Unfortunately, as in my case, the Court often fails to enforce these agreements and when protective mothers go to Court to obtain some kind of relief, Judges will often imply that such concerns are trivial. Of course, I'd like to see how some of those Judges would feel if they couldn't have a bath before getting in their cars to go to Court, or how they'd feel if they couldn't review their documents the night before because they couldn't switch on the light!
Aside from payment plans, C, L, & P also has a matching payment program where you pay a portion of the bill, energy assistance pays a portion of the bill, and the electric company pays the rest. The company also has forgiveness programs where they discharge some of the debt. Again, this is based upon your income, and you would have to negotiate with the company to obtain the best possible program available for you.
The service representative at C, L, & P was unable to answer that question and transferred my call to a Community Action Agency for more information. Unfortunately, all I got was an answering machine with a promise to call me back if I left a message. I still have not yet received my return call.
The next place I turned to was the 211 number. When I dialed that number, a recording told me they were truly happy to receive my call. However, they told me that there were nine people already in line waiting to receive assistance. That number was reduced slowly until it was just me and then I was connected to an answering machine that asked me to leave my name and telephone number and someone would call me back. I did that, but no one has yet to call me back.
After that, I scoured my head for someone else to call and finally came up with the idea of calling town social services. I then dialed them up and again obtained an answering machine that assured me that if I left my name and telephone number someone would get back to me shortly. Again, no one has yet to call me back.
So bottom line is, I do not have an answer to my hypothetical. Once I do, I will report the answer to my question on the website. I do think it is a problem that any woman who calls to obtain information or support will most likely end up with answering machines, unanswered phone calls, and a general lack of vital information. This situation cannot help but be tremendously discouraging to people is distress.
Clearly, when an ex husband refuses to pay for electricity, fuel, cable, and telephone which he agreed to do and which he was required to do by an order of the Court, this is pure harassment. There is no doubt that it happens all the time, that attorneys, judges, and mental health professionals under contract with the Court are quite familiar with this behavior, and that they are aware that the men who indulge in this behavior are jerks. All that it would take to stop this behavior is a decision on the part of the attorney and judges, let alone the mental health professionals, to refuse to tolerate it. Thus far, they have not made such a decision because they prefer to perpetuate the abuse. Then they say no abuse exists.
Among those of us seeking to find positive solutions to the complex problems of family court, eliminating the way unethical men abuse women by shutting off court ordered utilities is on the top of the list of essential reforms.
Update: I received a phone call late in the day from town services in response to the message I left on the answering machine. Again, I posed my hypothetical which is what if there is an at home mother with a husband who makes $70,000 where father agreed to court ordered child support, and agreed to a court order to pay for utilities, but subsequently refuses to pay. Now you are a mother with no source of income, young children, and your electricity has been cut off--what do you do? Does the fact that father makes a high income prevent you from obtaining fuel assistance and other kinds of relief?
The town social services representative told me that this mother should, indeed, go to town services and apply for relief. Town social services will investigate the situation and connect the mother to whatever is necessary to make sure that she and her children are safe in their home, particularly during the winter months. As long as the mother can verify her circumstances town social services will do whatever they can to help out. This is includes referrals to the broad range of supports that they have available. Often, town social services can speak directly to utility companies and work out a sensible solution.
The town representative told me that the theoretical peron I described should definitely be working with Interval House or the Susan B. Anthony House or some other domestic violence shelter to obtain guidance in regard to how to manage her circumstances. She also suggested that mothers in this situation check in with The Connecticut Woman's Educational and Legal Fund. The link to this organization is below:
The town services representative stated that for some women it is very hard to acknowledge that they are in trouble and need help. Many such women have always taken care of themselves and paid their own bills. For them it is tough to recognize that they have to reach out and let others support them. What is important is that such Mothers accept the situation and recognize there is no shame in needing help. This could happen to any person any time and anywhere. So definitely take that first step to give town social services a phone call and set up a time to meet. Don't wait until you have put yourself of your children at risk, particularly in regard to young children.
Still, despite these safeguards, there will be some women who fall through the cracks and end up being victimized by their ex-husband's refusal to live up to the responsibilities he took on to pay utilities and fuel. That is, ultimately, what happened to me and it will continue to happen to other women. This is one of the most common forms of economic abuse that men get up to during divorce with the collusion of the family court system.