My Initial Divorce (Part 2)
Before there were Post-Decree proceedings, there was the initial Divorce.
My Initial Divorce
My initial divorce lasted about two years. We used a mediator and each our own lawyer.
It was a quasi battle, where we fought over the usual stuff – child support, child visitation, who got this piece of furniture vs. this one….
Our Marital Settlement Agreement, entered when my son was four, had Mr. X committed to pay $500 in child support a month.
This amount was based off of unemployment. At the time Mr. X walked out, he had three legitimate incomes.
The legitimate incomes included a freelance film production crew job, a film equipment rental company that he owned, and a trucking firm in which he was one of three partners.
During our marriage Mr. X’s after tax income ranged from $120-$200k/year ($180-250k before taxes). This would have made his state mandated support, at the time 20%, approximately $2,000-3,0000/month.
By the time we were in the throes of the divorce process, my Ex had whittled down his income to $30,000 a year.
How? Good “*?!#@” question.
I can only say that a couple months before he vacated our house, as our marriage was in a free-fall, his trucking company suddenly went belly up. And then as our divorce ramped up, he simply turned work down in the film business and sat on unemployment.
And there you have a $500/month child support order.
This would NEVER fly with me today. But then it did. I was awash in grief and denial.
I temporarily devolved into a mess. I clung to his leg weeping… Begged… Pleaded… Prostrated myself in ways that still make me tingle with shame. I couldn’t see clearly through the cloud of desperation.
In hindsight I made a lot of mistakes I see other women make.
1. Not Being On Top of the Finances & Income
I didn’t do a good job of explaining to my divorce attorney how my ex earned money.
She didn’t even broach the topic of underemployment (an all too common way people in divorce squeeze down their income until after their divorce papers are finalized).
Instead, she focused on the fact that his trucking company went belly up, and well, that he was on unemployment.
In my soppy defense, I was also overwhelmed with my toddler’s multiple food allergy diagnosis.
Not to go off on a food allergy tangent, but we had two years of scary food introductions peppered with multiple 911 calls, all while my ex was out with another woman.
All this left me, well… fluffin’ dumb.
My other mistake (maybe more important than my pathetic emotional induced stupidity) was that
2. Hiring the First Attorney You Meet
I hired the first divorce attorney I met.
I picked her based on price and the feeling that she “got” me (she commiserated with my tale of woe).
She was nothing special, cost $350/hour, billed in 6-minute increments, and ran through my retainer at light speed.
After my first divorce lawyer, I hired my second, in what I affectionately call “the divorce attorney slide” (hiring a cheaper divorce attorney because you can no longer afford your expensive one).
After all this, I developed a process and packet to interview my prospective attorneys. Grab my Divorce Checklist & Planner!
3. Thinking Your Ex Will Do the Right Thing
And therefore compromising on what you get down on paper.
I thought that once the crazy emotional roller coaster of divorce was final, Mr. Ex would do right…
He would pay half of all our child’s expenses.
He would visit regularly.
He would just behave civilly and honestly.
4. Just Wanting to Be Done
... And agreeing to things just to get it Over With vs. patiently and calmly going to bat for what you and your kids need in the long run.
The process drained me and I just wanted to be DONE.
Divorce Court can take a long time – with divorce paper work and court appearances.
The ongoing drag of it made me eager to just “be done” with my divorce, and therefore agree to things I now see were wrong, like a $500 per month child support order.
Probably the BIGGEST MISTAKE OF ALL was that
How I Tripled My Child Support Payments, Including All My Divorce Papers and Court Documents.
5. Not Attending Most or All Court Dates
... And therefore relying solely on your divorce attorney's opinions and recollection of events.
My first time around, I didn’t step foot into the courtroom.
I’d ask my attorney, “Do I need to attend?”
Her reply was usually, “You can. But it’s not necessary.”
And so I didn’t.
My “ignorance” of the courtroom, coupled with the grief and anxiety of my newly single parent life, made the process so much more frightening and overwhelming.
The bottom line is, I dropped the ball in the initial divorce proceedings. In the years to follow, this would force me to go back to divorce court to fix these problems.
A year after our divorce was final
I enrolled my son in preschool.
