Child Support Modification - The Trial (Part 9)
Welcome to Child Support Court
At 2:30pm on January 29, 2015, Karl, Mr. Ex, Marty, I (and oh yeah G'friend trailed by Super Bowl Jackie) stood before the Judge.
We spent the entire first hour going over where we had landed:
What were we able to agree on?
Was there an offer that we could agree on?
The Judge asked me what I wanted.
Karl responded, "Ideally, your Honor, we would like to return to the needs-based order of $3,202 that was originally entered."
The Judge then asked Mr. Ex what he was making.
Mr. Ex's response "somewhere around $40,000 a year."
The Judge sighed while he read from the MSA and JPA.
"What about the health coverage?" the Judge asked.
Karl responded, "We're seeking a 50% contribution Your Honor."
Marty chimed up that Mr. X would agree to pay 50% of the monthly premium.
However, Mr. Ex objected to the deductible and out of pocket contribution.
Not a bad start, we got something done.
Three attorneys on the clock at $195 - $350/an hour - at least we agreed on something.
The Judge turned to me, "Rachel, a trial is an expensive process. What would you accept to settle this now?"
I whispered in Karl's ear.
Karl responded to the Judge, "We're willing to split the difference between the current order of $764 and the original of $3,202. So $1,900."
The judge turned to Mr. Ex and Marty.
Marty croaked, "Your Honor, he's paying the statute. We could maybe throw in another hundred, but that's it."
The Judge turned to me again, "Rachel you have a high barrier here to prove that his income can support what you're asking. His tax returns don't support that kind of order. Let's take a break and everyone go outside and talk. When we return you can let me know what you want to do. Remember a trial is an expensive undertaking."
I followed Karl out of the courtroom.
I was flustered that this entire thing felt like it might dissolve.
I turned to Karl, "I didn't come all this way and see what they're doing only to walk away with $100/month more."
We returned to the courtroom and told the Judge we were ready to proceed with the trial.
In it to win it.
All of my experiences being in court for the status dates, the motions and the hearings was VERY DIFFERENT from the trial situation.
It was a bit a shock.
The formality of being on the stand and watching the other people on the stand dials up the stress level, A LOT.
Mr. Ex took the stand first.
Karl questioned him first.
G'friend was subpoenaed but was asked to wait at her attorney's office since she couldn't be in the courtroom during testimony.
Mr. Ex wore an suit (ill-fitting, but a suit nonetheless).
I am not sure if looking shabby was his strategy or an accident.
Karl started all the way from the beginning, asking Mr. Ex about his businesses during our marriage.
Mr. Ex couldn't remember key dates: "When did he close his trucking business?" "When did he dissolve his former Mr. Ex Gear rental business?"
Mr. Ex grew confused and angered by Karl's questions.
Mr. Ex repeatedly replied that, "[he] didn't understand what was being asked."
The Judge reprimanded Mr. Ex, "Stop playing games."
Karl questioned Mr. Ex about his boat.
Mr. Ex had submitted conflicting documents: a bill of sale AND a signed document where he allegedly used the boat to settle some anonymous debt of nearly $10,000.
"Please explain which document represents the truth?"
Mr. Ex responded, "[he] didn't sign the bill of sale" that he tendered.
"Well, who did," Karl prompted him. "It's your signature on the bill of sale."
Mr. Ex responded that his friend to whom he had given the boat had, "forged his signature."
Karl pushed Mr. Ex as to why he had submitted these two conflicting documents, especially one which had his "forged signature."
Mr. Ex didn't know. He was confused.
In his documents, Mr. Ex had also presented a Request for Proof of Transfer of Title to prove that he no was no longer the registered owner.
However, he never showed the actual Transfer of Title to the supposed new owner.
Mr. Ex's story was so convoluted; my mouth was agape in shock.
I thought Marty would have at least coached Mr. Ex somewhat so that his lies wouldn't be as obvious and his stories so nonsensical.
Karl spun Mr. Ex in circles, reminding him that he "submitted conflicting documents."
While pointing out the holes in Mr. Ex's stories, Karl asked, "What do you want the court to believe?"
Mr. Ex looked like he was either a complete liar or totally dumb, possibly both.
It was painful to watch - as Karl pushed on, shattering Mr. Ex's credibility at every turn.
Karl pushed onto the call sheets and ABC Gear invoices.
The pivotal piece was the Keystone Job that Mr. Ex had worked/claimed to have not worked in February 2014.
Karl laid the foundation of the story of this job... Mr. Ex was asked about this job on an interrogatory, he initially claimed that he couldn't recall the details.
But then Karl pushed back and Mr. Ex finally responded to the interrogatory, sending us the call sheet with, "See attached" listed as his answer.
In the Request to Admit and now on the stand, Mr. Ex claimed he did not work that job.
He supposed that the call sheet was "written by a dumb production assistant and was not accurate," suggesting that he'd been on call sheets for many jobs that he hadn't actually worked, "It's a common error."
Karl badgered, "If the call sheet is wrong, as you say, why did you submit it in response to our question? Did you work this job, or didn't you? Again, what do you want this court to believe?"
