American logic is difficult for those who did not drink the due-process Kool-Aid. In a phrase, this means we — the American judiciary — give everyone enough rope to hang themselves. We expect them to understand the danger. The rope is not for hanging others or wrangling a calf or a cow. Due process does not mean that when you enter a courtroom you win, or that you have fifty-fifty odds. The rope is for yourself. Use it or drop it. Courts don’t like retaliation or SLAPP suits. Some of my relatives won one of the biggest ones.
In my case, the rope is for the husband I divorced for adultery. The venue is family court. Each state is different. Family court in New Jersey allows those who have weathered adultery to get divorced immediately — no need to wait for six months of separation.
I had to go to New Jersey courts twice with my lawyer, and it was during the second time that the judge ruled we were divorced, after he got to the bottom of the absurdity of it all. Rudi wrote our Property Settlement Agreement, singlehanded with no input from me. The University of Delaware, History Department, was the heading on each and every page of the agreement he had faxed to my lawyer.
So the judge asked: Who wrote the Property Settlement Agreement? When Rudi said he did, there was no hesitation: The next moment, with the sound of his gavel, we were divorced. Phew. At last. He dragged it out for more than six months as it was.
The point of adultery is that the other partner does not know, and therefore the person committing it had time to plan. And boy, did he plan. I was busy interviewing for senior faculty positions — the three I got, with not one but two of them including provisions for him as the trailing spouse in the academy — and attending conferences and panels heralding not one but two of my books. I was a bit busy, and after 20 years of marriage and having two sons under the age of nine, I figured he’d tell me if something was amiss.
After the first judge lectured Rudi on how he had to return to court with a lawyer, and the next time he showed up without one again, it was clear. The judge understood that my former husband was going to court to rack up the cost of my lawyer’s fees. It was spite. Besides, not contending for child custody, he had time to spare.
So if one sues the other 40 more times, and each time they go so far as to write in their own briefs that “every time I go to court I lose more money and more control over ‘my’ sons,” you’d think the Dorothy Munroe Distinguished Professor of History, Rudi Matthee, would get it. To be sure, Rudi was still a Dutch national, and his soon-to-be new wife was from Iran (though I have no idea if she’s still on a green card or an American national). And due process is not the same in the Netherlands, and certainly not in Iran.
Both of these nations are a bit more clear, and neither offers women as much liberation in family law as the United States does. In the Netherlands, Dutch due process generally means the court says to the litigious spouse, “Knock it off, you’re banned.” Meanwhile, in Iran, as Fariba keeps telling me, divorce is only the prerogative of the man and his family. I’m lucky I’ve got full physical custody of my boys. (Boy, have I heard an earful about that. “How dare I have a lawyer?” is their line, I’m a spoiled American using the American courts. When I married Fred, the tune changed a bit: How dare I accept child support for the children now that I’ve married a man so nice and kind as to have taken my father’s surname. Well, duh . . . that’s why I live here and not there or there. Besides, I’d traveled to the Middle East before, during Ramadan no less, making it hard unless you’re guests in someone’s house.)
I figure I received half a million in fines and extra fees that could have been avoided if this scholar from Holland, who immediately married his paramour from Iran, had simply stopped and said to himself what he wrote in one of his own pro se cases: “Each time I go to court I lose more control over the children and more money.” He wrote this time and time again, though clearly he never processed it.
“Yeah, duh.” Then stop going to court. Do you really need a ban from a Dutch court, or are you really going to get me feeling guilty that I’m lucky I’m not in Iran?
Now the big loss is coming up. The loss of the judicial jurisdiction that will allow him in court — family court.
Our last son is on the edge of being emancipated — May 17 — the day he graduates from Reed College. This means Rudi loses all jurisdiction. There is no more family court to sue me in. There is no judge to let him in, hear the case, and then fine and punish him once again. In civil court it will be a real zero-sum game. Those who bring frivolous suits pay the others’ legal bills. My own lawyers counseled me many times: Cases of such frivolity mean you have to respond in court yourself. You don’t need us.
My own law firm — so distinguished that Katie Holmes in her divorce from Tom Cruise, and his child support, used the very same firm. Heck, they won the case that defined New Jersey family law back in1980 (Lepis v. Lepis)
So stop emailing me. Stop emailing me and our sons thinking that you’re ratting me out to our sons. They know. They saw me prepare at least 38 of the 45 cases pro se, starting when they were 7 and 9 years old. Surely you know I don’t even look at this email anymore.
We had a ritual when the lawsuits kept coming. They got to watch more videos, and I double-locked my office doors and turned my study into a room filled with piles — five duplicate copies. That’s hard to do. Writing the response was one thing, but making sure each pile got collated was hard.
Heck, I had a “relationship” with the judge’s assistant. They would call and in a word would offer their condolences, letting me know if I had to turn up physically in family court or if the matter at hand would be decided “on the papers,” as it usually was.
Fariba Amini Matthee, should start drinking the Kool-Aid. Go to due-process classes. Take Rudi with you. It was their father’s year, no doubt, to see them for the holiday: The John and Dorothy Munroe Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Delaware, who teaches the history of the Middle East, and no less than Women in the Middle East, housed in the John Munroe History Building.
As an aside, Professor Matthee used to laugh at young women, in not a nice way but a rather misogynistic way, when they were surprised to see that “Rudi” was not a woman. I was behind the spelling but not the misogyny. That’s for sure. With Dutch being so burdensome with vowels, why not say you’re Rudi rather than Rudy? He certainly couldn’t have been what he’s known as in Holland: Ruud. I did think it made him more cosmopolitan, but never had the foresight to think women would misinterpret him as a woman, let alone one who is not patriarchal. Holland has a great patriarchal tradition.
In any case, Fariba Amini Matthee, I’m hyperlinking this as an AQD post again so you can refresh your own memory and everyone can read how you shoved it in our sons’ faces that you started your affair with then-Professor Rudi Matthee in November, when I was interviewing for a multitude of senior positions when they were 6 and 8 years old. Now they’re 22 and 24 years old and decide for themselves where they’ll spend their holidays. Neither I nor my husband, Frederic D. O’Brien, need emails from you while your husband is suing me — not even pro se but with a known lawyer who defends the men who are caught beating their intimate partners, who are served Temporary and Permanent Restraining Orders.
Even less do we need you to send the text of the blogs to our sons. They know. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps I got their permission before I began blogging about it?
Thankfully, my Temporary Restraining Orders are over 10 years old. This is now history — history being refreshed with new threats of litigation, but still history. So if you think I can be shamed into silence, you’re wrong. I was biding my time, waiting for the clock to end in 2021. Take me to a proper court — civil court — and we will see how far that gets you both, protesting that a public record is not that public. Public means not private. Public means try shaming someone else.
I was waiting for our sons to be emancipated before I turned back to the narrative and law construct I created in two separate books that have been used not only for classrooms ,as teaching devices, but in many training sessions for museums such as the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side, and at Dartmouth College for a year-long colloquium on how to accommodate people in workplaces and in places of public accommodation. I’m proud that this edited book — Voices from the Edge: Narratives about the Americans with Disabilities Act — had such a long reach.
Suing me over publishing a public record is another one of those ropes. I have already received several invitations to turn my experience in family law into a book. This time, however, I get to laugh about the due-process process. And I’ll now be able to figure out who is best suited to help me with the legal analysis. I’ve already got a great group of creative non-fiction and fiction writers to ask to supply the narrative. After all, marriage, children, marital affairs, and child custody are the stuff of good fiction.#