Dissolution of Marriage - My Divorce & Child Support Modification Process (Part 1)
If you're reading this, my heart goes out to you. It means that you're in the divorce process or contemplating it. Either way, the experience of divorce court will not be pleasant or cheap.
I started this site after representing myself in divorce court for nearly nine months in post-decree child support modification proceedings. That's a mouthful!
Post-decree meaning, my original child support order had been entered four years earlier as part of our original divorce decree. (Any court proceedings that take place after the divorce is final and all agreements entered, is considered post-decree).
My second time around in divorce court took over two and a half years and cost nearly $20,000 just in my legal fees.
I attended all the court dates, except for one. During this process, I witnessed hundreds of people crawl in and out of divorce court, beaten down by single parenting, fighting tooth and nail for every cent, and juggling whatever else life threw at them.
How I Tripled My Child Support Payments, Including All My Divorce Papers and Court Documents.
Memories of Divorce Court
Representing yourself means you spend a lot of time waiting for your turn to be seen in front of the judge. Usually the judge sees people with lawyers first.
I spent a whole lotta time sitting and waiting - and watching - divorce unfold in front of me.
One instance stands out so vividly it's as if it were yesterday.
The court clerk called the next couple to the stand.
The man emerged from the crowd, late forties, well dressed, spritely, the whole nine, tailed by a gorgeous and well-put together woman.
Nope. She was his attorney.
Then, out of her seat rose a woman who looked on the verge of 60.
The mother of the ex wife?
Nope. The beaten down, prematurely aged woman WAS HIS EX WIFE.
She had been raising their three kids, working, and fighting for child support payments against his income, most recently his $250,000 bonus.
What the crap!?!
He looked like a million, OK, a quarter of a million, bucks.
She looked about a decade older than he, as if she'd just rolled out of bed and gotten her three kids off to school that morning, breakfast, lunches, homework, and all before stumbling into divorce court.
She represented herself - no attorney.
The judge listened as her Ex and his attorney shoveled crap about why his bonus was not actually that much after taxes and expenses, and everything else... you get the picture. He was trying to avoid paying child support against that money.
Oh, and did I mention she was asking for the money to cover the college payments which he claimed he didn't support?
This was not a woman asking for manicure money. She was requesting money for their child's education!
I'm not her. Mr. X (the name of my ex for the purposes of protecting the innocent and dumb) doesn't get $250k bonuses.
But watching her that day, I vowed that I wouldn't become her: the hunched, broken mother who was doing all the work and draining herself of vitality. She had gotten lost in her ex's machinations. She had forgotten the woman she once had been. She had not only let him win in divorce court, but in life.
What does a divorce cost?
This is the question ringing on everyone's minds. When all was said and done, my initial divorce AND post decree - in attorney's fees (this was spread across six attorneys and about five years) - cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $80,000.
Yes, my case was an unusual case.
Average divorces (if there is anything of the like) - probably a better term is "uncontested divorces" can run from $10,000-$25,000+ depending on assets and kids.
But this is "uncontested divorce" meaning that the couple can come to an agreement outside of going to trial. Yes, they still go through divorce court, but they don't go forwards into a trial.
I would also challenge you to think, beyond the simple legal costs of the divorce process forwards into what the long term costs are in not having well drafted and forward projecting divorce payments (child support orders, child custody agreements, and divorce decrees).
This isn't to say that you should fight for things that you can't get - but you need to think seriously about how your divorce papers will effect and evolve in the future.
The depressing numbers - the longer term cost of divorce
The most recent U. S. Census revealed that over 80% of custodial parents were women.
Twice as many custodial-mother households as custodial-father households were below the poverty line (31.8% vs. 16.2%).
This number is frightening when you consider the vast number of women-led households as compared to men.
Nearly half of those custodial mothers received some form of public assistance and lived below the poverty level.
Single mothers do not accumulate wealth like the rest of the parental population.
They shoulder additional expenses of childcare to work and lost opportunity because of their single parent role.
These women AND their children suffer these challenges and others, depending on the other parent and their presence.
Child support is barely a lifeline for some.
Many households don't even receive child support for a variety of reasons.