Mr. Ex then went on to offer testimony that further conflicted with several documents he'd signed under oath.
Karl urged him to recognize that his responses were signed, "UNDER OATH."
To which Mr. Ex replied, "I wasn't under oath; I was at home."
I briefly pitied him.
Karl was successfully eroding any credibility Mr. Ex had.
Marty yelled out several times, "There is no impeaching here!"
Our original allotted two hours flowed into three, then four, then four and a half, with Mr. Ex on the stand the entire time.
At nearly 7:00pm, the Judge wearily asked how much more time Karl needed.
Karl responded that he was about half way through with Mr. Ex, and G'friend was to follow.
The Judge sighed. "Open your calendars."
He then set another two trial days.
March 23rd and March 24th.
It was exhausting and we had only begun to scratch the surface.
Surely, I thought now that Mr. Ex had experience on the stand, he would go off and hone his story for the next session.
He and G'friend would work out their details to seamlessly keep up the front.
I waited a couple days to allow my emotions to ramp back down and then composed a letter to Karl.
Lots of it was really digging in the weeds, but I threw it all in so that Karl could sort it out and select what he thought was best.
Thank you again for all your hard work.
The start of the trial last week was very interesting and disappointing, hopeful on some levels and not on others. Unfortunately, I felt for the first time since this all began that the Judge may not see clearly what is going on with Mr. Ex, or not clearly enough, and that we could lose this thing. I'm worried that my son and I could walk away with a pittance of nothing more than the $764/month. As I look back on 2014, the amount of child support paid was $17,477 for the year. This averages out to $1456/month. Which would mean Mr. Ex paid 20% on an $87,385 annual income. As a single working parent, I can't even begin to communicate how much this helped!!!
I think one of the biggest challenges of this case is that it's a crime of tedium. I use the word "crime" because it's a moral crime for a parent to withhold what he has from his child. I also use the word "crime" because I noticed that Marty used the words "cash grab" in court. He chose dramatic words - even though they are WRONG – hoping to infiltrate the Judge's thinking. And so, I would like us to think about what Mr. Ex and G'friend are doing as a crime. There isn't a million dollars (or even tens of thousands) at stake here. It's a handful of hundred a month. And so the details that we're discussing are $50 at a time, $100, and $600, whatever. I think that needs to be communicated to the Judge. Really the biggest issue is the tedium and detail that appear almost petty. That being said, I have some questions and comments.
1 – The boat
Mr. Ex had a 21-foot speedboat registered with the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) in our state. He acquired the boat in August 2012 and allegedly un-acquired it in October 2012. In his discovery, he presented documents that showed that he used the boat to 'settle a debt' AND then, ten days later sold it. It was confusing and ultimately, his spin on the story made him look like a TOTAL LIAR. Mr. Ex claimed in court that his friend got him the boat. He agreed to pay his friend for it. But when he couldn't, he returned it. Shortly after that, Mr. Ex claimed his friend sold the boat. Mr. Ex presented no payment agreement from his friend or any new boat owner registration.
I'm glad that you brought up the boat again. I think that it became a key component of dissolving the shroud of lies behind which Mr. Ex hides. I do think, though, that you need to revisit it and remind him that the bill of sale (which he claims to not recognize) was a document that he presented in discovery! He also submitted a request for proof of registration months ago (to prove the boat is now owned by someone else) but then never presented the new registration! I would also like you to hit him with the fact that this same month - October 2012 - is THE ONLY month missing bank and credit card records even though we have asked numerous times. Why is that?
Also, how much was Mr. Ex supposed to pay his 'friend'? Why is there a written document with Mr. Ex giving him the boat back, but there isn't an official contract stating how much he would pay for the boat? How much did they agree to pay for the boat? Why is it in ballpark figures like that? Why would this guy let Mr. Ex title the boat in his name without having paid for it all the way?
I called DNR on Friday January 30tt; Mr. Ex's title is still valid. And even if he did sign the title over, in order for his friend to sell the boat (as Mr. Ex claimed) he would have to re-title it in our state or forge the signature. According to the law, unless you're a boat dealer, once the title is signed, it needs to be reissued by the state before it can be resold.
More of my amateur-private-investigator-found-facts.
2 - Another interesting fact
The modified order to $764/month (from $3,202) was filed March 19. Let's say it took 30-45 days for it to go into effect. That would mean the $764 would be effective beginning May 1. From May 1 through December 31 2014, the child support paid was $10,814. This was after the $764 was ordered and not when the $3202 was in effect. This averages to $1351/month. This puts Mr. X's income somewhere around $81,105/year, not the $48k he claims.
This is a bit confusing here because the court-ordered support amount is $764/month. Since Mr. X doesn't work a steady job with regular paychecks, but instead his workdays are sporadic, they withhold 20% up to $764 each time. So he can, if he is working a lot, pay more than the court ordered amount. But the flip side is that each winter, his work slows down to a trickle, and so then do his support payments.