When I asked Mr. X to pay half for our son’s preschool cost, he descended into a monologue: “…work was slow and there were these expenses to pay, and blah… blah… blah…” (Education expenses were not mentioned in our Marital Settlement Agreement – BIG MISTAKE.)
Mr. Ex, who at that time would still visit occasionally (once every 6-12 months), was driving a brand new testosterone-raising pick-up truck, sporting new clothes and shoes, along with the latest gadgets, working about five days a month and not doing any of the childrearing. I mean none!
I let it go, living by my mother’s advice, “You can catch more bees on a spoonful of honey than a jar of vinegar.” Maybe. If bees are what you want.
I needed more support.
Two years after our divorce was final
I began to grow tired of asking and dancing and playing nice when Mr. Ex would toss me an extra $40 from his fat roll of hundreds that were always destined for some other bill or person besides us.
I woke up from my stupid-girl slumber and realized that the child support order was less than Mr. X should be paying (I reasoned that he was back to work and therefore making more money) and way less than our son needed.
Our Marital Settlement Agreement stated that we exchange tax returns and review our Joint Parenting Agreement annually to make sure that our divorce papers were still accurate (child support) and appropriate for our son (visitation schedules).
Mr. Ex would never comply. I knew I had to act.
But I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on another lawyer to increase child support by a couple hundred dollars a month.
My goal was to see Mr. Ex’s taxes to determine if child support could go up. (Check your state guidelines on what they view as being a significant enough change to warrant a child support modification).
Since the state was managing disbursement, I requested that they verify his income and taxes.
Basically, I figured they would compel Mr. Ex to show his tax returns to see if we could modify our child support up. They cautioned me that they would try, but that support could also be modified down.
Yes, anytime you request a child support modification, it can go up or down.
In the back of my mind, I worried child support could go down.
But I reasoned that he’d show more than $30,000/year, even with all his deductions.
For twelve months the state claimed they tried. I called them monthly to check in, always speaking with a different person.
It came down to them saying, “Well, he didn’t send his tax returns. We asked but he didn’t respond.”
Then they told me that my options were to file another request with them and begin the process anew, or let it go.
(My opinion is that the state has such a large number of cases that they CANNOT and WILL NOT put any outside the box thinking into your situation.)
So I let it go… Again.
All along Mr. X was irregular with his child support payments, sometimes falling months behind. I was relying on him to mail payments to the child support disbursement unit.
In yet another frustrating call to the state child support disbursement unit, I stumbled on a helpful person who let me know that if I could get Mr. X’s employer information and send it to them, they would garnish Mr. X’s wages.
Because Mr. Ex worked freelance, I enlisted my friends in the industry to send me call sheets from jobs they worked, if they saw him on the job. (Call sheets are the list of all the cast and crew and vendors on commercial or film shoots.)
Each time I’d see Mr. X’s name on a call sheet, I’d call the state child support disbursement unit and let them know of his employ there.
It became a fine tuned machine when I discovered that 80% of the jobs ran payroll through one of three payroll firms.
Once I gave the state information on the payroll companies, the money became more consistent.
No more chasing down individual production companies; I had found a way to garnish about 80% of his film crew wages.
This practice helped stabilize $500 a month child support payments.
While I knew Mr. X was making more, I didn’t know how to prove it without seeing his tax returns AND the state department didn’t help.
My former attorney was happy to oblige if I paid $3000 retainer. That wasn’t going to work!
It took two more years for me to push past all of this and go back to divorce court myself.
At that point, I felt there was little to lose and that Mr. X’s traceable income had bounced back.
And so back to court I went – Pro Se – meaning I representing myself without a divorce lawyer.
Back to Divorce Court I go…
At this point, our divorce had been final a little over 4 years.
I went and filed a motion to go before a judge, requesting to see Mr. Ex’s taxes.
Thus began the 2 1/2+ year battle that ensued.
Child Support Modification Documents Mentioned in this Part
A Marital Settlement Agreement can also be known as a Divorce Settlement Agreement, Marital Property Settlement Agreement, or Marital Dissolution Agreement. Covers all financial details, division of assets, spousal support, child support and contributions...
The Court entered document that lays out parenting time and responsibilities. Does not include financial details.