"But what..what if I find out Amanda knew it was not my son all along? That is fraud, right?"
Mr. Bigshot now leaned forward, putting his forearms on the massive desk. "I am going to let you in on a dirty little secret. Let's say we can prove your wife knew it was not your child. It would be Fraud if she represented the child as yours. However, that kind of fraud, is the only fraud that carries no penalty, and requires no restitution. Hell, if you were divorced and paying child support for 17 years, your wife could announce to the whole world you were not the father, and she knew all along, in a full page ad in the New York Times, and guess what? In all fifty states there is no law that requires her to pay you back, or suffer any penalty."
"Mark some poor bastard in Florida was paying child support to a lady he was not even married to. The fool finally got a DNA test showing the kid was not his, yet the court ordered him to continue to pay support, as it was, quote, 'In the best interests of the child.' I think that case is winding its way up the judicial ladder now, the child will be 18 before this saga ends. But even if he wins, there is no way that pseudo Dad is getting any of the funds back...."
I interrupted him. "I can at least try to get some back money from my cheating wife's boyfriend, right?"
"Most States only allow the mother to seek restitution. Only two states allow you as the male to try to recoup money. But you must prove both the boyfriend and mother knew of the deception. Plus, you need to show there was an undue hardship on both the child's well being and family quality of life. And Mark, guess what? This is not one of the states that has such a statute."
I slumped back in my chair as he continued. "Ask yourself if the cost of a man's pride is higher than half of his assets, spousal and child support. Money can't buy his self respect back, or restore his reputation. Is it better to end things and gamble to find someone to be truly appreciated by than suffer a sham marriage?"
Eric spoke up. "Maybe a Marriage Counselor can help them get past this."
Mr. Bigshot just waved his hand. "At best, counseling works less than 10% of the time. In my experience it just tips off the spouse, allows them to prepare an exit strategy. Over 2/3 of women in counseling will initiate the divorce. Well over 55% of women who cheat eventually leave the marriage. It is a little less in states with shared custody, but we don't live in one of those states. Our process is its winner takes all. Odds are overwhelming in the mother's favor here. You guys are what age? In your mid-thirties?"
"Yeah" I muttered, trying to absorb all these body blows.
"Well Mark, I hate to be the bearer of worse news, but the most common age a wife cheats on her mate is age 45. If your spouse has already had a fling, then when your wife hits forty, the evidence of that spouse re-offending is pretty high, sadly almost a sure thing. The pain and guilt have faded from the earlier affair, or fling, yet the memories of what was thrilling, good, the excitement, whatever about the event, grows in the mind. Kind of like some high school athlete who scored the winning point, but broke their leg in the process. The mind downplays or forgets the pain, yet blows the "big moment" way out of proportion. The longing to relive the moment can turn into an obsession. But while a middle aged athlete can only at best, relive those glory days through their kids sporting events, a spouse can, and will find a partner outside the marriage, in an attempt to recapture whatever made them have an affair in the first place."
Eric chimed in what I was thinking. "Once a cheater, always a cheater?"
Mr. Bigshot spread out his hands, palm up. "Nothing is absolute, but infidelity is a close second to the main cause of divorce, which is money."
"I swear that is NOT going to happen to me" I said through gritted teeth.
"Swear all you like Mark," Mr. Big replied. "Swearing is the compromise between running away and fighting."
"Fuck!" I said under my breath.
"Is it cheaper to keep her?" Mr. Big asked philosophically. "Extramarital affairs is an issue that 68% of all married people will have to deal with during their marriage. You have children involved, so that changes the whole dynamic. Children of divorce have a much higher rate of substance abuse, promiscuity, depression, and anger issues. Hell, the only truth in a divorce is that there are no real winners. However, in all cases the biggest losers are the children.
Suddenly, I had a flashback to the day I told my Father we were expecting a child.
"Mark," Dad had said. "Many men are fathers, but fewer fathers are men. To be a man who is a father, your first, last, and only priority is your children. If there is not enough food, you go hungry. Not enough shelter, you endure the cold. If there ain't enough money, you do without. Most important is strength. You must be strong at all times for your family, and I am not talking about some blowhard show that buckles when the going gets tough. You must not only show strength, but also be strong enough to seek out, and accept help when needed. You will never know how strong you are, until strength is all you have.
