I had a custody hearing this week. It’s hard to find the words to talk about it, because although I can post about dating and single parenting and depression, writing about my ex-husband is a tricky topic. Let’s just say it was a custody hearing, but nothing dramatic. And no fighting. We don’t fight as much when we aren’t married. Imagine that.
This was my first time in a courtroom. I’ve been a longtime fan of John Grisham’s courtroom novels, of Law & Order and its related shows, of movies where people proclaim dramatically, “you’re outta order!” I knew my little hearing would be nothing like that, but I was still filled with nerves. I always am when it comes to an unfamiliar situation where I don’t know what to expect at all.
I read up on custody hearings. I ran a Google search and read some tips on “how to prepare for your hearing”. They gave me helpful suggestions like not to yell at my ex in the courtroom and to speak only when asked a question. Okay, so they seemed more like common sense to me, but I read it anyway. I dressed in my most grown-up clothes without actually wearing a suit, but only because I don’t own a suit. I’m not quite that grown-up yet.
I arrived at the courthouse an hour and a half early. I hate paying for parking, so I knew I would be parking on a side street a couple blocks away and would have to walk to the courthouse. I sat outside for a while, admiring the beautiful almost-Spring day, and wondering the stories behind the people rushing past me on the sidewalk. An hour before my time, I finally entered the building.
I’d been inside before. It’s the same building where I applied for my marriage license, where I filed for divorce, and where I filed the papers that led me to this hearing. I know the first floor of this building well.
But I was headed for the third floor.
Just inside the doors, I walked through security and the detector went off.
“Take off your shoes, ma’am.” I felt like I was trying to board a plane. I took off my shoes, hoping my feet didn’t smell too bad (they usually don’t until I’ve been in shoes all day), and rushed through the detector again. Clear. Threw my shoes back on and headed to the elevators.
The first word that came to mind when the elevator doors opened to the third floor was trepidation. It was just a word that sat on my tongue as I checked the docket and saw I would be in courtroom 2. Courtroom 6 had a lot of people waiting outside its doors. I wanted to know what their story was. I found courtroom 2 and sat on the surprisingly comfortable chairs outside. Then I stared at my phone for a while, checking my email and reading some new posts by Wendi and Cameron and Tipsy Lit.
When my ex-husband arrived, he took the seat near me and we chatted about a music performance our son will have next month. A small group appeared outside courtroom 3 and we made comments about the woman’s ridiculously high and ridiculous thin heels. Honestly, they looked like they might snap at any moment. I was relieved at the normality of our conversation.
The bailiff appeared out of courtroom 2 and called for us. She reminded me of Cobie Smulders. I almost called her Robin at one point.
“It always seems like such a good sign when the two people are sitting next to each other.” She joked with us as she led us into the courtroom. Then she directed us to our tables and took her own seat just a ways behind us. Him to the left, me to the right. Box of tissues and carafe of water for each of us, at the ready.
“All rise.” That part was like the movies. Announcing the judge and whatnot. The stenographer threw me for a loop because she had this fancy computer with two monitors. What? I was still expecting a little stenotype, in 2014?
After practicing answers to questions that might arise in my head for three days, typing out all the pertinent details I was afraid I might forget, and worrying that I may have forgotten a step, the judge only asked me one question. I spoke for less than a minute. And then it was on to my ex-husband.
I liked our judge. Phillip Seymour Hoffman could have played him in the movie of his life. Or the movie of my life. Whoever is getting a movie of their life made, Hoffman could have played this judge.
I wonder who would play me.
The hearing lasted less than 20 minutes. After he announced his decision and the details, he said we were free to go. There was no gavel. I was a little disappointed. Although, now that I think about it, there could have been a gavel that I missed. The end was a little bit of a blur. He didn’t even leave the courtroom before us. I thought that was strange.
The bailiff escorted us out and soon I was in the elevator headed down and then I was outside and walking to my car.
I felt a lot of emotions during the hearing. Unfortunately, I have this terrible condition where I cannot control tears. Seriously. It’s impossible. If I’m feeling a strong emotion, I will cry. It doesn’t even have to be sadness or anger. I’ve cried during good times too. It’s embarrassing really. Though I’m sure the judge didn’t mind. I wasn’t hysterical or anything. Just some tears. Thank you for the box of tissues.
It was strange to have to sit through a hearing with my ex-husband, and then to leave the building with him. We rode the elevator down in silence, though he did ask at one point if I was okay. Meaning the tears. I wish he could remember that there was no chance I could control them. Outside the building, we parted ways.
And that was it.
It was over. And I had to write something about it. I had to write about Cobie and Phillip and the lady that might break her neck one day if her heel snaps. And I had to remind myself of the one thing the judge said that stood out the most. He was speaking to my ex-husband, but it rings true for all of us parents:
Your son doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor. He just wants you to be there for him.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go snuggle my kid.