After a rare rain storm in La Ventana, this sunrise greeted us.

Divorce is never good. I put something into place 20 years ago this month…my separation and subsequent divorce. It has taken 20 years to pay this penance.

I got married for the first time at the ripe old age of 20. My husband was 23. Not only were we kids, but we were also still attending college. Luckily I was smart enough to finish my undergrad degree three years later without missing a beat, get employed, and have my first child, all before the age of 25.

Without going into the details of why I chose to initiate the divorce after 15 years of marriage, let’s just say that it was necessary for my self-esteem, my children and my finances.


In California, retirement and pension programs are considered community property. This means that in a divorce settlement, spouses are entitled to each other’s pensions and other assets. I worked for a public agency that paid into CalPERS, our retirement system, beginning in 1986. Once our divorce was finalized, my ex was entitled to $11,000 of my retirement account.

I did not know that would happen. Not that anything would have changed.

At the time, I was pretty naïve about these subjects. I was told in 1995 that CalPERS did not pay off the spouse, but put money into a retirement account, but even that information was sketchy. Now that I was a single parent at age 35 with a busy job, and raising two young girls with no help, the last thing on my mind was how my future retirement was affected.

At the time of our divorce, we were attending a church and had been active members for several years. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to divorce as a Christian? Christians do not divorce. And those that do, well let’s just say…it’s awkward. We are supposed to be above the earthly issues and if there is trouble, seek counseling through the church (which we did). The pastor was chagrined that someone in his flock would dare divorce. Suddenly he wanted to get in our business when he had never given us the time of day before.

Needless to say, once my husband left (I kept the house, the car, the bills, etc), I stopped attending that church. I had several friends who were supportive and some had left that church for similar reasons. In a year I started attending a new church.

Ironically, that pastor’s adult son went through a divorce soon after.

Despite my belief in God I felt tremendous guilt for putting the divorce in motion. My husbands’ family disowned me, and only communicated with me when they wanted to visit my daughters.

I continued to pay the penance of guilt, but I was determined to not relent. My ex promised to do better but I was not interested in going back to him. I did not particularly care if his family ever spoke to me again.

For the two years we were separated, I got no monetary help from my ex. He had trouble keeping jobs. If I had asked for child support, I would have had to PAY him alimony since I made much more money than him.

He eventually met a woman he decided to marry two years later, but we had not filed for the divorce. We amicably filed, each paying a small sum to the paralegal who handled the filing.

Once the divorce was final, and he remarried, I filed for child support. I got the huge sum of $200 per month.

Unfortunately for me, his fiancé was greedy and had been through a nasty divorce a few years prior. She also worked for a public agency and knew something about CalPERS. She coerced him into taking his share of the retirement. Even though he was entitled, he originally had no plans to do so. So $11 grand was taken out of my account and paid to him in a check.

It was rumored they used the money to fund their wedding in Kauai in 1998. Nice, huh? Tragically, she passed away in 2005 due to breast cancer. Upon her death, her family promptly forgot about her widowed husband.

In 2003, I discovered that CalPERS had a community property re-deposit program. After some paperwork, I could pay my retirement fund back at $130 per month on a 15-year payment plan. I wish I had known sooner.

When I retired in 2014, I still had more payments to make to CalPERS, I quickly discovered I had two options: continue to pay the $130 out of my pocket on my pension income, or use my vacation leave balance to pay the difference. The monetary value of my sizable amount of vacation time transferred to my 401K account. A portion was transferred to PERS tax free to pay off that re-deposit.

I hand-delivered the check to the CalPERS office in early May and paid my final penance, 20 years later to the month.

After a 20 year journey, my penance is paid.

57 thoughts on “My Penance is Paid

  1. No matter who initiates a divorce, there is always more than enough guilt to go around. I married even younger than you, the day after I turned 18 (it got me out of a bad home situation). By 21, I had two kids and knew things weren’t good. He was six years older than me. By the time I was 25, he was still back at an 18 year old maturity. So I left with the kids. Fortunately, his side of the family sided with me and we are still friends (long distance) more than 40 years later. Oh, and I never got a penny of child support…

    I’m glad you feel you have finished paying your penance.

    #MLSTL visitor

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I divorced my husband twenty some years ago I was told I could get some of his retirement I just wanted out with no strings. You do what you have to at the time just to keep moving forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Divorce is a tricky thing. Seems you’re not only divorcing the spouse, but their family, some friends, part of your money, and in your case, your church. I was married at the ripe old age of 19, divorced 17 years and two children later, and remarried two years after that. I did better the second time around, and we’ve now been happily married for 19 years. I’m happy for you that the penance is paid. On to the next great adventure!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, Christie, your journey is similar to mine! I was 20 when I got married. Congrats on your successful second time around. I’m celebrating a 5 year wedding anniversary this August.


