One of the sole reasons why I wanted to start this blog was to aid those who are in an unhappy marriage or separated from their spouse but cannot really move forward with their lives because of the fear of “divorce” itself. The word “divorce” has so many negative connotations. Movies highlight the divorce process as stressful, differences are escalated and all reasoning is removed. Hollywood sensationalize the gold digger wife aiming to take more than half of his spouses earnings…and the husband transferring assets to the Cayman Islands to avoid paying part of his wealth towards his kids.
Many of my peers are surprised when they learn that I am divorced from my former spouse. They are shocked because 1) this is the first time hearing that I am no longer married, as they think to themselves what the heck happen, and 2) stunned that I chose to end my marriage and it is already completed. They often have follow-up questions on how was I able to end my divorce quickly. My marriage was not a drive-through marriage, there were kids and assets that were involved….and we were married for about three-quarters of a decade.
However, I wanted a quick-ending and researched how the drive-through marriages were dissolved before their one year anniversary. I was terrified of the divorce process. I was trying to justify ways of annulling my marriage even though our marriage did not qualify for an annulment. I heard the stories from my now divorced friends about how much money they spent on lawyers. Ewwwww! I did not want to waste any additional funds, his or mine on any lawyers. I am already thinking of how I am going to afford my lifestyle solo…so if possible I am avoiding the lawyer route.
I also did not want nor have the time to take off of work to go back and forth to court. That seemed like an arduous process. Why would I want some judge who doesn’t even know me nor my kids lifestyle to determine what I should rightfully deserve a month? I know my bills intricately, way more than a judge that is not hip to the current parents generation costs of raising kids. Shoot, just birthday parties alone are 20x more than they were for the 70s, 80s or 90s babies. The cost per kid for a birthday party in New York City almost equates to the cost per person at a moderate wedding in the MidWest. Yeah, that judge would not understand, nor my son who attends these fabulous birthday bashes and wonder why he is not having a birthday celebration this year. So yes, I had to take all of that into account too.
Plus, more importantly I did not like nor wanted my status to be classified as “Separated”. I wanted that title to be as short-lived as possible. No pun attended for those that are “separated” and are comfortable with their status. But for me, I loathed that label…..I felt being “separated” meant that I was not 100% my own woman. I “technically” still belong to someone. Matter-of-fact everyone I would meet while I was going through the divorce process felt the same way. The status “separate” means to me that she is unhappy in her marriage and is taking a break but not necessarily taking the steps to dissolve the marriage and move on with her life. When I was dating, if a gent said he was separated, that is exactly what I thought of him and moved on. And as expected, when a man met me while “status” is separated, that is exactly what they thought of me and I should expect the same. So I thought lets just eliminate all of those ambiguities as quickly as possible. I want to press forward with my life.
I will admit while my divorce process to my friends appeared seamless….we had our spouts. Boy, did we! But our spouts were between us, not with a third-party involved….and the major battles were handled before I filed the divorce papers.
Last fall, I came to the absolute decision that the divorce would be imminent. My pondering thoughts from the Spring and Summer reached a conclusion. So what did I do, I went online and read about the divorce process. Figured which way I would be filing…hmmm…”unreconcilable differences”. I thought that was the best category and the quickest way in New Jersey to end a marriage. There was no “separated” for a year requirement. Six months were required, and the man and wife could “technically” be under the same roof but sleep in separate dwellings. The six months began from the time you started the paperwork, not when you filed. Hmmmm. Sign me up!
I thought what can a lawyer do that I cannot do for myself? I went to business school, am a Certified Public Accountant, I know how to complete my tax returns…yeah, who needs a lawyer. I created an Excel spreadsheet and itemized every cost associated with my kids. The basketball clinic, daycare, school tuition, dance classes, summer camp, clothing, hair cuts, food and sitter cost. Then I itemized housing costs, rent, electricity, cable, mortgages and etc. I looked at what each of our contributions were to all of these costs. I looked at the housing costs that I pay monthly and the entire amount that I would end up paying, sans any contribution from him. Okay…that might be a bit of a stretch….but I paid this rent before on my own when we were living in two states. I think I can make this work. I then had a larger contribution towards the kids expenses….so I thought maybe this is where I could balance the difference. So I came with a monthly figure of the entire cost and did a clean and fair allocation. There it was all of the costs of living and supporting his kids right in front of him. The details were there….I thought to myself, I wish he would say something! Easy, rational clean break, right? Ha! Oh boy, he said something all right.
Round 1: The battle begins. He says that while the expenses somewhat appeared accurate, (thought I embellished a bit), he also has to think about getting his own place and other additional expenses. Yeah, I guess I did not quite factor that in. But my expenses would be higher too. Hello! This is not going to be easy for both of us, I said. We are both incurring additional costs. I am not asking alimony…just child support. Of course, his rebuttal was he could technically ask for alimony too and claim full custody. Whoa!! Wasn’t expecting that. I thought this would be relatively easy. Isn’t it natural that the mother gets full custody, especially when the kids are younger? Plus, I am better organized and if I left the kids with him…didn’t even want to think of that notion. Anyway, he travels for his job…so that option does not exist.
