My Divorce (Chapter Two, The Consultation).
The second chapter of my friend’s divorce narrative. If you missed the first, click here. My comments are in italics. Remember, he lives in the Northeast, this is not an Iowa case and the laws are different.
I had known the lawyer I was headed to see for three years. On and off contact, Facebook friends, the kind of acquaintance you don’t hang around much but when you run into her at the coffee shop or grocery store you spend twenty minutes catching up and just chatting. Comfortable.
Except this was something entirely different. She knew nothing about my marriage and only had a sketchy knowledge of my family. I had to fill her in on everything, obviously, and I had to tell her why I wanted to divorce.
She was waiting for me when I walked in to her office. We spent a solid ten minutes talking about the last time we ran into each other, then … I just launched into it. I told her everything that had been going on for the last 5-6 years despite the fact that it made me feel like an indecisive loser. About halfway through I realized that she had heard it all before and whole lot worse. It made it easier.
She was sympathetic but emotionally uninvolved. How do I know this? She told me up front. Which I thought was perfect and professional.
She understood everything I was going through, matched my facts with the laws of my state and then mentioned something that I never would have thought of and made me realize having an attorney who knew family law was the only way to go – doing it alone, I would have totally missed it.
Here it is: I told her that after financial difficulties for a few years, I had a company up and running and doing very well. My wife had some ups and downs but had a new, really good job with a great company – good salary, good bonuses. Despite this, I was paying every bill in the house.
My wife had informed me halfway through the summer that she had no intention of contributing in any way financially. Since we had moved two years previously she had steadfastly refused to contribute. My youngest’s tuition payments were only going to add to it. It was onerous, unfair, and getting worse.
Yeah, I’ve seen that before. It’s a weird sense of entitlement. You’re a team, but one side doesn’t want to contribute to the team. That also will be the same person that wants to benefit from all of your upside future earning potential. Whether it’s playing keep away with the kids, the money, or anything else, the only thing you can really do about it is what you’re doing now, moving forward with a divorce.
The classic case is the family separates and the wife keeps the kids away from dad, for one reason or another. Dad doesn’t do anything about it for months, hoping the situation resolves itself. By the time he comes see me to do something about it, so many months have passed, that I have to be honest with them that judges generally don’t like to disturb children’s schedules, and absolutely yes, it will be harder to get more time with the kids now. It’s basically a situation where you’ve set on your rights for too long. We can’t go back in time, but we can fix things as much as possible going forward. Sorry for the tangent.
To that she replied almost immediately, “You pay a reasonable part of the expenses, you be the responsible guy and offer to pay it in alimony, you’ll be so much better off paying alimony because it’s tax-deductible and with your growing business that would be a huge help.”
That never occurred to me before. Nor had the fact I had better do something sooner rather than later as I had ‘intellectual property’ that could soon earn profits and the longer I stayed in the relationship, the more claim she might have on it all.
This I suspected, but hearing the urgency in her voice was, well, a little chilling.
She is sending me a retainer agreement, I have every intention of signing it and moving forward.
Interesting. That’s a good point about alimony, but it’s also something so basic to family law practitioners that I sometimes take it for granted. I can’t give you legal advice, and not to second-guess your friend, but the downside in Iowa is that alimony is also modifiable. Meaning later on, if something comes up, she can come back to the Court and ask for more. There’s never zero-risk option without downside possibilties, but that’s the trade-off discussion I have with my clients. I’m not sure about your jurisdiction.
Intellectual property rights are another great point. I’ve seen that too. Spouse A takes no interest in Spouse B’s writing work, does not support it and even derides it, however when it’s time for divorce, those property rights aren’t trivial to Spouse A anymore, they want a piece of the action, and the long knives come out. So Spouse B is in a situation where he/she poured blood, sweat, and tears into something, even in spite of Spouse A efforts against it, but now Spouse B is looking at possibly sharing future profits from that work with Spouse A. This is also a situation that does not get better the longer you wait to do something…not to scare you, but obviously it’s better to limit that future liability as much as possible going forward.
Points like those are the reason that so many of the family law attorneys in my area see each other in cases all the time – because we specialize in family law. In my market, if I get a case, there’s a good chance I’ve already had a case with the other attorney, and can anticipate to some extent how they will pursue the case, and how that will affect the process. No one can see the future, but having an attorney who practices primarily in family law, who is familiar with fellow family law attorneys and the Judges in the community is definitely to your advantage.
Sounds like you’ve done all the right things. You’re emotionally ready to move forward. You’ve made a decision and taken action on that decision. You’ve found an attorney who specializes in that field and in that local legal community, and you’ve had some good initial strategy discussions. Only thing I would add, if your attorney hasn’t already told you this, is that now is the time to gather as much financial information and records as possible, that you need to put together a plan to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually (the stress only gets worse before it gets better)…and you need to change your email account and phone passwords – just sayin’ from experience…multiple times.