There must be many women out there faced with sorting out their divorce or having to look to the courts again because of a change in circumstances or the ex hasn't paid court ordered support who wonder: can I really do this for myself?
Or is it so complex, so brutal and with so much at stake that I must re-mortgage our home to pay for a legal team to put my case? And many women, in such a plight, simply put up with their ex not listening to what is happening in their situations with a sympathetic ear, or just deciding to breach a court order because they feel they have no recourse to the law that they can afford or which they could cope with.
Instead they suffer more and more, work more and more in low paid jobs and not only do more work for the upkeep of the family, but also pay out proportionately more towards it - and can look forward to an old age of hardship as a result of all this hard work. I've seen it happen many times and - with women and children bearing the brunt of the cuts - it will happen increasingly.
And yet, there is much they can do to put things right and get some fairness: they can fight their own case in court. Not only on the initial divorce, but if they have to many times to keep in line the sort of ex who simply just doesn't want to pay. Mine is one such: since 04 we have both appeared in court five times and he has breached the order three times. It's becoming an annual event. He probably thinks he's wearing me down and one day I will just roll over and say: okay, do me out of what is my due. But he has another think coming. And I know I can keep fighting for justice because: a) it doesn't cost me much if I do it myself; and b) I enjoy the intellectual challenge.
I won't bore you with the details of my own case: suffice to say I live with a serious and incurable illness so my ability to earn is challenged - though I do earn what I can. So my ex husband he is legally obliged to help support me - as a High Court very elevated judge told him with no bones about it during a trial. He also told him my needs must come before those of his third wife and he couldn't buy second homes and studios for her and so on (as he was) with his obligations to me and his own children. I realise no-one thinks their spouse will become ill and/or disabled, but getting married and having children is a serious business and the courts are there to protect the vulnerable to whom unfortunate things happen.
He doesn't like this. Neither does his wife. So he simply breached the order five months after it was made. I put in a REMO (he's in the States and they need this to enforce the order); he put in court papers in the High Court here to have the order changed on the grounds his income was reduced. He also did it himself - having not paid his legal team from last time and thinking that if I could do it, he could do it.
He couldn't. When I detailed his bad behaviour (as I'd allege materially deceiving the court in several ways) he had a 'serious cardiac event'. He got a doctor to say he couldn't stand the stress of court. I couldn't be sure if he was really ill or not but he's the father of my sons and I didn't want to risk it: I agreed a cut. So much for being nice: a year later (last week) he simply decided to cut it again by 60 per cent. The first I knew was when it wasn't there in the bank transfer. I phoned him: he said he was going to email me tomorrow. Next week I got a short email preaching that I should adjust to the times we live in... I had to borrow the electricity money from my son.
I don't want to go back to court, but I will. I will do it myself because that is the cheapest and most efficient way. I find most lawyers don't really 'get it' how it is for people living with serious long term illness - and even if I had the money to pay them I feel I put my case better. I also know that - despite their high fees - it isn't that difficult and, for what you get, the fees just aren't justifiable: once you've learned your way around the system it's a straightforward enough task to tell the judge the truth. You have your time to do that. If ever I feel overwhelmed by it I take it step my step and think of a video I saw of a judge explaining that people acting as their own advocate can become very effective if they bother to find out what's required.
Friends say to me: 'Haven't you put enough energy into this already?' But that's lazy thinking: yes I have and I've done so because I won't be his victim. Why would I want to choose to be a victim now when I've put in the really hard work?
What having the option to stay in charge of your own case gives you is having the power to choose not be the victim simply because you can't afford the legal team. I gave up my career and I lost my health: I didn't lose my intelligence. When women can do this for themselves they are the equal of their opponent - and often very much the superior if they have a good case. In the world of work when it comes to men and divorced women who are left looking after children it's often men who have the cards stacked in their favour. But in a court we're all equal before the law - and it's then the woman is given a voice to put her case. That ability to act for oneself is true power.
Linda's books and articles are available on her website www.lindafranklin.co.uk