Child Support Modification – Our Process in Divorce Court (Part 4)
At this point, we were set to return to court for a status date on January 10 on the previously entered $3202/month child support payment.
Here is what lead to the child support payment being modified from $500 to $3202.
On January 7th, I received an email from an attorney.
I didn't have an attorney!?!
Mr. Ex hadn't responded to any of my communications - instead he hired a brand spanking new divorce lawyer who from this point is known as Marty.
The email included an attachment titled "Motion to Vacate the Child Support Order" entered in November of 2013.
It was scheduled to go before the Judge on our status date of January 10th.
Yikes, Mr. Ex hired an attorney.
If I had truly thought about his nature, I would have known this.
Not that knowing it would have prevented the knot in my stomach upon reading the motion, but still.
I had blissfully assumed that Mr. X would just show up with his tax returns, including the ABC Gear income and we'd set a new number.
Thanks, so long.
This first motion was really a portent of the bullshit to come.
In the Motion to Vacate, Mr. X lied.
He claimed that he didn't receive notice of court dates.
Odd, if you recall he sent me a text message stating that he couldn't make the first court date in October but he was "willing to adjust it [child support] according to his current amount."
This Motion to Vacate was also the beginning of the 'technicalities' or 'procedural issues' that Marty would try to use to shut me down.
I understand that the process is there to weed out frivolous suits. But in my case, and others who are seeking to right a wrong and can't afford an attorney, the process becomes an obstacle to justice.
The best approach to this motion would have been to write up a response that included the evidence of the text communications and copies of the sent emails to prove that Mr. Ex had not only been notified, but that he had responded.
While I did put something together and email it to Marty at one point, I didn't file it with the courts, or send it to the judge, or bring it to court with me.
Seriously. How could I be so dumb?!?!?
Well, at that point, all I was focused on was seeing Mr. Ex's tax returns.
Since I had found ABC Gear, hence traceable income, I set my mind to keep the proceedings in play until I could get to his tax returns, thinking that ABC gear would just show up on Mr. Ex's schedule C.
From what I could tell, ABC Gear was a DBA (doing business as), just like Mr. Ex Gear had been during our marriage.
Both Sides Appear in Court
On January 10th, Mr. Ex and Marty showed up guns-a blazing and lips a-flapping about how the child support modification was wrong and needed to be reversed.
I was not prepared for the bombsatic show Marty put on.
The Judge, thankfully, didn't buy the dog and pony show.
Instead, he allowed my motion to continue and the $3202 to stay in place, ordering us to exchange 13.3's (financial disclosure forms in our district) and tax returns.
TAX RETURNS?! Did you hear that?
I would finally be able to see how much Mr. Ex's legit businesses were making again.
Hell, I don't think I even looked at his tax returns the last year of our divorce battle.
This was going to be what I needed to get beyond the $500/month original child support order.
I took the Judge's setting a status date on the Motion to Vacate as a good sign that he would likely let the balance stay.
At this point, the $3202/month order (which had been effective since November 1, 2013) had racked up a balance of $9k.
For any single parent, this would be a boon.
However, what the judge was doing, I now recognize, was simply following the process.
Yes, he was giving me an opportunity. He could have potentially killed my technically improper Motion filed instead of Petition, and sent me be back to the beginning.
But really, he was following the legal process: hear the motion, allow the two sides time to communicate and potentially come to some agreement, check in on that communication via status dates and then, if no agreement is reached, set a hearing date where the final call would be made.
How I Tripled My Child Support Payments, Including All My Divorce Papers and Court Documents.
And again, while I told the judge that I had proof of communications with Mr. X about court dates, I never filed a written response with my evidence attached.
I cannot stress this enough: WRITE YOUR ARGUMENTS UP AND BRING THEM TO COURT, even if you're Pro Se and writing in layman terms.
Had I filed and given the judge a written response to their Motion to Vacate AND responded line by line to it, I may have been able to keep that $9k balance.
Ultimately, Mr. Ex lied; he knew about the court dates and I could prove this.
Ignoring a court date is contempt of court, punishable by prison time.
The $9k could have been viewed as a trade off instead of doing prison time. Hindsight is 20/20.
Divorce Checklist Lessons:
- I initially filed a general motion instead of a petition. The Judge, had he been one of those guys/gals who prize procedure above what's right, could have easily tossed the support modification to the curb. A motion is only valid as a legal course of action once a case is up and running. A petition is what you need to get a case up and running.
- Instead of using written documents, I only made verbal arguments. This, I learned after the fact, isn't the proper process. It doesn't keep an official record of what you and the Judge have discussed. Also, Judges have a lot going on and need things written down so that they can read and synthesize what's being asked for and said in court.
- In order for a petition to have legs, it's got to meet the requirements. Research your state's laws and their requirements. Filing the petition wouldn't have only adhered to the state requirements, it would've forced me to write out my arguments in a clear, concise manner. When I began the proceedings, I didn't put my arguments into writing in a manner simple enough for the Judge to understand and grounded in law and precedent (something you need a lawyer for, usually). A formal petition would've included our original support order attached, along with evidence of change of circumstances. Then, it should've been filed with the court, which just means going down to the circuit court domestic division and getting it time stamped and filed in the folder with the other case documents. After that copies need to be sent to the opposing counsel and the Judge.
- Writing things down would have forced me to organize all my evidence of communications and such, so that I could quickly and easily paint the facts for the courts. In the early stages when I was Pro Se, I would wait for hours in the courtroom, only to have about 5-15 minutes in front of the Judge. He saw dozens of cases before and after mine. Not having things in writing made the process unnecessarily inefficient and painful. This is something to think about whether you're representing yourself or working with an attorney. The better you organize your arguments and evidence, the easier it is for the Judge to understand, and THE LESS IT WILL COST YOU. Also, it forces clarity on your part.
- Bring proof of everything. Even if you've sent things to your ex or his/her attorney, bring copies of what you've sent them. It's not their job, or in their best interest to bring documents to court to prove your points. Print enough copies of everything: for yourself, the Judge, and your ex - and be sure to include proof of service.
- Create a binder. File documents in duplicate in two ways: chronologically AND attached to their respective motions. Also, file notes that you make after each court appearance, status, or hearing.
- Technicalities can, and will be, your enemy, especially if you're representing yourself. While attorneys refer to this as procedure, what they mean is that they are trying to nail you on technicalities. Marty threw up many roadblocks while I was Pro Se and all of them were based on 'procedure.' For example, he tried to get subpoenas I had issued thrown out on the basis that I didn't pay the $35 witness fee.
- You can do legwork and find an attorney who offers unbundled services. This means that you don't pay a retainer to work on your entire case. Instead, the attorney does discreet tasks such as draft a proper petition and/or represent you in court for a certain date. This allows you some professional services, this type of service can be a challenge to find, but if you really need legal help and can't afford a full-on retainer, it's a lifesaver.
- Divorce can be war. Think strategically. Wise warriors know their opponents. Mr. Ex revealed himself as an aggressive and uncooperative opponent. His non-responsiveness and non-compliance should have clued me into his next move. For our January court date, I assumed he would show up at court, tax returns in-hand, ready to work things out. And so, I didn't do any prep work for our January compliance date, namely bringing the proof of communications with Mr. Ex. Also, if I thought about his character, I would have realized that Mr. Ex would fight this entire thing to the end. This may have given me a bit of foresight that the battle would rage on for 2.5 years.