Son, you will often be wrong, but you can never be in doubt. This is expected and accepted as a true Man. Your efforts will rarely be appreciated, or acknowledged, most times ridiculed, but a real true man does not do this for accolades or praise, he does this for his family, for his children, because he is a true and real MAN."
I jumped out of the chair like a shot, and extended my hand to Mr. Bigshot. "Thank you for all your time. I certainly got a heck of a legal education. But I do not think I will be using your services right now. What do I owe you for your efforts?"
Mr. Big grinned as he leaned forward to shake my hand. "No charge Mark. This was just a couple of old legal buddies having a conversation." He turned toward my brother Eric. "Besides, I owe your brother there big time for dragging my fat ass out of that dead end position in the old firm. I am doing a hell of a lot better now, and have him to thank for it. Just call me anytime, my door is always open to you. I mean that!"
We were driving back in Eric's car when I asked him. "Eric, after you caught your fiancée with your mentor, why did you not quit right away? Why stay almost a year at that firm?"
I saw the jawline of Eric stiffen before he spoke. "Naturally, my first reaction was to quit immediately." He smiled a bit. "Well, actually that was my second reaction. My first reaction was to head butt the old bastard after I pulled him off that slut." Eric paused to tune the radio to another station. "After I left his fat ass, sprawled out on the carpet with that skank, I went to my office and printed out my resignation."
"So why didn't you turn it in?"
"I was mad as hell Mark, than I started to feel sorry for myself. Then I remembered what our Dad always said about pity."
Together, at the same time, in a low baritone imitation of my Father's voice, we both said in unison. "Boys, you can put your damn pity in one hand and piss in the other. Let me know which one gets full first."
We both laughed for a bit before Eric continued. "Anyway, I figured why should I let those two's actions deprive me of the fruits of my sweat and labor. The next day, for the first time ever, the most senior partner came to see me. He was "concerned" about the "misunderstanding" between me and my old mentor.
What Bullshit! I was quite a rainmaker, and that prick was just worried about me walking, and taking all those accounts, as well as all the billable hours with me. He promised me all kind of magic beans, and I made him put them all in writing. From then on, I was not going to let anyone dictate my happiness.
I even kept that slut around for a few good sympathy fucks. I mean why not? It was not as if we were both virgins, or never been together. The minute I found something better, she was history. Same with the law firm, the day my contract was up, I was history too."
I took my brother's words to heart. From that day forward, I did what made me happy, while staying true to keeping my Dads position that the children were forefront. Amanda became a non-entity as far as I was concerned. I was determined to have as little to do with Amanda as possible. That became easier a week after I returned from my meeting with Mr. Bigshot.
"Mark I have some great news!" Amanda announced at dinner. "The salon wants to make me manager full time! I'll have to start out working evenings and weekends. But I am sure you and the boys can make you own dinners for a while."
This worked out perfect, as I was gone to work before Amanda awoke, and she was at the salon manager job by the time I came home. I was fast asleep by the time she closed up shop. On her days off, I told Amanda I was in darts league.
In reality I decided to have a few meeting with a shrink on my own. I found I was not any more fucked up then the next guy. But more important, I discovered, besides the obligations to my kids, I was responsible for my own contentment. What Amanda had done, was doing, or going to do, was out of my control. We are surrounded by temptations. It is our own personal weaknesses and responsibility when we give in to those temptations.
In truth, as I no longer trusted Amanda, this changed the feelings I once had for Amanda. Soon I found I no longer cared what she did. The hatred about her actions lost it's original intensity as time went on, but the bad feelings were still there. I was in this for my kids, period, end of story. Amanda became more like a roommate with benefits. She was so involved with her job, I do not think she even noticed.
Meanwhile, the boys and I were having a great time. I took out a huge home equity loan on the house, and put in a swimming pool, outside deck, plus turned our basement into a true "man cave." I got rid of my boring car and bought a massive SUV that got shitty gas mileage. My boys and Kathy's kids all traveled in comfort as I purchased prime seat season tickets to every sporting event. I became the kid's team chauffeur, as the damn SUV could squeeze in the whole team, plus equipment. Each win or lose, resulted in a trip to the local pizza parlor, or ice cream place on my dime.