Not sure if this is something you want to ask or not. Was last year any harder on him than the previous years, given that he paid $1,351/month in support? In 2013 the total child support paid was $7,013.15. In 2012, it was $5,376.88 (which means his income was $26,839.40). And yet in 2012, he was able to move into a $2,200/month lake house, get a boat and sell a boat, all on his small income and he never managed to find an extra dollar for his son. In 2014, did he have to move to a cheaper place? Sell his car? Go on food stamps? Get his lights disconnected? Anything? Work more? Or was this all manageable for him? Not sure if there are ways for you to create questions around this. Food for thought.
3 - His 13.3 (financial disclosure) and the bill arrangement between Mr. Ex and G'friend
Mr. Ex and G'friend have made a big deal about how they maintain financial distance and split bills. They even generated that spreadsheet on splitting rent with Mr. Ex owing her about $3,000. And yet, this claim totally conflicted with what Mr. Ex stated on his 13.3 (a document signed under oath).
He also claimed $450 in education cost. I don't know what education he thinks he's paid for. Not me, my son, nor our son's school, have received any money from him. He listed $438 in alternative transport and then again in the loan area $438 for his car. Huh!?! He claimed $90/month for maintenance on a place that he rents (which equals nearly $1,100/year). He claimed $1,200 for rent when the lease is $2,200 and they've agreed on a 50/50 split (which in and of itself is problematic if ABC Gear uses space to store equipment). He claimed $500/month in a prior support obligation. All these things add up to inflating his expenses by at least $1,488/month. On the 13.3 he claimed that he paid full utility bills, but then says that he and G'friend split the bills?!?!?
He claimed $100 heat cost monthly. The bills they gave us average to a cost of $103.80/month. G'friend only pays $4/month for heat? But I thought they were 50/50. The same thing goes for the cable and electric bill. If what Mr. X claimed on his 13.3 form is true, he pays the lion's share of the bills. (This is where it gets tedious. I guess in my thinking, I'm piecing together another $700-$800 in $50 incremements).
Court shook me up and flustered me. Watching the shenanigans of Mr. Ex's tall tales on the stand and the Judge's poker face filled me with the fear that we could lose. I came at Karl with every little detail I could. And of course, Karl, a truly Great Divorce Lawyer, handled it like a pro. And while some parts of this potentially cost me - using Karl's time walking me through all this. Certain things I think gave Karl more fuel for the trial.
At $2,200/month, a 50/50 split would have Mr. X pay $13,200/year. Their rent statement chart says Mr. X paid $12,450. And yet in their rent split agreement, they claim he still owes $3,350, which would mean he is responsible for $15,800. Why is he responsible for $15,800 of the rent on their rent document? That is nearly 60% of the rent. The point I'm making (tedious again) is if they've gone through this trouble of splitting things 50/50 (per their signed agreement to share expenses), why is he paying more?
4 – Impeachment and Mr. Ex
Our strategy relied heavily on Mr. Ex's impeachment. I was, of course, a newbie at seeing an 'impeachment on the stand' and was looking for a big moment when the Judge (or someone, maybe the guard) would stand up and scream, "You're impeached buddy! Get your ass off the stand, you lying sack of shit." That didn't happen, predictably. And so, I wanted to make sure that it had happened. The only indication in my mind that it had happened was that Marty yelled out on several occasions, "There is no impeaching here."
Will you question Mr. Ex again? Were you able to impeach Mr. Ex? It seemed pretty clear that Mr. Ex said two conflicting things under oath, and therefore lied. Was that enough? If not, what are next steps on that? Is that strategy still in play? With the ABC Gear things, after all the phone numbers and the emails on the invoices and such, I think you need to say, "Do you work for ABC Gear? Why is your cell phone number on the invoices? Should I put your cell phone on my invoices?"
Regarding him working, Mr. Ex is either underemployed and/or making cash on the side. Do you think the Judge got it? It's not possible for someone to work 4 days a month and not be doing anything else. Is he a bum or a liar? Or both? Which is it?
5 – Some other areas that I think you could cover:
Their strategy as far as I can tell is to establish, as we've discussed, that I'm rogue and don't consult Mr. Ex on things relating to our son. As I see it, our defense is that all of my responses (and my son's) are met with a stone wall of non-responsiveness. For example, I have emails where I've asked Mr. Ex to pay for school. He has ignored them. I emailed him about going to court, he has ignored them as well. (But, of course, then he claimed as a defense that he wasn't notified). I emailed Mr. Ex that our son wants to see him and he ignored that. My son called Mr.Ex. He ignored the calls and DIDN'T CALL BACK. His family ignores our son. No one called or anything on our son's birthday! Mr. Ex ignores his son and me. His family (because he gets angry with them) ignores us as well.
Mr. Ex's M.O. is to not respond. How can I consult someone who isn't willing to even converse? He has seen some of our son's report cards, kung fu presentations and music performances and responded with, "Wow! So proud." But he DOESN'T PAY! And he never says he disagrees with it, unless I ask him TO PAY. Any conversation he doesn't want to have, he ignores. But life must go on and decisions must be made. Not only has he not put anything out there beyond, "I can't pay," but he also doesn't offer any suggestions or solutions. Once, he kicked up a fuss about how I handle the allergies. But when I asked him to find a doctor that he thought would offer us a better way, he did NOTHING.
