No one expects to get divorced. By the time that becomes a viable option, things have become pretty bad. It’s a wrenching decision, especially if you have children. There is no getting around the fact that it turns their world upside down. I remember as a child praying in my bed that my parents would not get divorced, as listened to them fighting and screaming downstairs. As upsetting as the fighting was, the idea of divorce was even worse.
Well, that was over 50 years ago and divorce is not that uncommon in the present time. That doesn’t mean it’s any easier emotionally, though. And this is where the biggest problem lies.
Once a person has made the decision to end the marriage, the relationship has been pretty damaged. In fact, in Connecticut, the law says you must attest to the fact that it has “irretrievably broken down,” as in, “it’s never coming back.” We all know what a broken-down car is and we don’t waste time wishing that the car would behave differently. But when a couple is getting divorced, there is a lot of wishful thinking that enters the scene. Please remember that the problems you had IN the marriage will increase exponentially during the process of ENDING the marriage, and perhaps even beyond that. It’s not a process that brings out the best in anyone.
I got divorced over 16 years ago, and I have also represented people who were getting divorced. Each situation is unique, but there are some universal truths I can share with you, in the hope that they will help you not to get more wounded than you have to be. No question it is hard and hurtful, but it is also true that an emotional point of view will get you nowhere. You are now in a business transaction, as distasteful as that sounds.
Truth #1 is that everyone wants to protect their financial solvency. Their salaries diminish, their second jobs disappear, their cable bill suddenly is sky-high and you don’t want your child spending time with a cable-less parent, do you?
This does not mean your child’s other parent does not love your child. S/he does, but s/he does not love YOU. YOU have become the enemy, looking to bleed your ex- dry. Any money Spouse A agrees (or is ordered) to give to Spouse B, whether it’s child support or alimony, will clearly be spent on frivolous items, trips with new paramours and a new Ferrari. That’s Spouse A’s mindset, anyway. You know that isn’t true, but that is where your opponent is coming from.
So your best plan is NOT to try to dissuade your opponent from thinking of you suspiciously. It doesn’t matter what s/he thinks. You’re not going to list that person as a reference on your resume!
Instead, your best plan is to figure out which things are essential to your future versus the things about which you can be more flexible. It’s hard to imagine that you will truly be living a separate distinct life from the ex-, but you will. So let him/her have the old air conditioner – you can get a new one for $100. Don’t look at it as “I can’t believe she wants our child to wake up all sweaty when he’s at my house!” Take the emotion right out of it, and then you have the upper hand.
When it comes to child support/alimony, think of it as a cold, calculated business transaction. Child support is not deductible from the giver’s income tax, but alimony is. Alimony is unusual for two working parents, but sometimes it’s good to agree to receive it instead of/in addition to child support, if it helps things move along. Example: you need $300/week in child support for your two children from the ex-. If you agree to $200/week in child support and $100 in alimony, you will get the same amount of cash but you will have to pay income tax on the alimony and your ex- will get to deduct it on his/her income tax return. All you need to do is figure out the likely financial impact on each of you, based on your income tax bracket. An accountant can be helpful here. What I discovered is that the tax burden on me was quite minimal, as was the tax break for my ex-. But the emotional victory he felt when I agreed to accept deductible alimony in lieu of child support made the rest of the negotiations go much more smoothly.
Also, depending on the age of your kids, you can calculate exactly how much child support will be worth and decide on how much you want to spend on an attorney in order to get what you need. Attorneys are too expensive, no question about it (I can say this because I am one, although not the hourly charging kind). But child support for a 6-year old is something you will be getting over the course of the next 12 years. $100 a week will end up being $62,400 by the time your child is 18. It may be worth it to you to pay an attorney $10,000 in order to secure that $62,400 for your child. You may be able to negotiate monthly payments to pay your attorney’s bill, after you offer a reasonable retainer for him/her to start the case (your parents/siblings can be a helpful source for the retainer).
You can go back to court or negotiate to have the child support increased as the child’s needs become more expensive. You must ask for alimony at the time of the divorce, or it’s waived forever. Don’t be foolish – make sure you do it, even if it’s only $1/year. Suppose something catastrophic happens to you on the way out of court?
There are a lot of resources available that can help you learn how the process works. The Connecticut court system has worked hard to become more accessible to Connecticut’s citizens. There is a resource center in each Superior Court where you can look up information, read pamphlets about how child support works (it’s a formula based on income), and find out other important info. The more you understand it, the easier it will be to make sound decisions.
I don’t mean to make light of the hurtful aspects of the process. You will learn things about your ex- that, as much as you thought you knew of his/her despicable qualities, will add major embellishments to your already festering disgust. A therapist/counselor can be very helpful to you in dealing with this bottomless pit of pain and disappointment. Just remember not to let the hurt feelings blind your good judgment and financial acumen. Your kids are counting on you to look out for their interests.