“This is just a preliminary hearing, please, basically to determine where I stand with you two. Let me make one thing clear here,” the judge began gently, and her voice was sad. “I hate divorces, or yes, I do. I try as much as possible to avoid them, but they always come my way because of one simple fact, and I’ll tell you what that is. Of the sixty-nine divorce cases I have handled, thirty-nine did not end up in divorce. The couples involved are still married, and happy now. This case is my seventieth, and I am praying it will be my fortieth case where the couple – meaning the two of you, Liz and Tony – go back home happily married!”
“That will not happen, ma’am, please!” Liz cried indignantly, shaking her head violently. “I do not want anything to do with that man, please. The pain he has given me, the humiliation, the tears… no, no, I’m done, please!”
“I understand you,” the judge said with a gentle smile. “Listen, Liz, I do understand you. I forgot to add that I grew up in a broken home myself, yes. My parents divorced when I was seven years old. I will tell you for sure that in as much as you want to divorce, the ultimate sufferers, the ones who would bear the brunt of your divorce, would be the two lovely children you have!”
“They would be fine, ma’am!” Liz cried again as she took a handkerchief and mopped her tears off her cheeks. “We both love them, my family loves them, and they will continue to grow up surrounded with love! Please, do not worry so much about them.”
The judge looked at her for a while, and then she turned her head and looked at Tony who was tracing the title of the book in front of him.
“Mr. Siaw, any initial sentiments?” she asked, and this time her voice was a little hard.
“There was a condition before we got married,” Tony said softy. “She and her parents told me that unless I signed a prenuptial agreement, they would not allow me to marry her. So, I signed it. Basically, we’re done, Judge. Our marriage is done. We’re not getting back. I just want my children.”
“You bastard!” Liz said, her heart broken. “You bloody bastard, Tony! How I wish you would never set eyes on them ever again!”
“Mrs. Siaw!” Judge Ivy said sharply. “You will comport yourself in my presence, do you hear me? I do not tolerate that kind of language! Believe me, you don’t want to incur my ire!”
“We’re sorry, Your Honour,” Hassan Moshi said quickly. “This is the first time my client has been to any legal setting, apart from contractual ones relating to her career. I will brief her and make sure she comports herself.”
“Please do!” the judge said furiously.
“You addressed her wrongly,” Tony said quietly.
“I beg your pardon?” the judge said, puzzled, and looked at him.
“You addressed her as Mrs. Siaw, ma’am.”
“Yes, I did!” Judge Darteh said. “Until I pronounce this marriage over, she remains Mrs. Siaw. Is that clear to you?”
Tony smiled briefly then.
“But she’s never been Mrs. Siaw,” he said calmly.
The judge scowled.
“What are you alluding to now, Mr. Siaw?” she asked coldly.
“Liz has never used that name,” Tony told her. “She has been Liz Baidoo from day one, and that is the name she has used ever since I got to know her, right through our marriage. Not once had she ever used my name.”
“Oh, you’re so pathetic, you fool!” Liz shot angrily at him. “I explained to you why! And you know why! I star in movies, I sign contracts, adverts, I go on photoshoots, shows, interviews! I told you plainly from the beginning that for the sake of showbiz, it was expedient to use the name fans resonate with! Stop being childish, Tony!”
“But did you swear an affidavit, a change of name, at least, and had your new name gazetted as Mrs. Siaw?” the judge asked calmly.
Tony chuckled softly.
“I resent that, Mr. Siaw!” Judge Ivy said sharply.
“Sorry, Your Honour,” Tony said.
“Well, Liz? Hope I can call you Liz?”
“Yes, ma’am, you can,” Liz said softly.
“I asked you a question,” the judge continued. “Is the name Liz Siaw gazetted?”
Liz shook her head, and wiped tears from her cheeks.
“No, ma’am,” she said softly. “We were still debating it.”
“Debating it? How? I don’t understand. Please make me understand.”
“Actually, Your Honour, it was a bit dicey there,” Hassan said quickly. “You see, as she explained, she had to retain her fanbase and all that. She proposed using the name Liz Siaw-Baidoo as her marriage name, but Mr. Siaw did not agree to it.”
“Of course, I did not,” Tony said gently. “It was silly, really. Did I marry her or her father? And stop lying, Mr. Hassan. Liz refused to change her name because her parents made it clear that if she dropped the Baidoo, they would disinherit her. That’s the truth. Just say it as it is.”
“And they have been proved right, haven’t they, Tony, Mr. Gigolo?” Liz shouted furiously. “Where would I have been now if I had changed my name? After you dragged a harlot to my matrimonial bed? It is them I went back to! They warned me that you were nothing but a cheap, gold-digging turd, agreeing to marry me because my parents were rich! And you proved them right, didn’t you? If we hadn’t signed that prenup, where would I be now, you cheap skunk?”