Furthermore, why would Mr. Ex's opinion have value? On paper, we have joint custody. But paper and life are polar opposite worlds. He DOESN'T EXERCISE VISITATION WITH ANY REGULARITY. He has seen our son 20 hours in the last year. 20 HOURS! That's it! In the last six years, our son has spent more time with his guitar teacher than his own father. (Our son only sees his guitar teacher 1-1.5 hours a week.) What does Mr. Exknow about our son and what's best for him?
While this seems like a rant, (and it partially is) Karl did use some of this in the courtroom. He both questioned Mr. Ex and myself on it. Ultimately, that resonated with the Judge. You will see in the Judge's Memorandum Order (at the end of "The Judge's Decision chapter") that he cited Mr. Ex's absenteeism in the ruling.
In April 2014, Mr. Ex exercised his visitation right for the first time in nearly a year. We discussed this arrangement via email. When I suggested that Mr. Ex be prepared to go through our son's emergency allergy bag with me, Mr. Ex refused, vehemently. I felt like it was best to do our visitation exchange at the police station to ensure that the allergy bag was addressed. Marty swooped in on this because it was not an agreed upon (according to our JPA) method of visitation exchange.
Because we know they're going to cite the above incident, please ask Mr. Ex this: "What is in your son's medicine bag? What do you do in case of an allergic reaction? What are the steps and how do you administer the meds? What is the order of med administration?"
In my defense, how could I not ask someone who DOESN'T BELIEVE in the allergies to walk through the emergency allergy bag? And how could I trust that person, a parent or not? Our son needs the adult with him to administer the meds. He isn't yet able to do it himself. Also ask him, "What is your son's current allergist's name? What is a food challenge? What is in the baked milk recipe? Why did we do a baked milk challenge?"
Mr. Ex and Marty have made this about Mr. Ex and me. This isn't about us (only to the extent of who is telling the truth and who isn't). This is about our son. And so (sorry for the ramble) I would like to ask you to bring it back to our son on every point possible.
Also, please ask Mr. Ex, "If he works only four days in a month, what does he do the other 26-27 days?" He stated that he disagrees with the school because "Our son shouldn't go to a school we can't afford." But then how can Mr. Ex afford to work only four days in a month? I can't afford to do that. Can you? Can the Judge? If we can't afford the school (according to him) working only four days a month should provide him with ample time to go out and get another job. Can our son afford to have his father sit on his ass days/weeks/months at a time?
Regarding the Keystone Job (Job #1402 ): can you recap all of Mr. Ex's lies for the Judge at the beginning of the next trial day? Do you think we need the witness to testify that he did indeed work that job, as opposed to dropping off a 'self-working' mixing board?
6 – Other points that stuck out to me:
A pillar of their case was that I hadn't notified Mr. Ex of going to court. All the motions to dismiss my petition included signed statements that Mr. Ex had never received any communications from me about going to court. And yet, on the stand, he slipped and admitted that he knew I was going to court in the Fall of 2013. I don't know if the Judge picked up on that but I did.
7 - Re: G'friend:
She hadn't been on the stand at this point, but I had ideas after watching Karl.
If she rents the equipment, where are the checks issued to the vendors who she rents from? What companies does she rent from? Why do clients pay her a middleman fee if they could just go to the rental house? No one does this. I've worked in this industry. The producers are not stupid!
Who works for ABC Gear? Are there any employees? If so, who? Does she work as a gear mixer? How does that work with her current job? How long has she been at True Value? Teaching? When the Judge set the next court date, G'friend had many time constraints, including her job at True Value Hardware and the Christian Bible Study program she runs for teens. How does she find time to manage ABC Gear with such a full schedule?
Basically this is all adding up to this: if Mr. Ex didn't mix that job and G'friend most certainly didn't, then who did? A ghost? And then she got paid for a ghost employee? And if she has an employee why didn't she cut that person a check for the job?
Also, are you going to question her about the bank records and the cash withdrawals?
Can you check the records and see if there is a $2,500 cash withdrawal in November/December 2013? If I recall correctly, the entire time (until they felt we were onto them) they were pulling out all the money as cash every month. What was that about? Will you ask her?
Also, how does she get her jobs? Like Mr. Ex said, getting film jobs is "all about reputation." What reputation does she have? What questions does she ask the producer to determine what she needs for the job?
Argh! I felt sorry for Karl when I bombarded him with my multi-page question emails.
But then I remembered that this wasn't a 'case' for me, but our life.
AND in the end, Karl used many of these details in his questions and arguments, so they helped.
Mr. Ex takes the stand again.
How I Tripled My Child Support Payments, Including All My Divorce Papers and Court Documents.
Child Support Modification - Day 2 of the Trial
I was very concerned that Mr. Ex would, after having been on the stand once, realize that he needed to get his lying ducks in a row.
Karl began with a recap of the questions and answers from the first day and then dug into the details of the subpoenaed business records of ABC Gear.
Not the records we had received from ABC Gear, but the ones we had received from the production companies.