  4. Hi Terri,
    Landed on your blog via the #MLSTL Party.
    I can imagine how relieved you must be, now that all those things are behind you.
    Basically, one has to take life as it comes. Not everything can be predicted and precautions taken.
    Wish you best, Cheers, Pradeep


  5. Wow Terri – what an awful mess divorce creates. I’m really sorry for what you’ve been through – and the financial burden it caused. So glad you went forward and beat it – although I know what you mean about divorce being difficult in the church – I think it’s getting more acceptable now days but it’s still a stigma that people are labelled with and hurt by. Christianity should be about loving those who are hurting – not adding to their pain.

    Thanks for linking up with us at #MLSTL and I’ve shared this on my SM xx
    Leanne |

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fantastic blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers? I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any ideas? Appreciate it!|


  7. Congratulations to being free of that burden! Sounds like your life was better alone, than with.
    I admire your strength. Both my divorces were as a Christian, but I had sinned and was the guilty party. both times. My present husband and I have been separated for 2 years, after 10 years of marriage. I had all kinds of family members cut me off when I left him. It definitely hurt, but I found out I could survive. And oh yeah, our pastor never reached out to either him or me. That was unbelievably hurtful. I know your pain, and you know mine. Thank you for liking my blog. I will definitely read more!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Terri, thank you for the wonderful post. I’ve been divorced 14 years now. It was a tough decision (made easier by my ex), but I’ll have to say that I’ve had more fun in those 14 years than I could have imagined. I got the chance to become myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. So glad you can now start spending all that “spare” cash on yourself 🙂 Close the book and never think about it again! Divorces are messy things and even more so when you are in a church – so glad you have stayed so positive through it all and not let the ugly bits get you down x visiting from #MidLifeLuv

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It is so sad that the marriage never really seems over just because we sign a piece of paper. I am actually happy to be receiving my last child support check this month because it means I will never see a spreadsheet or email again telling me I owe a percentage of something. I know I could have turned the support down and never dealt with him through the years but then my kids would have paid the ultimate price. I sucked it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hello – loved your post. Made a comment but then got diverted to log-in to my WordPress account. Then my original comment seemed to have disappeared – hope it got through! Thanks. Hope you sail forward with ease.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks for such an interesting story. May you now sail happily forward in the sea of life with blue skies above!
    Divorce and finances are never pretty! I live in the UK and pensions are a minefield here too.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Well done to you! I admire your bravery, as the only reason why I haven’t done this myself is fear. It must be a huge relief for you to overcome all this. And those who won’t speak to you: what the hell… xzz

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Despite the struggle of battling your belief, your ex spouse, the system, other people, etc (not to mention other stressors in life), you made it through and that is something BIG! You kept on going. Yes, your penance is paid 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Ah, yes. We have some similarities in our stories. You were smart enough to finish your degree. I was not. I was married for 18 years and then we mosied around a few more to finalize it. My ex-husband, though, was not a bad guy, we just shouldn’t have gotten married. There was no there there. But I really relate to no one telling you the best way to maneuver through the foreign waters of divorce (and pensions, etc.) I’m on the other end of it, my ex made the money and I’m entitled to… I dunno… something. Some time…

    Congrats for passing though this milestone. It deserves a Woot! at least. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ah, the price of freedom! I shudder to think about what my life would be like now if I had married (whoever it was that I was currently crazy about) at 20!

    I’m glad I waited and I know you too are much happier with the choice you made when you were more mature.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I just walked out of a lawyer’s office today (9 years after my divorce went through) only to have to revisit some of the issues that have changed. I think today is my last day as well and I gladly, oh so gladly, move forward. It is a huge weight on the shoulders that even when done, doesn’t feel like it quite ever is. I am hoping that this time, it is and I already feel a lighter for it. I can very much relate to your emotions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Val! I didn’t realize that 20 years had gone by until I delivered that final check. As I was driving home I felt so light and free and hence the idea for the blog post! Thanks so much for your wonderful comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Thanks so much for leaving me the link to your post, Terri. I think that there is nothing wrong with divorce if it is justifiable. It must feel so good to have that off your back. I can’t believe he may have used the money for his other wedding.

    20 is pretty young to get married! I myself have been dating my boyfriend for 2.5 years and we have talked about marriage frequently. I believe a ring is in my near future (I’m 23). Sometimes I badger him about it, then feel guilty. Am I truly ready to get married, or do I just want the ring? I believe he is the one but I don’t want to make any quick mistakes. Something I think about a lot.

    Have a wonderful day, Terri!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment. It is good think and rethink. Women can get caught up in the whole fairytale wedding ideal and often forget the when that is over, the rest of life happens. Take your time and I think you are wise beyond your years!


      1. Thank you. I always used to want a big fairy tell wedding and then my mom really put it into perspective for me. She said that I don’t want to be so in debt just from one day when I could use the money for my honeymoon or something better that will last longer (like a downpayment on a house perhaps). Just got me thinking. She’s right. Weddings are about a marriage, not the wedding itself. I truly believe I am ready to be married. We practically are already, haha.

        Liked by 1 person

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