Kathy often accompanied us on our excursions. People often mistook us for one big family. "I wish!" was my semi joking response. That always got me a puzzled look from Kathy.
Amanda constantly begged off, citing her work schedule, being "too tired", or wanting to "relax" on her day off. Soon, the boys just stopped asking.
After some years, my oldest boy and Kathy's firstborn son went off to the same college, hers on a partial scholarship. Kathy never knew I had lumped in the rest of his expenses with my boy.
Three years later the same scene was repeated with the last of our offspring. This brings us to the present day and my current dilemma, stay or go? Move on, or the status quo?
Amanda was on our outdoor deck, enjoying the last of the summer days, overlooking the pool with a glass of wine in her hand. I returned after cleaning out the SUV of the remnants from our trip.
Amanda had her eyes closed as I took a seat in a lounge chair across from her.
"Mark, the house seems so empty now with the boys gone." Amanda sipped some more of her wine. "What a difference, but I am ready for a change."
I had finally made up my mind, and thought to myself "Oh wait Honey, you are gonna get a change."
I dropped the papers on the glass topped table between us. "Amanda, I do not feel we should be together any longer. I would like a divorce."
Amanda sat straight up out of her chair and grabbed the papers, scanning through them quickly. "What the HELL is this nonsense Mark!"
"Amanda, these are only a copy of the petition for divorce. As soon as you get a lawyer, I will have my attorney send the official ones to him. As you can see I have been quite fair, the savings are.."
"ARE YOU INSANE!" Amanda almost screamed. "After two decade you are dumping me! Now, after everything we have been through!" She kept looking though the papers. "No Alimony? Where is the split of savings? Shared debt on house? What are you trying to pull!"
I tried to be calm. "We both make about the same salary, with roughly the same amount in our retirement accounts." That much was true as I had deferred all pay raises that went with my recent string of promotions, plus kept my 401K contributions to the minimum, after raiding it to pay for my sons college.
Amanda looked like she had been pole axed, as she kept flipping through petition. "We only make the same salary because I work twice as many hours as you! I am not selling my house! I have worked too hard on it!"
"Amanda, we are upside down on the house, after you count the home equity loan. Where do you think the money came from for this deck, your new kitchen, the.."
She threw the papers on the table. "We are not getting a divorce, and that is final!" Suddenly it looked like a light bulb went off in her head. "You son of a bitch!" Amanda spat, pointing her finger at me. "You have found somebody else! I give you the best years of my life, and now you want to ditch me for some young slut!" Her face got red. "How long have you been fucking around on me! You cheating pig!"
"Please." I sighed. "Let's not go there. It does not matter what the reason is, this is a no fault state. Everything, both assets and debts are going to be split equally."
However, Amanda was not to be mollified. "Oh you are wrong MISTER! It does matter! I wanna know AND I deserve to know. Who have you been screwing me over with!"
I shook my head and said softly. "It is true there has been infidelity involved, but please let's not go there. It's best if we just keep this..."
My vision blurred for a moment when Amanda tossed her glass of wine in my face. As I got up retreating to the kitchen, I felt the wine glass bounce off my back before shattering onto the deck.
Amanda was livid, following close behind me keeping up her tirade, as I washed off my face in the kitchen sink.
"YOU SON OF A BITCH! I am not going to be tossed away because you want get your jollies off with some bimbo! No wonder our sex life has gone to hell the last few years! Well, let me tell you something buddy boy! I have had lots of opportunities in the past but I never.."
Amanda stopped cold, as I turned, placing one by one on the kitchen counter, photos of her and Josh in the most pornographic of positions. I slapped the pictures down, each one more revealing than the one before.
Her face went ghost white as Amanda rushed to the kitchen sink and began to vomit.
I shuffled the pictures into a pile as I sat down at the kitchen table. "Well Amanda, looks like you took advantages of the opportunities presented to you in the past."
Amanda finally stopped vomiting. She rinsed her mouth off with tap water, them splashed water onto her face. Finally she patted her face dry with a towel before sliding into the seat across from me.