Mr. Ex claimed that the call sheets listing him as the ABC Gear contact were wrong.
Every single one, INCLUDING THOSE THAT HE HAD SENT US.
Here we go again. Really?!? Seriously?!?
Mr. Ex opined my secret vendetta and conspiracy with a single mom accountant at one of the production companies we'd subpoenaed.
He said, "Sandra put my name on the purchase orders on purpose. She and Rachel have 'a single mom vendetta against the male species.'"
The Judge, somewhat shocked, asked Mr. Ex to repeat his theory so that he could write it in his notes, verbatim.
Karl pointed out that Mr. Ex's name was on ALL OF THE ABC GEAR PURCHASE ORDERS from ALL THE COMPANIES we subpoenaed.
Karl asked Mr. Ex, "Are they all part of Rachel's cabal of single mothers against the male species?"
Mr. Ex's response was that they were office mistakes, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.
Returning to the Keystone Job (Job #1402), Karl pushed harder, assaulting Mr. Ex with questions, leading him to admit, "Ok, I dropped the mixer off, but didn't stay to work. The mixer was... self-working."
He changed his story again, he only "drove the equipment and dropped it off."
Apparently, he didn't 'work the job because, "It was a self-working audio mixing board that doesn't require an operator to function."
Ooh, a magic self-working piece of equipment...I would like one of those in a dishwasher and stove please!
Mr. Ex went back and forth, again denying materials that he himself had presented during discovery and talking out of both sides of his mouth!
I just want to take a moment here and say that I did, at one point, deeply love this man.
This man who now looked so ignorant and pathetic was my greatest romantic love to date.
He was (and I believe still is) an extremely street-smart guy.
If you use too many fancy words, you will stump him.
But he will read past that facade and know why you're stumping him, what you really want, and how to turn it around to benefit himself - I always admired that about him.
But alas, Mr. Ex's convoluted, patchy, and, at times, incomprehensible testimony (along with the evidence) revealed that he wasn't on top of his game anymore.
His lies had gotten the better of him and Karl ripped him a new one.
Mr. Ex gets rehabilitated.
Karl finished questioning Mr. Ex.
It was Marty's turn to try and rehabilitate Mr. Ex - basically try and rebuild his character after his inconsistent testimony, statements, signed documents, submissions...
Miraculously, the fog of forgetfulness lifted.
Crap flowed bountifully.
Marty, "Is ABC Gear your company?"
Without hesitation, Mr. Ex responded, "No."
"Do you approve of your son being enrolled in the school that Rachel selected?"
Marty asked Mr. Ex yes/no questions in an effort to undo the harm done during Karl's questioning.
Mr. Ex even downplayed the food allergies, "Ya, he's got some allergies. It's no big deal."
Spoken by someone who has never, not once, prepared a meal for his son. EVER.
Over the course of the 'rehabilitation,' Marty struggled, unsuccessfully in my opinion to transform Mr. Ex into an articulate witness suddenly able to comprehend all of what was being asked of him.
Amazing metamorphosis that smelled like a pile of "poop imoji."
Again - terrible divorce lawyer. Marty's attempt at rehabilitating Mr. Ex in front of the Judge could have been outdone by a grade schooler.
At the end of his rehabilitation, Mr. Ex was indulged in time to express his woes as being the victim of ... well... um... ME... replete with deep sighs, downward glances, and moist eyes.
Scarlett O’Hara would have been so proud!
I was thinking that at any moment they were going to realize their goose was cooked and either try to negotiate or, at the very least, not look so BLATANTLY PHONEY.
Child Support Modification - Day 3 & 4 of the Trial
On the third trial day, about eight weeks after it began, G'friend took the stand.
She began with a touching tale about starting ABC Gear for her son, who was "serving our country in the armed forces."
A story so moving, I swear the national anthem being hummed by faceless young men could be heard.
She claimed that her family was in the movie business.
"Granddad," nearly two decades deceased, had been in the movies in the early 1900's. "I'm not sure what he did in the movies, but I know he was in them," G'friend confessed.
She bemoaned lost business because of the litigation, the subpoenas,... ME and my vendetta.
Of course, she couldn't name any lost business.
The only thing that she made increasingly more clear was that her sole source of clients was Mr. Ex.
He was the ABC Gear rainmaker... he worked a job, ABC Gear worked the job.
Her process of handling the business involved phone calls with the nameless equipment owners from whom she "sublet the equipment... the gear."
When booking a job, she couldn't name any of the technical specs or details or aspects of ANY OF THE EQUIPMENT, she would simply, and almost telepathically, communicate the specifics of what she needed with the phrase "my little boxes."
"My little boxes," she called the mixing boards.
Then these "little boxes" would mysteriously materialize in the garage.
At which point, Mr. Ex was put in charge of taking the gear to the job, operating it, invoicing for it, answering questions about it, and then returning it back to its home.
Mr. Ex and she had designed a seamless and spiritual way of communicating about the jobs because, if you recall, he had nothing to do with 'her' business.
In fact, according to G'friend's testimony, they "never even once spoke about it."
She knew what to materialize in the garage, and he knew when and where to take it.