So I look at the numbers again, I knock a few hundred off. He should be good with this. I begin to research the filing process and required forms. There are so many forms needed, good grief! On the New Jersey website…. the types of forms are cited but I don’t see where you can download them. At this time, I feel that I am on a roll….yeah I went this far, who needs a lawyer to hand me forms and charge me an exorbitant fee. Found a website http://www.divorcewriter.com, my Savior. Essentially, it was an online questionnaire that ask all of the essential questions to complete all of the divorce filing forms. The website itemize your assets, childcare costs, division of property, delegates which parent has the kids on holidays, and whether it is every holiday or alternating holidays. Wow! So much I have to answer… not sure I knew all of these answers yet. I manage to complete it all and pay the nominal fee. The forms were sent to my email and printed versions were sent Federal Express the next day. Ah yes! Just in time for me to give to my spouse by the end of the day.
Round 2: I deliver the forms to him for review before we file with the court. Well, talk about amnesia! I think it was the initial shock, that I was not playing games and serious about the dissolution of our marriage. I think the whole entire time, he thought I was just blowing steam and providing empty threats. His first blank question was “What the heck is this?” Well a bit more graphic than that. Then after accepting what the forms were, the game of 100 questions began. The amount he would pay, how the child support contribution percentage was calculated and what is all of this amount in the “Other” category that magically boosts the child support total. Hey there! The ending balance is the same as was noted on my spreadsheet I showed you a week or two ago. Do you Remember? The “Other” amount is for all of the additional expenses we choose for our kids that is not necessary a line item on the form. The assets were laid out, you keep what you brought into the marriage and I do the same. I stay where I am at or another place in my building, and you find a place. Simple enough. Then he comes with an idea. He wants to alter the percentage of his contribution based on the hours the kids spend with each of us. He suggests joint custody. Joint legal custody, sure, physical??? Okay buddy….let’s think about that. So every other week you want our kids to have a different house to live under? Oh, what about the times when you are out-of-town for a project? Hmmmm. You are more than welcome to come by in the morning to take the kids to school or come over for visits in the evening and stop by extracurricular activities when they are not with you. I am not keeping them away. I encourage that. We can adjust the percentage for the time you think you will spend with them, that is feasible…but joint custody now. No way! I am not invoking all of that change on my kids right now. When my son becomes older, we can discuss further but not at their age now.
Revisions are again made, and let’s say they were made 3 or 4 more times afterwards. So I had DivorceWriter re-send revised papers at least a few more times. However, we did it amongst ourselves. We did not need a lawyer to come help us to decide. Yes there were threats and blows from each of us. Accusations of how I was not fair with my terms and he was going to have a lawyer to review and defend his behalf. I thought fine, do that but here are the itemize expenses. So now go pay thousands of dollars for them to review but still pay my agreed upon amount. He eventually caved in and a final agreement was made. Can I file these papers now? Sheesh!
Round 3: The battle of selecting a date to get the papers notarize. Finding an agreed upon time just to stop by a bank for a notary was a hassle in itself. Maybe he was avoiding it, who knows. But the dates were re-scheduled a few times. I was finally able to file the divorce papers in January 2013. This followed a few months of us duking it out. I can now say my divorce is filed. I feel relaxed. I accomplished a milestone…and did it without the consult of lawyers. I share the filing information to my then husband. I guess this was another blow. He is thinking….Wow! This woman is serious! She is not joking! Twenty questions are asked again. How long is the process? How will the child support be handled? Will it be taking from my check? He begins to think my child support number is again too high. Really???? I have bitten the bullet and modified the numbers to now barely covering the costs to raise my kids. I am not compromising anymore. So I think if you have a problem, go ahead and bring on the lawyers, cause my foot is down. I make steps to move to another unit in my building, planning for space that can accommodate myself and the kids. He begins to look for a place to live nearby. The process is smooth, he begins to pay his designated amount before our court hearing. This agreed upon process is slowly but surely working. We duked it out and said screw the lawyers!
Any delays are now self-inflicted, delaying in serving the papers, getting notaries on subsequent papers that are required for divorce completion. This is expected, I am a novice, I don’t file divorce papers for a living…and I hope I don’t have to ever go through this again. Finally, we receive a confirmed court date. Yes! The process is almost over. I share the news with my kids father ….Uh oh! He wants the date postponed. Now the uncertain decision of what school my son will attend in the fall is weighing largely on what he is agreeing to pay monthly. Here we go again! I have to re-do the math of all the costs that are entailed in raising our children….and how he actually received the discount “Super Dad” package. I explain to him how he can keep that title of “Super Dad” by acknowledging whatever difference in amounts could be used for other perks and necessities for the children…like a larger contribution in the college fund. Or don’t see it my way, I am ready to duke it out some more. Let Round 4 begin!
In the end there was no delay in our date and the duking out we did months before paid off. We both saved on lawyer fees and were able to come up with an agreement that was in the best interest of our kids. I do not have nightmares or grief of my divorce process. The decision and having a divorce, are stressful enough in itself. Divorce is an emotional undertaking. Why add more anxiety by going into further debt with lawyers when you can use that money towards your children’s future. Duke it Out! Come to an Agreement! And Screw a Lawyer!