Our divorce was finalized in December of 2006, and in January of 2007 the nice big alimony/child support checks started rolling in. As I said, things were sailing rather smoothly. I was now down to the thinnest I'd been in years, the kids were about as adjusted as they could be and I smiled more than I cried. Life was fine.
The house was falling apart, of course, the roof was so full of holes that we had buckets whose sole use was that as "rain collectors" for the many leaks inside the house. Every single room had at least one broken window and the siding was rotting off in several sections. There were countless unfinished projects that Big Daddy left us with as well, everything from rooms half wired to floors that weren't nailed down. But this was small stuff as far as I was concerned. I had a plan, and the house projects could wait until I pared down the marital debt that was now mine and mine alone.
Then, in the summer of 2008, Big Daddy sent me a cryptic email: "My payments may be late and smaller than usual, sorry. I was let go." And that was it. I later realized that "late and smaller" meant "non-existent and invisible". So I went from receiving close to 6k a month to receiving zip. See how it can happen? Yes, he was ordered by the fine upstanding Hennepin County Family Courts to pay these amounts until 2014, but try telling that to the companies that expect money from you every month.
At the beginning of the decline, we were ok. I had a cushion in my checking account, and that got us through the first two months. Another saving grace during this time was my little hobby, which was selling things on eBay. I had started doing that when child #3 was in pre-school...his teacher complimented me on his adorable wardrobe and mentioned selling his out-grown things on eBay. Turns out she was an established seller herself, and she ended up teaching me how to sell. And since I am a Type-A, black and white, compulsive being to my very core, I ended up learning how to do it well. But more on that later.
Big Daddy would toss a check my way here and there, sometimes for $500.00, sometimes less. Before the snow fell that year, I had to apply for the reduced price school lunches for the kids. By January of 2009, I was at the point of paying only the things that were necessary for us to survive...this entailed mortgages, electricity, gas, etc. I sold everything that wasn't nailed down on Craigslist or eBay. The absolute lowest point was when I had to ask the kids if it was ok to cash in the savings bonds that my dad had been sending each of them for every birthday and Christmas from the time they were born. You want to know humiliation? Try walking into your local bank with a stack of US Savings Bonds, made out to your kids, and sit there for an hour, signing and dating each one while the bank lady looks at you with sad/slightly judgy eyes. Those savings bonds, which were intended to help my kids pay for college, or a senior trip, or whatever, were used to pay one of my three mortgages for a couple of months. On my bucket list now is "making it up to the kids".
So...as the days turned into weeks, and then into months, my credit rating sank right along with my hope and morale. Bill collectors started calling. I grew so sick of the constant trilling of the phone that I hid all the handsets and told my friends to just call my cell.
You may be wondering how Big Daddy was getting away with this? Me too. The day before Thanksgiving in Nov. of 2008, his greasy attorney knocked on my front door and handed me a summons. He was taking me to court to have his child support obligation permanently changed to ZERO. According to newspaper reports published at the time, the company he was working for was having some "troubles" and Big Daddy decided that abandoning ship was a better alternative to going down with it. I don't think I have mentioned it yet, but by this time he had already married Secretary (took her to Bermuda to do it, too, and I think it was on or scarily close to the date as our nuptials...more later). Secretary had been lucky enough to have someone paying her bills while she finished school and now was managing some office building in our beautiful downtown. They had purchased a nice house about a mile away from the kids and I, complete with an in-ground swimming pool. Daddy was driving a brand spanking new Audi crossover thingie, and didn't appear to be starving. The fact that he not only had a house full of shiny toys but also had another grown up helping pay for life expenses didn't matter. According to the summons, he was barely scraping by. Honestly, even as scared and angry and doomed as I was feeling, this made me laugh.
So, not only was I going to debtor's prison, I also had to face Big Daddy and Attorney McSlime in court...I couldn't even afford health insurance, obtaining an attorney was nowhere near my realm of possibilities. Finally a good family friend volunteered his law firm's services, to help with the child support case and to try and negotiate some modifications with my mortgage company.
My three house payments totaled over $2,000.00 every month. One was automatically withdrawn every month, so that was the one that stayed current the longest. The other two were quickly tossed to the side in favor of keeping the kids fed. My pro-bono attorney had managed to communicate with the other two, both held by Bank of America (although after talking to people named "Johnny" and "Susie" with distinct Eastern Indian accents, I don't think America had much to do with their collection department). That's when I found out that modification was just a fancy word for adding years and interest onto your already bloated, humongous obligation.
By March of that year, Big Daddy had been ordered to start paying his alimony payments, but was officially off the hook for child support. But by then the hole I was in was too deep. I flailed along for a few months, but by the time school started that fall, I knew it was over. Under the advisement of my attorney, I completely stopped paying the mortgages and started building up a pitiful little financial cushion that would hopefully soften the landing for me at the end of this free-fall.
And that's it. In less than a year, I went from having a near-perfect credit rating to having someone from the Sheriff's Office knocking on my door with a "Notice of Auction" for my home. I had hit the bottom; physically, mentally, financially, spiritually...there was nowhere else to go but up. And so I did.