They operated in parallel universes of "knowing."
Karl asked her if she could tell the court anything specific about "my little boxes," aka the sophisticated mixing boards that she made $60,000+ a year renting out to various producers.
People who do gear are all up in the technical business and would NEVER EVER even give the time of day to someone who referred to them so inanely. It would be like going to a surgeon who describes a procedure as "I'm going to use some of my little sharpy thingies and grabbers and fix you right up."
Karl pushed her again and again for "any technical details," she could share with the courtroom.
G'friend laughed, "Isn't it obvious? The microphones plug into my little boxes. The guys [nameless] I rent from know what I mean when I tell them that 'I need one of my little boxes.' They just do."
And even though she testified for two days and had overnight to prep for her second day on the stand, she clung to the same vapid comments and fantastical story.
Finally, she confessed that she was still "learning the business."
This was two years and over $125,000 in income later.
G'friend finally arrived with her 2013 tax returns, which had been filed in October 2014, and which had mysteriously escaped being submitted to us per the subpoena in November 2014.
Apparently, she and her accountant had both been in and out of town so much that it was impossible for her to get her tax returns previously.
Her accountant's office was a mile and half from her home AND this was March 2015, mind you.
She played the 'dumb luck' angle and attempted at every turn to minimize her business, "I really only spend an average of five minutes to a couple of hours a week. This is a really small business," she giggled.
The gist was that she worked on ABC Gear about 5-45 minutes a week.
What did she do? "Generate invoices and send out an occasional Starbuck's gift cards," as part of her "marketing efforts."
Oh and let's not forget the gargantuan effort of materializing gear and "little boxes" in the garage and telepathically communicating with Mr. Ex.
Additionally, she worked full time as an assistant billing person for the local True Value for $20/hour.
ABC Gear generated between $5,000-7,000 a month (more than most people make in a salary) and yet after two years she hadn't bothered to learn ANYTHING about the gear that her company relied on?!?
This was the business that generated at the low end $250/hour (if you looked at the amount of time against her income).
You would think she would want to learn something?
Note: Mr. Ex had the EXACT SAME BUSINESS for over twenty years using his gear for the jobs he worked, thereby doubling and tripling his income. Why on earth would he suddenly just stop and give over half to two thirds of his income to her for no good reason? It just didn't make sense. Yes, they live together. Yes, they're in a 'relationship.' But him just literally handing over $60,000 a year of income, from his own pocket just isn't likely in this universe. UNLESS it is to shield it from child support. And she is really just a front.
Oh, now we're back to reality.
Karl walked G'friend through the invoices subpoenaed from her clients and compared them to those we'd received from her.
The invoices (which we received through subpoenas) were different than the ones she showed us.
"Why is that?" he asked.
"I don't know. I didn't fill those out. I have no idea who did," she responded dumbfounded. "You know production is crazy. Crazy things happen on the set."
"You don't know who filled out the invoices for your company?"
"I have no idea who filled those cost sheets out. I have no idea where they came from. I already told you." Her eyes flitted across the empty courtroom.
"They came from your clients."
She gave Karl the best deer in the headlights stare she could muster.
Next, Karl walked her through her bank records which showed an inflow of checks and then an outflow of CASH, EVERY MONTH.
Ninety percent of what went in, went out in checks made out to cash and/or G'friend - EVERY MONTH!
All checks written from ABC Gear's account were to one of three payees: G'friend, CASH, and their landlord.
There were no checks written to anyone else.
Plus, each of these checks was for $3,000-6,000 a pop, month draining the account to near zero every month.
She claimed that ABC Gear didn't own equipment; it acted as a middleman between production companies and the equipment owners.
She claimed to pay the actual owners in "wads of cash" for which she couldn't present receipts, contracts, or anything.
It was all greenbacks and a handshake.
This is how she justified a company that grossed $50,000 in its first ten months of business, but according to her tax returns, netted only $3,500 for the year.
"You rent thousands of dollars of gear a month from equipment owners and you don't have any contracts, invoices, receipts, or cancelled checks from them?" Karl asked.
"No. It's all verbal." G'friend replied.
"How do you pay for this equipment?"
Then she confessed to helping a family member with a couple grand, giving her daughter a handful of "thou", loaning some money to her son, and some other things.
All the while she continued to cling to her story that while ABC Gear may have grossed $50,000 in year one, and $68,000 in year two, it only had a profit of $3,500. And yet, with this measly profit, checks were written to cash for $6,000/month, no accounts payable were shown, and she was able to spread the "thou's" to family and friends?!?!
Again, Karl prompted her for technical details on the equipment she rented.
I thought that she would have at least Googled some information the night before in order to better maintain the facade.
Or maybe she and Mr. Ex could have had a brief telepathic cram session!?
Karl asked G'friend, "Can you please tell this court something about the models of 'little boxes' you use in your work? ...Any specific model that you use. Why you recommend one board over the other? Anything?"
G'friend lit up, "Well some of them are big and some are small. They have plugs that go in the back...for the cables."
Karl prodded, "No, something specific. Technical. What model do you use the most?"
