Joanie had always been ambitious and intended to pursue a career after college. With graduation looming, she accepted a prestigious teaching fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania while studying for her Master's degree in journalism. Ready to go forward with her journalistic studies, Joanie was shocked when, in the spring of 1969, Jake asked her to marry him. Jake had accepted a job with a Miami tabloid and desperately wanted Joanie to follow him to Miami. She urged Jake to stay in Philadelphia, but his parents pleaded with her to go with him to Miami, even gladly offering to pay her tuition to obtain her Master's degree there. Joanie was swayed by the fact that not only did Jake love her, but his parents seemed to love her so much as well. Swept off her feet by a dynamic, interesting man conversant in everything from politics to fine arts, Joanie relinquished a bright academic future at the University of Pennsylvania. Thereafter, during an intimate and beautiful candlelight wedding, Jake looked smug as his radiant bride said "I do."
A year after they were married, Joanie and Jake's baby daughter Debby was born in the most beautiful tropical city in Florida. On the sparkling white beach, as Joanie joyfully held her daughter in her arms and looked out over the turquoise waters of Key Biscayne, she felt her decisions had been worthwhile. They were truly in paradise.
All was bliss for a while. Jake and Joanie rented a vintage cottage in trendy Coconut Grove in Miami, and aside from the cocktail circuit Jake felt they must patronize, Joanie fell into the usual routine of wife, mother, social secretary and housekeeper. To continue her intellectual endeavors, Joanie enrolled at the University of Miami to work on her Masters degree on a part time basis. Jake was employed as an investigative reporter for the Miami Times. They were happy and easily made friends with other couples. Life seemed idyllic.
However, as time passed, Joanie began to notice subtle changes in Jake, which gradually became more pronounced. Jake began behaving strangely. He suddenly went from being brunette to bleaching his hair "surfer" blonde. His evening absences from home increased, with always a news deadline or breaking story as an excuse. Jake exercised more, building his muscles, posturing before the mirror and admiring his physique. He paid little or no attention to
Jake's megalomania escalated and he made no effort to control his frequent verbal abuse and insults towards
Joanie, even in public. Previously, Jake admired her good looks, but he now ridiculed her every move and took more interest in his own reflection. Her hurt questions and placating remarks only served to infuriate him. They no longer socialized with other couples. Jake seemed to prefer the company of men, and he "hung out with the boys". Joanie began to form a suspicion that his parents' concerted efforts to promote their marriage arose from fears Jake was gender ambiguous.
When asked to help with Debby, who was not only an active little toddler, but had a severe breathing disorder affecting her trachea, Jake refused, stating that "captains of industry" do not have time to baby-sit for their own children. Crestfallen, Joanie felt her husband was a complete stranger, acting a dramatic role in a play in which only he knew the lines.
One day Jake announced he was abandoning journalism and that he had enrolled in law school at the University of Miami. Attractive, well spoken and bright, Jake was named editor-in-chief of the Law Review and graduated first in his class. With Jake's career change and school taking up most of his time, Joanie felt even more isolated from the man to whom she had given her life and loyalty.
When Jake had to study for his bar exam, he suggested that Joanie and the baby visit her parents in Pennsylvania. Upon returning to Miami, she stepped from the plane with three year old Debby in her arms, and instead of being greeted by Jake, she was met by a Sheriff who handed her a divorce petition. Jake's graduation present to himself was a divorce from
Joanie! Stunned, Joanie hailed a cab, baby in tow, tears streaming down her face. Arriving at home, Jake's belongings were gone, and there was a notice the owners were selling their cottage and terminating the lease at the end of the month. As Joanie cried hysterically over the telephone, Jake said he needed privacy, he needed to find happiness, he felt closed in, that he would "crack" if he could not leave the marriage, that he needed to "figure things out." Because they had accumulated few possessions or assets, and lived in a rented home, Joanie was now lost, alone and penniless in paradise with a growing toddler to nurture.
Jake was promptly hired by a multinational law firm and began earning what would ultimately be a $500,000.00 yearly salary winning personal injury cases for the firm, thus fulfilling the dramatic courtroom role of which he had always dreamed. Jake callously left Joanie with the burden of raising their daughter, waiving his right to custody and literally abandoning his family to pursue a new life. As a lawyer with a promising future, he was able to employ a high power divorce litigator known for his scorched earth policy. Jake's witnesses were a Who's Who from the local community. By contrast, Joanie 's attorney was inept, unaccustomed to the legal high jinks and courtroom pyrotechnics perpetrated by Jake's hired gun. Her attorney urged her to settle.
Exhausted by the constant hearings and telephone calls, struggling desperately to provide for her daughter with no support from Jake, Joanie surrendered, signing a settlement agreement drafted by Jake clearly in his favor. Jake had no interest in his daughter Debby and agreed to waive his right to joint custody and visitation rather than commit to a schedule to see her. He was too busy with his new life. Yet, the agreement contained the one prize Joanie would not give up, Jake's agreement to pay for private school including "education after high school until age 22 for the child" and to pay child support until Debby finished her education. In exchange for this, Joanie waived alimony and agreed to Jake's inadequate monthly child support of $250.00.
