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, we were 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.