. A faulty process has cost me my life savings and put me into deep debt, just to free myself and to try to stay safe. It’s taken everything. It’s depleted our child’s financial well being and future opportunities.

There’s nothing gained in our nation’s defeat of Clinton through granting priority and privilege to the only white guy in the race, who has since become our president. Incidentally, he doesn’t look remotely “presidential” to my eye, as he lies to constituents, demonizes the press, destroys EPA and other protections, and withholds his own financial history. Like any marriage, he’s brought along his family. They’re moving into the big house, the White House, taking on offices and jobs. Nobody knows their exact roles or how many existing conflicts of interest there are, or how long they’ll stay.

Impeachment is a kind of political divorce. Like divorce, it doesn’t mean that the impeached will disappear, but power will shift.

It cost me everything to get out of the parallel universe of marriage, my own mistake of a legal liaison, and I may never again be out of debt. Still, I’m glad I’ve done it. My husband was angry because I was finding success in my field. He experienced a narcissistic wound, a blow to his ego, undermining his rigid masculinity.

I’m afraid now of what’s up ahead, for me, but also for the country.

The nation has entered into a similar relationship, and this time it involves access to nuclear codes with the potential to ramp up the domestic violence quotient into domestic and international violence. Sexism helped land us here, though some will deny it reflexively. Escaping the nightmare, with its meta levels of leadership, lies, and dysfunction, could cost the United States, and the planet, everything we’ve got.

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