"Please Mark, put those away." Amanda pushed the pile of picture toward me with one finger as if they were a live poisonous snake.
I placed the pictures into an envelope, than tossed them into a drawer behind me.
Amanda buried her head in her hands. "Oh My God, I don't know what to say."
I was weary. "Doesn't really matter Amanda, I don't care."
Amanda grabbed at my arm. "Mark, please listen, it was only that one time! You must trust me on this!"
"No Amanda, I don't have to trust you on this. And I don't." I leaned back in the chair. "I mean what? You would never lie about cheating?"
Amanda held onto my arm tighter. "It was so long ago. I did not know being a mother would be so tough. I was so sleep deprived with the baby, and you were always tired from working. I feel like I was losing my identity, just another "Mom" or you wife."
I pulled my arm away. "I was working two jobs and going to school, all for us, our family. So I really don't want to hear about being tired.."
"Mark I know." Amanda pleaded. "I wish I could take it all back. Josh was just a fun drunk. Josh's Mom would sometimes be around to watch the baby for a few minutes. Give me a chance to be with a grown up for just a little bit, to keep my sanity."
I tried to get up. "Amanda I really don't care."
She ignored me and continued. "Josh always had a drink in his hand, after a while I would take a sip or two. He was always taking pictures of me with that high speed shutter camera. I started to goof around, acting like it was some big modeling shoot. Josh kept encouraging it, telling me how great I looked, a natural, how the camera loved me."
Amanda bit her lip as she looked at me. "It just was fun that got out of hand. I would pull down my shirt to expose my shoulder, or lift it up a bit, to show off my belly button. Pretty soon I got so comfortable I was down to my bra. It was no big thing, hell people saw more at the beach."
I saw Amanda start to get tears in her eyes. "Then one day when I mentioned about getting you a picture for Christmas, Josh offered to do the photo for free. It went real well, the picture turned out great. Our son fell asleep right after, on a couch in Josh's studio."
"You mean his parents basement Amanda?"
She wiped a tear from her eye. "I figured he would sleep for a while and I did not want to wake him, so Josh and I had a drink. Well, one drink led to a bottle, and..well, in between my period and your crazy schedule, you and I had not had sex in a while. I was feeling real horny, when Josh started to take the pictures of me, this time my 'bad girl' came out. He was making me feel so sexy, I felt so naughty flashing Josh, and he kept encouraging it, like we were doing a real photo shoot."
I thought I could not be more shocked after I originally saw the pictures, but I was. "You mean you fucked that God Damn drunk, with my son sleeping a few feet away!" I stammered.
"OH God Mark, I am so embarrassed! I do not know what came over me, I was such a..a..." Amanda paused.
"Slut? Skank? Cumdump? Whore?" I offered. "Wait I take that back, you sold your ass for a picture. That makes you a really cheap hooker."
Amanda dropped her head on the table and began sobbing.
I mentally kicked myself, I would not treat a stranger this way, let alone someone who I had once had strong feelings for.
"Amanda, we cannot change the past, just own our actions. Please sign the papers, we will tell people we grew apart, no one outside our little family has to know."
Amanda lifted her tear streaked face from the table. "It does not need be this way Mark. Please that happen so long ago. It was such a nonevent, a mere blip, a stupid mistake of no consequences."
I pulled another set of papers from the folder, placing them in front of Amanda. I spoke as she scanned the set of documents.
"Amanda, all actions have consequences, some action more than others."
"Mark what is this?" Amanda asked, looking from page to page at charts and graphs.
"Amanda, that is DNA test results from our family, as well as blood types. You can see one of us does not match."
Amanda grabbed at her chest and started gasping for air. I got up and pulled a paper bag from the kitchen closet.
"Amanda breath into this paper bag" I ordered, placing the sack in her hands. "You are hyperventilating. Now slow down. Take natural breaths. Breathe through your nose, easy, easy."
After a minute Amanda's breathing returned to normal. I retreated to sit on my side of the kitchen table. She put the paper bag down as the color returned to her face.
"Amanda, you knew all along." It was a statement, not a question.