Entering the world of marriage as a young man for the first time I had no grasp of the terms I would be legally bound to. My marriage lasted nearly 25 years. Having never experienced divorce before I never knew just how drawn out and costly this process could be. Below is a summary of my divorce journey:
Phase 1 – Taking Responsibility for my Happiness
At certain periods during my life I will often do what I call a “happiness checkpoint”. This checkpoint could pertain to where I’m living, my employer or even my marriage.
Born and raised in the state of Connecticut, at age 28 I decided to move to California where I knew the weather would be much more conducive to my happiness. While many people grin and bear the cold weather I decided to take a leap and make the change.
My same philosophy applies to marriage. Over the years my wife was becoming more controlling in our relationship and I was increasingly becoming more unhappy so change was due.
Phase 2 – Do it Yourself Divorce
Once we both came to the realization that we would both be happier going our own separate ways I wanted to take the most cost effective approach by filing all the required documents with the court. I mentioned to my wife about filing our own documents and splitting our assets in half. However, my wife mentioned “What about alimony?” I responded, “With you making good money as a dental hygienist why do you feel you need alimony?” She replied “because I gave you 24 years of my life!” And I didn’t give her 24 years of my life?
Knowing that the alimony would be the single point of contention in our divorce we decided to head down the mediation path. She too also knew every dollar wasted in the courts would only have the net effect of leaving us with less in the end for our teenage daughter, our only child.
Phase 3 – Mediation
My wife found two female mediators (working as partners) from discussions with friends and patients. So I decided to give the mediation approach a try. After nearly a year of going to mediation and spending thousands of dollars, the mediation group decided to resign from our case just before closure and after an independent legal review determined the settlement was very biased in my wife’s favor. The mediators also did an all-around poor job of managing expectations. As a result, we both knew we would have to “lawyer up” all because of “alimony” and her insistence for it.
Phase 4 – Attorney Number 1
After getting a referral from a friend I retained my first attorney. After going to her for a year and going through the painful discovery process all over again we had our first trial date. During the trial the judge started questioning income statements and determined my attorney was not properly prepared so he kicked us out of court and told us to return when she was prepared. Keep in mind, my attorney had all the documents she needed from me with months to prepare. Plain and simple she just was not prepared costing me thousands of dollars for her time in court. In addition, my day was also wasted. With my growing frustration with this attorney I asked her to estimate how much more money I would need to spend with her to close out my divorce case. She replied $12,000 and that’s when I decided to find another attorney.
Phase 5 – Attorney Number 2
Attorney Number 2 also came as a referral from a friend who had recently used this attorney with good results. Before I decided to retain this attorney I did the smart thing and asked him for an estimate. After giving him all the information Attorney Number 2 said my cost would be anywhere from $4000-$5000. After the final trial date I received an invoice for nearly $10,000 with NOTHING out of scope from the original estimate.
Phase 6 – The Judgment
On the last day of trial we waited several hours in the courtroom before our case was heard. All the while both attorneys had their very expensive money meters running. Hours of time were spent in court testifying about things like how often we went out to dinner and where we went on our vacations most of which could not be proven. Sitting there in the witness box while answering these questions I was thinking in the back of my head just how absurd this whole process is.
The judge was also presented with a printout from the California Employment Development Department showing that in the state of California the median income for a dental hygienist is approximately $100,000 per year. The judge dismissed this evidence as lacking foundation and ultimately said he could only accept this type of evidence from an expert witness.
In the end, the judge ordered that since my daughter’s child support was coming to an end (because she was turning 18 that month) that my permanent spousal support (alimony) payment be increased from $800 to $1000 per month for the rest of her life or until she remarries.
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