The funniest part (not ha ha funny, more like mouth-hanging-open-in-disbelief-funny) about going through a divorce, either as one of the divorcing spouses or a friend/loved one of a divorcing spouse, is the individuals’ staggering capacity for illogical behavior. Especially financially.
I think most of the questionable behavior stems from being at a mental disadvantage – most divorcing couples are so steeped in negative emotions (anger, hurt, bitterness), that logic flies out the window. Logic is then replaced by a blood thirsty desire for revenge and a drive to ‘win’. Sorry to burst your revenge bubble and ask, but win what?
It may sound callous, but at the end of the day divorce is a business transaction. It is a dissolution (that’s what it’s called!) of the business of marriage. Marriage accumulates assets (that’s what they’re called!) and the assets are shared by both ‘owners’. Factors such as length of marriage, number of kids and property affect the division of assets, but ultimately it’s a formula in most states. The system doesn’t care about all the reasons for the divorce that have you all pissed off…let me repeat: the system doesn’t care. But the lawyers do, and they’re counting on that quest for revenge to stay nice and fresh in your mind. More on that later.
Here’s where it gets funny (again, not ha ha)…many divorcing spouses become so bitter that they decide to use the courts as their primary weapon for revenge. They run out and hire a junkyard dog (a.k.a. divorce lawyer) and the Motions and Declarations start flying. There are Income & Expense Declarations (maybe funniest at all because you are most likely still married to this person or just recently divorced, so you already know what they earn!), Declarations for custody trials and all kinds of other fancy legal documents. The funniest (not ha ha) part of a Declaration is that the parties can write anything in these documents! These are works of fiction in many cases, but still have to be defended and argued in court with your lawyer, which takes time. More on that later.
A good (not happy good), meaty divorce will result in a couple of reams of legal papers. Then there’s the Mac Daddy Divorce on Steroids, as evidenced by the multiple legal boxes stacked in your garage. If you are engaged in a Mac Daddy Divorce, or have recently gone through one, you probably need to read this, if only for some perspective. I promise you, as someone who has witnessed the Mac Daddiest of All Divorces, it’s not worth it. No matter what you do, you will not convince a judge to give you full custody of your kids unless the other spouse is a whack job (even then you probably won’t get it!) or has a bad lawyer. And you will always get a better financial deal if you negotiate outside of the system. That is a promise and a guarantee. What’s that? Your ex is hiding income? You’re still going to get a better deal outside of the system.
The first thing you need to know: no matter what you do, or how good your attorney is, the court will rule in your favor only some of the time. You will walk into that courtroom on any given day with a 50% chance of winning. It doesn’t matter if you have a stack of evidence two stories tall – it’s always going to be a gamble. The game changer is often something you can’t control, such the skill and aggressiveness of your attorney or the mood of the judge, plain and simple. Sometimes the law itself is your biggest hurdle, because law does not always equal logic. Frustrating.
Now, let’s explore this idea of ‘good lawyers’ (the very definition of oxymoron): you might read this and think, huh – a good lawyer is all I need to screw my ex? Sign me up! Not so fast, because you’re not considering the reality that everyone else sitting on the perimeter of your divorce can see: counting on a lawyer is your biggest mistake. You see, lawyers are predators. It’s their job and their business to prolong your divorce. The longer they can stretch it out, the more fees they’ll collect. Add an unsuspecting, angry and bitter soon-to-be-ex, and you now have a new name: Dream Client. You are blinded by rage – this is all the divorce lawyer needs. He will bait you with false promises, egg you on in your hatred spiral and help you spin your legal documents for maximum courtroom drama effect. He will be your psychologist, your most loyal divorce companion. You will find yourself using him as a shield for all of your fears and a sword for all of your hatred. And he will never let you down – as long as the fees are paid on time.
Oh, that’s right: there are fees. As is turns out, the lawyer is only your advocate because you are paying him, but it’s not until about the six month mark that you start to notice the size of the bills coming in. All of a sudden your divorce is up at the $25,000 mark. You are about to enter the witness stage of the custody trial – maybe 30% of the way through the battle – and you need your lawyer more than ever. At this point a normal person would begin to see through the haze of bitterness and pull out the calculator, but the committed bitter ex simply sees this as the other spouse’s fault, and racks up the charges like a first year college student with a shiny new Visa card. There are phone consultations, hearings, ex-parte hearings, witness interviews, special masters, psychologists, meetings and settlement conferences (the last of which the bitter ex has zero interest in), all of which are being billed at $350 per hour.
When it’s all said and done, the predicted outcome (at least here in California) will be the following: 50-50 custody, alimony and child support sufficient to equalize incomes and recognize the length of the marriage, and a somewhat reasonable division of assets.
Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret…this is the predicted outcome whether you have a fancy lawyer/court battle or not! That’s right. Here in my own blended family there were two decidedly different divorces, the only common denominator being that both had kids. One involved millions of dollars in assets and several companies. The other involved one employed parent, a couple of bank accounts, some debt and a jointly owned house. Would you like to guess which one took the litigation path?
That’s right. The easy one. The one with a house and a sprinkling of simple assets. No complicated company stock, no luxury items…just basically a house. Given that custody is always going to be 50-50 if both parents desire it to be so (and no one has a nasty little drug problem), the assets are what end up being the complicated piece.
The million dollar/company-laden divorce? Total cost = $2,000 (or less). Neither party has ever set foot in a courtroom.
The simple house-only divorce? Total cost = $200,000 (and counting), dozens of court appearances and an enormous amount of time, energy and emotion (not to mention parking – it’s expensive to park at the courthouse!).
Really, bitter ex? Was it worth it? Is it worth it? Because, you would have had the same outcome if you’d avoided the process. Let me break it down for you: in exchange for several years of pain and frustration, you have lined the pockets of the divorce attorneys with your kids’ college tuition! Congratulations! Has it had the calming effect you were going for? What do you have to show for it? A couple ticks in the ‘win’ category? Well, good for you! Hard fought, and certainly worth the price. Right?
So for those of you trudging down the path of divorce (I’m sorry – it’s hard), let this be a lesson to you: find a good mediator and settle your case outside of the courts. The system is set up as a business – it is designed to provide the lawyers with an opportunity to make a living. You are a target, in your diminished emotional state. Do yourself a favor and find a logical friend (ideally one that has been through this process) that is not afraid to confront you, and do everything they say. Save the revenge fantasies for your therapist.