There was an appointment scheduled in my appointment book with Shoval Tsabari (an Israeli sounding name). When a 40-year-old slant-eyed woman walked into my room, I was sure that there had been a mistake. “Are you Shoval?” I asked. “Yes” she said and began to tell her story in fluent Hebrew with a Filipino accent.
It turned out that she had come to Israel as a caregiver for the elderly two decades ago and a few months after her arrival, the son of the elderly man she had taken care of had taken over. The fact that he was divorced, the father of children older than her and 25 years her senior, did not bother any of them.
When they married she felt the most fortunate bride on this side of the planet and soon after she gave birth to two slant-eyed beautiful children. As an aside, she said that he did not allow her to speak with her children in her own language and she spoke to them in Hebrew, a language she cannot read and write to this day.
At the time of the marriage, he told her that she had to sign a financial agreement so that she and their future children would receive everything instead of the children from his previous marriage. So, she signed the papers he told her to sign, without knowing she was signing a financial agreement that provided for a complete asset division.
Slowly she opened up and told me a story that seemed like a chapter in the book “A Handmaid’s Tale” and that made my stomach turn. He turns out to be a sadist who abused her sexually, emotionally and financially. She was sent to work as a maid in another household and was forced to pass her earnings every day to him. She had to beg him to give her money for shopping and when she would return from shopping, she was required to give him any change she received and provide accountability for every line in the receipt. If she was ill and did not go to work, there was no food at home and sometimes he even surpassed himself and demanded sexual favors in exchange for food money for the children.
When her daughter grew up to be 15-years-old and began to understand the situation, she persuaded her to seek divorce, found a lawyer and arranged a consultation for her. A hundred times she wanted to cancel and begged him to change his ways or separate amicably and a hundred times he responded in exactly the same way, turning his gaze to the other side and talking to the walls – “for god’s sake, doesn’t she understand that without me she would be on the street?”
This week he received a claim to cancel the financial agreement.
2. A Small Story
They signed an agreement four years ago after negotiations between her assertive lawyer and the young lawyer he hired. She was a kindergarten teacher who earned 5,000 shekels at the time and he was a salaried accountant who earned NIS 20,000 net.
They brought four children into the world and had a regular family life until she fell in love with one of the fathers from the kindergarten where she worked and asked for a divorce. He did not let go easily, but at the end, they signed a divorce agreement that arranged for joint custody between them and a child support of NIS 4,800 a month.
It turns out that this payment, which he transferred to her every month, remained a painful reminder of the failure of his marriage and increased his bitterness. He felt an enormous injustice for having to give money to a woman who was the initiator of their divorce four years ago and sought to begin the process of cancellation or reduction of child support.
I examined the only question that could be relevant in this case – whether there was a change in his economic ability. It turned out that his salary actually increased and currently he was earning 22,000 shekels net. He told me he believed her salary had also increased but was not certain. He said that his mother had sent him to me hoping I could put a smile back on his face after four years.
I explained to him that I could not accept the case because the chances of the court intervening in the amount of child support are close to zero and that if it was financially difficult for him, he should work to increase his income. He was surprised by my response and said he could not believe I was refusing him as well.
We entered into a somewhat philosophical discussion about the willingness to let go of the past and forgive, the payment of child support as a trigger for a career change and how his feelings would change if he replaced the sense of injustice with gratitude for its current economic capacity and the ability to increase it exponentially. We compared child support to income tax, which also may invoke a sense of injustice, and we both agreed that it was better to be one of those who pay taxes than those who receive tax support. Finally, I explained to him that other than several tens of thousands of shekels that would be transferred from his bank account to mine, this claim would probably not do much more and that he should therefore invest that money in psychological therapy that would help him break free from his past.
When we end the meeting, I wasn’t sure whether he would be able to let go of his bitterness or would be looking for another lawyer to take on his case. Apparently, the things I said penetrated and the next morning at four in the morning I received an email from him with two words:
3. A Big Story
This is a huge story that is yet to be told in length as it has the makings of a John Grisham book. It’s about a pair of twin brothers, close, razor-sharp, smart businessmen who can turn silver into gold and into a lot more money.
When one of them decided to divorce, they devised a plan of action to smuggle millions out of the family unit and reach a divorce agreement with minimal damage. The funds transferred from the divorced brother to the married brother were recorded as loans given to the companies in the name of the married brother.
During the mediation process, the divorced brother presented a grim picture of debts and loans and made the wife and her attorney feel lucky with the poor agreement he had agreed to sign.
Time went by and the brothers ended up getting into a fight, having it escalated to involve complex tax investigations and newspaper headlines. It is then that the ex-wife learned how much money had been hidden from her during the divorce process and she began to consider her steps.
When the married brother threatened the divorced brother to tell his ex-wife of his actions, the divorced brother decided to beat him to the punch and file a suit against her to cancel part of the child support and charge her with a tax debt of millions of shekels.
At the same time the married brother came to her and told her all the secrets of hiding the money, offered to sign an affidavit and said that his conscience was tormenting him. Based on his testimony, we submitted a petition on behalf of the ex-wife to cancel the divorce agreement. Just like a John Grisham movie.
This week, the married brother testified on our behalf “When I was interrogated by the tax authorities, I felt it was a punishment for my cooperation with my brother,” he testified, “and you know,” he told the lawyer who interrogated him “Karma is a Bitch and that money is dirty. I will be donating my part of this deal (tens of millions) to charity or to my former sister-in-law. This money is without blessing.”
The moral of the three stories:
• Do not cheat your way into an agreement. It usually will not pay off.
• If you’ve signed an agreement and you feel exploited – if you have no legal cause – let go and focus on the future. legal proceedings do not solve mental distress, they usually make them worse.
In the photo – notes prepared for us by the woman’s nephew before the court hearing