I don’t usually discuss the legal divorce process with my interviewees for two reasons.
One, every divorce is different. Listening to what happened in someone else’s legal divorce process may not be helpful. Here in the U.S. divorce laws and processes differ by state so what happens in Colorado isn’t necessarily going to apply anywhere else. The specifics of a particular divorce may also affect how the legal process plays out and so may not translate to other divorces.
Two, I equate legal divorce stories to childbirth stories. There’s always a comparative element – who paid the most in legal fees, who’s ex made the most outrageous demands, who got through it quickest etc. They can be frightening, scary, intimidating and yet the vast majority of divorce cases are settled by the spouses without a judge having to make a determination.
That being said, there are valuable lessons in the worst-case scenarios. Here’s my current guest, Helen:
My ex really fought the divorce because as everybody said, I was his golden goose. He knew he was losing his golden goose so we went to trial. He didn’t have his own attorney so he was trying representing himself, being an attorney and in the middle of the trial the judge dies.
That meant we had to start all over again. It was just unreal. Unreal.
That’s why I didn’t get divorced until November, 2010, two years after I’d told my ex I wanted a divorce. That’s when another judge stepped in and she was just trying to settle these cases. My ex didn’t know what hit him. I don’t think he knew for quite some time that he was actually divorced. I know that sounds crazy, but I don’t think he did.
We were scheduled for a status meeting with judge but she was so smart she just basically kept asking questions and questions and I did have an attorney, thank goodness. My ex still didn’t. She said, “So what do you want? What’s this going to take? Let’s get this done. Okay Mr XXX, are you happy with this?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “I’m happy.” She said “Okay. You’re divorced.”
She ruled from the bench so there were no orders. It was just a transcript. It said that he would pay 60 percent of the business debt and 50 percent of the personal debt, but it never said when, how, what those payments look like or anything, so sure enough he walked out of the Court room and he didn’t make a payment to me for child support or anything.
I had to bring him back in for contempt. He went in without an attorney. He didn’t even know how to fill out the financial Affidavit properly. He annoyed the judge so much that the judge said, “Come back with an attorney or come back with a toothbrush and a towel because you’re going to jail.”
He came back with his attorney who then tried to file for an amendment arguing that my ex didn’t understand what he’d signed.
Another time I filed for contempt and my ex never showed up. I was allowed to give testimony and my ex was supposed to come back and they were going to decide if it was willful contempt. He went back and then we didn’t hear back from the judge for weeks and weeks and weeks. By then I had no money.
After three months the judge said, “Start sending him certified letters for the child support because he’s ignoring my emails.” Well he started ignoring the certified letters. He just wouldn’t sign for them. So, back to Court.
I was waiting to hear the ruling and we didn’t hear for months. So then I sent a personal letter to the judge saying, “Please rule, I’m desperate for money.”
The judge declared a mistrial because of that.
So it dragged on and on and on.
I have been in Court 37 times in two and a half years. It made me physically ill. It was the most negative energy and I hate doing this. It was making me sick and it was not allowing me to move forward the way I need to move forward. I said, “He’s never going to pay so what am I doing here?”
I have now gone to Child Support Enforcement Services but he’s self-employed so I’m not expecting much.
The Divorce Coach Says
There’s a fundamental inequity about any court system that let’s cases drag on like this, where one person is trying to follow the rules and the other person has a blatant disregard for the rules. But that is the first takeaway from this segment: How your STBX behaved during the marriage is a good barometer for how they will be during the legal process. Think about this and prepare accordingly.
Another takeaway is the importance of having competent legal advice. It’s hard to emphasize this enough. Even if you and your STBX agree to do your own divorce filing and can agree on the division of assets and child custody, it’s still prudent to speak to a lawyer about your situation and really, the sooner you do that the better. Meeting with an attorney while you’re trying to decide if divorce is the right decision for you is not too soon. If your STBX is suggesting ‘no lawyers’ it’s a red flag …
My last point is to educate yourself about the process and about other mechanisms available to help you. Helen illustrates this here by going to the Child Support Enforcement Services. Knowing the different options available to you means you can make informed decisions about your next steps. Start by visiting a site like Total Divorce that gives you a breakdown of divorce laws by state. Then visit your state’s website and search using phrases like, “family services” or “child support.” You’ll find the department that handles these situations and that will point you to the support they can provide.
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