"The guys I work with know the technical things. Like I said, I call them up and tell them I need a couple of my little boxes and they know what I need."
"Ok... What type of plug do you need for an input?"
"Like I said, I'm still learning," G'friend responded.
"So, you would have this court recognize that you cannot tell me even one small detail of any technical aspect of the equipment that you use in your business that generates between $5,000-7,000 a month?!"
"I told you what I know," she sighed.
Her maelstrom of lies wound down after three hours, another exhaustingly long court session.
I was up next but it was now after 4pm.
The Judge opened his book and scheduled a Saturday trial date for my testimony."We're getting this done. No one leaves until we finished," he said. Hence, going to court on a Saturday.
I kept telling myself (in order to keep from having an outburst in court was):
Love the stabbing pain in my gut while she's lying through her teeth.
Love her lies.
Love hating her and her smug attorney who looks like she could be the first female to play for the NFL.
Love that we are on day three of a trial that seems to have taken on the magnitude of a Supreme Court hearing while only a handful of thousands are at play.
Love that my ex has been in court more in the last twelve months than he has spent time with our son.
Love that his girlfriend looks eerily like his mother and is only nine years younger than her to boot.
Love it all.
I tried to go into the feeling versus avoiding it. Avoiding it only made it worse. It turned on my personal judgment radio and threatened to send me over the deep end.
Later that evening, my friend and I drank a bottle of wine while our sons played video games. We called these a "mommy play date."
Child Support Modification - Day 5 of the Trial
Saturday June 2, 2015 - My day in court.
8:00 am: I dropped my son off at his friend's house and then hustled to court.
9:00 am: The building was empty, save for the security guards, a troop of law students attending a mock trial, and our motley crew.
I was sworn in and the interrogation began.
Marty questioned me first.
As I suspected, he jumped right in on the strategy of making me look a vindictive, rogue tiger-mom on a 'cash grab.'
For example, Marty took the angle that I never got Mr. Ex's approval for any of the things that I had moved forwards with for shared payment (school, extra curricular, special foods, etc.).
He pulled out a two year old (possibly older) email where I told Mr. Ex that I was contemplating telling our son that Mr. Ex was dead.
I know this sounds awful - and I didn't tell our son that - But, this was completely taken out of context.
"What context could justify this?" you ask.
Well, at the time our son was struggling with "What's wrong with me that my dad doesn't see me or call me?"
I had run out of excuses. "Your dad's working. He's away where they don't have phones. He's going to call."
My son could sense I was not being forthcoming with him.
We went to a therapist who helped me to accept my son's anguish, to just hear him and console him.
I didn't have to answer the question, "Why doesn't daddy want to see me?"
I just needed to remind him he was in no way at fault; it was all Daddy's issue.
"Yes, I wrote it, in anger, watching my son suffer fatherlessness," I confessed.
I was asked about the blog entry where I posted a huge rant about Mr. Ex and G'friend conspiring to hide income from child support, naming them and calling them out on their B.S.
I admitted that I had posted it.
"It was a super-fatigued anger outburst that I have since deleted from my blog," I said.
I was asked about another blog entry about my son and I getting lice and me being open to getting it again.
I admitted that lice are harmless and their appearance coincided with my son's peri-oral eczema abating.
We were willing to try lice again in order to see if there was a beneficial quelling of the eczema or if it was just a coincidence.
"Yes, I wrote that and stand behind it," I replied.
I was asked about doing the visitation exchange at the police station, which was not stipulated in the parenting agreement.
I explained that it was because Mr. Ex refused to go over the emergency allergy bag.
"Yes, I insisted on the visitation exchange at the police station. It wasn't out of the desire to control but to keep my son, who is too young to self-administer, safe."
Then Marty tried to set me off emotionally, by diminishing the significance of preparedness for an allergic reaction.
At one point, Marty had me search my son's emergency plan for the words "life threatening."
He asked me, "Yes or no? Are the words 'life threatening' on that paper?"
The exact phrase did not appear in the emergency plan.
But anyone with food allergies and asthma can relate to the overwhelming dismay this line of questioning brought on.
Though Karl objected, Marty achieved his goal of rattling my cage.
Seriously, that attitude is dangerous.
Marty accused me of being an obstructionist control freak set on alienating our son from his father.
He even suggested that I might think I was smarter than the doctors.
"Do you have a medical degree, or any certification in medicine?" Marty asked me.
"No," I replied.
"But you think you're smarter than the doctors?"
"No. I just engage with them about various studies that I read."
"You have a graduate degree?"
"Yes, an MFA."
"And your ex husband has a GED?"
"You think you're smarter than him?"
"I'm book smart. He's street smart."
"How is that?"
"I read a lot and absorb a lot. Mr. X doesn't. But he has a will to power and the ability to go out in the world and make things happen. In fact, that's what I have always admired about him. I'm gullible. He's not."
Marty had, like a TV lawyer, used his bombastic approach to try to unravel me.
He came close a couple times, but luckily Karl interceded and I managed to pull myself together again.
For five hours Marty questioned me.
I was drained afterward, but felt good about my testimony.
On the stand with Karl.