Joanie wanted to finish her masters degree, but was told by the judge that she should find a job. Debby was now three years old with a severe breathing disorder. Joanie asked the court to order Jake to assist with child care payments so that she could concentrate upon seeking employment. In reply, the judge informed Joanie that the child support payment she was receiving in temporary child support was adequate and that if she wanted anything more, she could always remarry. At the final hearing, the judge's parting remark to Joanie was that she was young, attractive and would be married by the following year. This made her even more skeptical of the divorce process she had just experienced. The old adage, "He who has the gold makes the rules " seemed especially true in her case.
Over the years, Jake was not much of a Dad. Although Debby craved her father's attention and approval and hoped that one day he would be interested in her, Jake saw his daughter infrequently. He never attended her dance performances, never attended a single football game where she was on the dance line, never attended her award ceremonies, never spent a single birthday celebration with his daughter, or a single holiday. He did not know any of his daughter's friends. However, on those rare occasions when he did visit his daughter, he would discuss her studies and her plans to attend college.
As a student, Debby exceeded Joanie's expectations. At all times, Debby had acceptance at a good college as her goal . Joanie was forced to make superhuman efforts to provide the lifestyle she believed her daughter deserved, both culturally and academically. She constantly struggled to make ends meet. Despite Joanie 's pleas for financial assistance, Jake paid only what he was required to pay for child support, callously refusing to finance any extras for his daughter's happiness. Meanwhile, Joanie was unable to afford the pursuit of an upward modification of the child support and because of her negative experience with the judge, was apprehensive of initiating any court proceeding. Debby cringed when she first heard the expression "Deadbeat Dad", but secretly felt it may apply to her own father.
In her junior year of high school, Debby sent her college application to Northwestern University and the Medill School of Journalism. Debby informed Joanie and Jake she intended to pursue media communications and broadcasting, thus following in her father's footsteps. One day Debby excitedly called Jake to say she was scheduled for an interview at Northwestern. Jake bragged to his daughter about his friend in the university's journalism department who he wanted Debby to meet and who could give her a letter of recommendation. Jake seemed encouraging and eager to have his daughter attend a prestigious college, and correspondingly, Debby was elated that for the first time her father was taking an interest in her.
In April of her senior high school year, Debby was thrilled to receive acceptance to Northwestern and
Medill. Debby immediately telephoned her father to tell him the wonderful news and to ask him about the deposit that must be sent to the university. But her spirits were crushed as Jake curtly stated if Debby wanted to attend college, her mother must pay for it. Seeing her daughter's downfallen face, Joanie frantically called Jake. He adamantly explained to Joanie he could not afford to send Debby to college. Jake also stated that although he may have some sort of "moral" responsibility to pay for his daughter's college education, that he had no legal responsibility. To Joanie's abject horror, Jake ludicrously announced that, at forty three years old, he was all "washed up" as a lawyer, allegedly burned out from litigating asbestos cases for his firm. He told Joanie that the headhunter he employed could not find him another job. Later, when Joanie attended a Penn State reunion and spoke to an old classmate who was a movie producer, he mentioned seeing Jake frequently in Hollywood.
Joanie found herself once more in court, attempting to enforce her marital settlement agreement, battling Jake over his refusal to pay for his daughter's education, the obligation to do so clearly stated in black and white on the fourth page of the agreement. By this time, Jake had cultivated an even more powerful cadre of cronies and sympathetic friends to assist his efforts in resisting payment of his daughter's education. They all testified that Jake was financially incapable of paying the college tuition and expenses, that he was washed up, burnt out, unemployable. Jake's appearance belied their testimony as he was clearly healthy and slim, had a movie star tan, and looked as if he could run the New York marathon at an instant's notice.
The judge, impressed by Jake's glittering witness lineup was unsympathetic to Joanie 's cause. Her attorney's vehement arguments were to no avail. Using obvious legal machinations, the court construed the agreement so as to render the college provision invalid. Joanie tearfully explained to the judge that Jake's sudden poverty syndrome was utter fiction and a sham. She asserted that Jake was a very talented lawyer and that for 14 years she and Debby had relied to their detriment on the agreement drafted by Jake. Surely Debby was entitled to more child support for all of those years. But Joanie's cries fell upon the judge's deaf ears.
After the hearing, Joanie's attorney said her proceedings had been a Kangaroo court, that he had never seen such a travesty of justice, and that she had been defrauded. Then Joanie ran into Jake on the courthouse steps. She told him her lawyer was filing an appeal, and that she did not understand what fatal flaw could cause him to be so cruel to his own child with false promises. Jake in a menacing voice replied that if she even considered appealing the judge's ruling, he would destroy her.
Convincing her she had no other choice, Joanie's attorney filed an appeal of the court's ruling. Hearing of her appeal, in a machiavellian mood, Jake telephoned
Joanie. Taking another approach with her, his voice was now conciliatory and docile as he suggested they could resolve their litigation if she would just drop the appeal.
Joanie, remembering her agony caused by Jake's militant conduct in court, and her daughter's suffering caused by her father's neglect, remained silent. She then hung up the receiver.
The next morning, Joanie went to the high school where she taught English, having earned her Masters degree at night in administration, hoping someday to become a school principal. She had already distinguished herself professionally in her field, and had been named teacher of the year several times. As she unlocked the door to her class room, a gruff male voice startled her from behind. Two policeman were standing there. "Are you
Mrs...........?" Yes", Joanie replied. "Madame, we have a warrant for your arrest. Please come with us." Joanie staggered and turned white as she felt the blood drain from her face.
Her only thought was "Jake's destruction has begun."