“Liz, please,” Hassan said quickly.
“One more insult from you, young woman, and I’ll throw you out of my office!” Judge Ivy said acidly. “I do know you’re distraught, and in great pain, but you have to be decorous in speech so that we can find an amicable solution to this crisis! Do you understand?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. Please forgive me.”
There was a brief silence as the judge read a page she had extracted from the file.
“I don’t see the need to drag this, ma’am,” Tony said softly. “We can’t be together again, that’s granted. Now, you can go straight ahead and talk of custody. I want full custody of my children, with visitation rights for Liz…”
“You’re mad, Tony Siaw!” Liz screamed. “You’re totally mad! Over my dead body!”
“Shut up, both of you, and stop turning this into a drama!” the Judge said sharply. “Mr. Siaw, you will not tell me how to do my job, do you understand? Who’s representing you?”
“I don’t need representation, ma’am,” he said gently. “I can speak for myself. And I just want my children back. It has been a week since she took them to her parents’ house. I’ve never been without them for that long, ever. I went over to see them, and they almost set Pitbull dogs on me. Look, I don’t want anything from her, ma’am, please. I just want my children.”
“You won’t rush me, or tell me what to do,” Judge Ivy said as she put back the sheet in the file. “We will proceed on this case on my direction, Tony and Liz. I will take it from any angle I see fit because, frankly, my interest is in the welfare of the two children. You will have to convince me that they will be safe and healthy and happy with either of you. If I see it fit – for their interest – I will take them away from both of you and give them to families I think will have their interests at heart. Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, Your Honour,” Liz said softly.
“You can’t take my children from me,” Tony said, and his voice was cold and sharp as he looked at the judge. “I am living for my children, ma’am, please. I will fight you with everything I have if you try to take them from me!”
The judge stared right back at him with fierce eyes.
“You’re not doing yourself any favours here, Mr. Siaw,” she said coldly. “First, you don’t threaten me, do you understand? Secondly, you will not rush me, as I said. I will not treat this case as simply a custodial hearing. I’ll take it as a full divorce hearing, determine time spans, and call witnesses as I see fit. I will be the judge of whether this marriage is finished, or there’s hope for its survival. I will decide what’s best for the children, not any of you. In order words, I am the bitch in charge. Now, have I made myself clear to you?”
For once Tony’s eyes were dark with fury as he looked at the woman.
“You don’t know what you’re doing!” he said painfully. “My children have been in that house for a week already! I need to get them out of there!”
“They’re with their mother, their aunties and uncles, their grandparents and at least one great-grandmother! Where is it safe for them at this particular moment in time, Mr. Siaw? At least they’re with people who love them! I can’t entrust them, now, to a man that took a prostitute to his bed!”
“Are you judging me already, ma’am?” Tony asked bitterly.
“No, Mr. Tony Siaw!” Ivy Asante Darteh said, her voice cold. “I want the children to be where they are until this case is over, do you understand? You can consider it a separation. I will be fast as much as I can, but until then, they remain with their mother and her family. That’s the sensible thing to do, for the sake of the children. Now, the real case will begin a week from today, inside this court house. Finally, there is something I want to say.”
“Can I say something, Your Honour, about my kids being in that house?”
“No, you may not, Mr. Siaw,” the judge said coldly. “I’ve settled on that. Now, as part of our fiftieth anniversary, the Judicial Services want to bring the court to people. Normally, divorce cases are heard in secret, and not held in the open. But, the Committee has selected this case as one of the cases we want to bring to the public to have a feel of what divorce courts are all about. There are selected cases on crime, domestic violence, and others that we want to bring to the public. I am therefore seeking your permission to let this case be heard by anyone willing to be present. Do I have your permission?”
“You have mine, Your Honour!” Liz said promptly with a contemptuous look at her husband. “I would really like that.”
“Fine, thank you, Liz,” the judge said. “And you, Mr. Siaw?”
Tony rubbed his forehead a couple of times and sighed finally.
“I have no problem with that, Your Honour,” he said in a resigned voice finally.
“Good, then you will please sign this agreement form,” she said and put a sheet in front of Tony. “You can read through before signing.”
“No need for that,” Tony said, his voice almost aggressive as he took a pen from the judge and quickly signed along the dotted line indicated.
“Are we done, please?” he asked softly.
“That will be all, Mr. Siaw,” Ivy said. “I’ll see you next week, ten o’clock, in court.”
Tony stood stood up and left the room without another word.
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