Karl walked me through everything we had discussed in our trial prep months back: Mr. Ex's businesses and income during our marriage.
My process of discovering ABC Gear and Mr. Ex's link to it.
My experience in the film industry.
Trying to engage Mr. Ex in the decision making process.
The reasons I selected our son's school and activities, and so on and so on.
Breathe. Oh yeah, and shedule another mommy play date.
Closing arguments are the things of great legal dramas.
Ideally, the attorney walks the Judge (and the jury, if there is one) through what the evidence reveals, along with the appropriate laws, and pepper it with some emotional appeal and storytelling panache.
This is where the crowd gets on its feet and cheers.
Justice gets served.
The credits roll.
Now bear in mind, our trial was a bench trial, meaning only the Judge was deciding.
Jury trials are different because there are lay people involved.
And so, it is possible that my criticism is totally off base.
Nonetheless, this is MY STORY.
Karl delivered his closing statements first.
My main criticism was that his delivery was rather dry, a bit tedious, and somewhat clumsy.
In his defense, ours was a case wrought with tedium.
Karl had written his closing arguments out on six pages of densely typed text.
Several times, he fumbled through his notes and checked to make sure he had covered it all.
Note cards would have helped him harness simplicity and clarity.
However, he did hit on ALL the facts and the accompanying laws.
My other criticism of his closing arguments was that he didn't construct the narrative very well.
While he laid out the main points; the invoices, the cash, the details; in my opinion it would have been helpful to trace the timeline of the story and give it emotional current.
Outside of those two things, Karl did an amazing job.
In fact, I don't think any other attorney would or could have done it as well.
So my points are minor.
Now Marty, on the other hand, was all about using loaded words and telling the story but he lacked in facts.
He spoke off the cuff, delivering his closing arguments seated, as if he were so right, he didn't even need to get up and walk around.
Being second, he was able to give a rebuttal to what Karl had laid out.
Marty's closing arguments were as follows:
- I had, without Mr. X's approval, taken our son and put him into a new school.
- I was obstructing visitation.
- Even if there was unity of interest between Mr. Ex and ABC Gear, the money at question here amounted to $3,524 in profit for the year (based on ABC Gear 2013 tax returns).
- Also, that while our son had some allergies, they were no big deal. They were nothing that added cost and should not factor into setting child support.
When Karl asked for a brief rebuttal, the judge denied it.
We were scheduled to return for the Judge's decision sometime in late May.
Seriously? All this and now we wait several weeks! ARGH!
That night I was sleepless.
Knowing what I know now, I may have discussed Karl's closing statements with him ahead of time.
But there's a fine line here because, of course, I had hired him because he is an "expert" and so me trying to "direct" him could make him resistant, hesitant, resentful, or any other number of things.
He's the Divorce Lawyer...
Hell, I only went to art school people!
As with my opinions, take from them what you will.
Finally at 5am on Sunday, after not sleeping a wink, I rolled out of bed and emailed Karl.
I am so lucky and glad Karl didn't fire me as a client.
I had this gnawing feeling we had lost and so I wanted to know what next steps were available to us, beyond just sitting and waiting.
Shortly after 7am, Karl called me.
He assured me that Marty's closing arguments had very little to do with what we were requesting in our petition.
Whether or not I was obstructing visitation, for example, would not factor into the financial discussion.
Also, both Mr. Ex and I agreed in our JPA (which was signed when the divorce was finalized) that our son had "life threatening food allergies" and so rehashing that was not valid.
Mr. Ex and G'friend had not refuted any "unity of interest."
In fact, Marty said something to the effect that "even if there was unity of interest, the monies at play were negligible."
He pretty much admitted their goose was cooked.
Karl laid out our next steps.
Should the Judge's decision not go our way, Karl would request a detailed explanation of what factored into the ruling.
He would then move to address any of those issues.
For example, if the Judge ruled against us because he found there wasn't enough ABC Gear income, Karl said that could be interpreted to mean that the veil between Mr. Ex and ABC Gear had been pierced.
Then, Karl would request IRS transcripts to make sure that what they showed in court was actually what they filed.
He'd also re-request all receipts for accounts payable. (We requested accounts payable in our subpoena but never received any such documentation.)
Then moving forward each year, I would get access to the tax returns for the business.
While this would "pierce the veil," G'friend and Mr. Ex could always dissolve the business and open another, leaving me chasing money year after year.
Not just chasing the money, but chasing them, as they dodge, duck, dip, dive... and dodge again.
Karl had other solutions to various scenarios, but the only thing to do at this point was wait for the Judge's ruling.
I hate waiting.
Divorce Checklist Lessons:
- If your case is complex or high stakes, you may need to think about losing and lay a foundation for an appeal. In our state, new evidence can't be presented at an appeal. Check your state's laws. You may also want to speak with an appellate attorney, to inform yourself and your attorney what evidence and record you need to present or illicit at the trial.
- Make a timeline for yourself so you can see your case laid out in a clear and linear format.
While this is re-enactment and the video is somewhat poorly done (not such great acting), it gives you an idea as to how a hearing with questions/answers could go.