These are not the women, or men, bemoaned on forums and postings as sitting on their "Asses" while the other parent slaves away.
These are real women and their children, looking to put food on the table while juggling jobs and child rearing on their own.
This is the struggle of millions of women and their children.
These women-led households bear the real cost of divorce.
And please know that I'm not saying that these women should have stayed in whatever marriage - I say this to make a point that sometimes the goal not be to get a "cheap" divorce.
The goal should be to get a divorce that serves the children - financially and emotionally.
But I digress...
Back to Divorce Court
I saw these women in action.
They were over-extended, over-worked, and bludgeoned by the system.
The men were a motley bunch: unemployed, underemployed, employed but greedy or broke; dudes who had slowly let their income drop, but who still looked rested and relaxed, and always indignantly faced their children's mothers.
And I'm sorry to say, every single case I saw in court involved a non-custodial parent who didn't want to pay or had a litany of excuses why they couldn't pay, for whatever their child needed. It was a pathetic parade.
This site is not a substitute for legal advice.
It's a divorce resource, primarily for women with children. It's my divorce court story. It's hopefully something that is helpful whether you're doing a DIY divorce or shopping around for the "best divorce attorney" your money can buy.
You'll still have to do your own research, get legal advice specific to your situation and/or hire your own lawyer.
While I spent a good portion of my case time representing myself, I really relished having my attorney, whom I was very lucky to find.
He wasn't the first attorney I spoke with. In fact, he found me. I started the race – he definitely helped me finish and WIN IT!
Who is this divorce site for?
While men in divorce can, and are, some great fathers and partners, I'm focused on the custodial parent with children in divorce. This is primarily a woman, but I did see one man in this position.
This site provides insights on how to handle both the cooperative and the highly contentious divorce.
I believe both spouses should do their utmost to make their marriage work, especially if they have kids. If that fails, they should to do their best to have a collaborative divorce which requires maturity, commitment, and compromise.
Parents who collaborate to enhance their children's lives do everything possible to transcend their own emotions, thoughts, and reactions and love and provide for their kids.
But if one parent is doing the entire job of child rearing and the other one is doing all the partying, that's just plain WRONG.
And that calls for a fight.
In the court where my case was overseen, all agreed parties were heard first, followed by those with attorneys, followed by the Pro Se (DIY divorce) folks like myself.
The HOURS I spent waiting my turn to be heard and observing courtroom dynamics offered me an invaluable education.
As a Pro Se single mother, I searched for an explanation of the process in layman's terms, but found nothing. So I've decided to share my story and ultimate victory so that others may learn.
I've heard friends and acquaintances speak of their divorce with phrases like "I don't want to drag it out;" "I want to be done and move on;" "He'll never agree to that and I don't want to fight;" only to return to court a handful of years later to address things that they overlooked or "agreed to," but that later proved to be completely unrealistic.
I made many errors in my original divorce settlement agreement and custody arrangement, mistakes that cost me.
My initial divorce lasted two years and I just wanted "to be done." I thought that Mr. X would do right by our son. But as the years rolled by, the errors in the original divorce decree became more and more glaring, sending me back to court.
Thus, the creation of this site.
During my nine months of Pro Se, I laid valuable groundwork. Both the evidence I gathered and the lessons I learned built my case and saved me hundreds of hours of legal fees.
My legwork enabled me to uncover where Mr. X had hidden income in an effort to keep his child support payments down.
The goal of this site is not to give you legal advice (I can't), nor to convince you to go Pro Se (I hired the best divorce lawyer eventually), but to help organize and inform you of your options, whatever stage of the divorce process you're in.
The more you know, the less you need to ask your attorney who probably charges in the $250-500/hour range.
The structure of this site:
This site follows my story in chronological order, with all the content of my redacted public divorce papers. Sometimes you'll see actual documents and other times I've retyped them for clarity.
Names have been changed to protect the innocent and the stupid.
- Me: Rachel
- My Child: My Child
- My Ex: Mr. X
- His Girlfriend: G'friend
- My Attorney: Karl
- His Attorney: Marty
Read the next step in my process "My Initial Divorce."