By Dad “X”
In my last column, I discussed the shock and trauma even the strongest of men face when divorce is initiated.
Now that the shock is over, it’s time to get serious and work for the best, fairest divorce decree and custody arrangement possible under the law, and to prepare for the opposing forces you will face in court.
Unfortunately, men face certain prejudices in divorce. Your attorney has probably mentioned that but depending on your judge, you could really be screwed by the judge’s personal opinion and leanings and not the law.
Many men feel they have paid their attorney and can sit back and wait, hoping for the best. That’s not true. The more you know, the more you can supply your attorney. The more you can help, the better the outcome of your divorce.
Get to Know Family Law
It wasn’t until I started studying family law on my own that I realized how much I could have helped my attorney get a better settlement for me. It’s important for a father to start doing his homework right away, so he can ask the right questions, give the right answers and provide the correct information.
While my wife tried to hide as much as she could, denying she had bank records, lying about income, expenses, and missing funds, I just thought my attorney would subpoena everything that would be needed.
To save me money, she didn’t and that ended up costing me a huge amount. I realize now that I needed to collect the information myself while I still had legal access to records – as well as taking a closer look at the mail and the return addresses.
While your situation will be unique to your divorce, these were some of the things I did wrong and what they cost me:
Withdrawals From a Joint Account – My wife had two methods of stealing money from our joint account.
The first was a secret bank account where she would deposit her paycheck, and then deposit half of that into our joint account. Had I checked our statements, which she claimed were missing, I would have noticed where the deposits came from and could at least question the source, if not trace it down.
The second method was a cash back method at stores by using our bank card and taking the highest amount allowed out as cash back. Again, had I gone to the bank and paid the fees for statement copies, I would have seen the listing of cash back transactions.
Now, of course, everything is online and free. Cash back, however, may not show up on statements and only be listed as part of the entire transaction.
If your wife shows up with one bag of groceries and the bill is $128, chances are it’s either cocaine or a good bottle of wine in the bag. Check to see if it’s Chips Ahoy and packs of Kool-Aid.
Day care costs – My wife submitted some bills from the day care place the kids attended. They were higher than I remembered them being and, indeed, they were.
It turns out they were high because, while she planned our divorce, long before I knew it was coming, she left the kids in aftercare, which drove the price up by $500-$600 a month. Had I collected the invoices for the entire year, my attorney could have argued the cost (of which I would pay 90 percent) to the judge, who ruled with a shovel and an open door to my bank account.
Of course, once she was awarded a massive amount of money to cover the highest figures for day care, she switched day care places and pocketed even more money. There’s not much a father can do when that happens unless the decision is a joint one that both parties must agree upon.
Travel and Visitation Costs – When I got divorced, I was living across the state, having accepted a job offer that had a high earning potential, which my wife thought was worth us all moving.
The plan was simple: I would go through the probationary period and then we would sell the house and she and the kids would join me. The probationary period ended just before Christmas and when we exchanged gifts, I asked what she got me. It was divorce papers!
Visitation for me was every weekend. The cost of gas while driving 500 miles each weekend, staying in hotels with the kids and meals was bankrupting.
In the summer and school holidays, day care costs were involved, too. Since I wasn’t using the same day care as her, I had to bear those costs as well.
This was something that should have been pushed with the judge in negotiating certain visitation costs. While he wasn’t the most generous person with a father’s expenses, I might have been able to demand she meet me halfway across the state to trade the kids. As she was an unsafe driver, and a drunk to boot, I opted for driving the whole way.
The savings, had I accepted the deal of her meeting me halfway, would have been substantial. Perhaps I could have asked for the payments to reflect those costs. Had I done my homework, crunched numbers and faced the reality of travel costs and other expenses, things could have been very different.
Clothing for the Kids – My ex had this idea that aside from the massive child support I was paying, that clothing the kids when they were with me was MY financial responsibility. She even had her attorney write a letter stating that “millions of divorced fathers supply their children with complete wardrobes when in the father’s custody.”
While this is not true, many divorced parents do maintain separate wardrobes for their kids, for different reasons. In my case, it was forced upon me when she would pack pajama tops but no bottoms, underwear that didn’t fit or had holes in them, one left sock, and seasonally inappropriate clothing, such as shorts in the winter and corduroy pants in the summer. Message received!
Clothes, jackets, coats, footwear and other clothing needs can be expensive, but when kids are young, there are secondhand stores with new or barely used clothing the kids can wear for two months until they outgrow them. Just a handy tip for you.
Why Learn Things for Yourself?
This is not an indictment of your attorney and his or her abilities. Your attorney is not psychic and the more you can supply him or her, the more they can do to help your case.
Also, the more you supply, the less they have to dig and the less you will pay for their time.
The important thing to remember is that anything you don’t get at your initial divorce may be impossible to gain later on, as the years go on. Start your education and, if need be, get a list of important financial points your attorney will need to help your case.
There are many great pieces of literature for the layperson about divorce laws. Some are available from your state family court website. You can also find numerous resources here at DadsDivorce.com.
Check back on the first of every month for the next column, outlining the mistakes I’ve made and how to best work with your attorney for success and, most of all, a better life for you and your children.
To arrange an initial consultation to discuss divorce rights for men, contact Cordell & Cordell.