Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | November 17, 2010

Do It Yourself Divorce vs Collaboration

I’m sure I must have posted this somewhere here before, this belief of mine that fear is simply the body’s way of telling us to prepare. Because that’s how I think of fear, you can guess how I react to fear: I prepare. I research. I test the waters. It helps alleviate the fear.

So, in an effort to fight off the fear I was feeling about what seemed to be our inevitable divorce, I had started talking to friends of mine who have been through divorce, themselves. This was my research phase, perhaps six or nine months ago. One such person I’d spoken to, who also lives in the greater Seattle area, told me about how he and his ex filed an uncontested divorce by themselves. Even though they share a son the same age as Penny’s and my oldest child, they were able to do this without any lawyer involvement and without any court appearances. Very tidy; very inexpensive.

Apparently, there are do-it-yourself sites online where you can answer an in-depth online questionnaire about your situation (joint and separate assets and liabilities, children, parenting plans, etc.) and the site will funnel this information into legal filing documents, complete with instructions on what to file and when. The site used by my friends notes that their service can be used in any state that allows uncontested divorce (23 states, as it turns out) for a mere $150 plus whatever filing fees apply. Washington State has a ninety day cooling off period from the time a divorce is first filed to the time the concluding documents can be submitted and the divorce completed. So, my friends were able to get the entire deal done quickly and cheaply.

My hope was that Penny and I might be able to follow this route. Because we have more than one child, though, as well as a business between us, it seemed likely that we’d want a lawyer to at least review the documents before submitting them. My biggest concern was having a judge throw out our agreement and imposing one of his own. Penny stated her own concern that she wanted a lawyer to review the papers to make sure she wasn’t “missing anything.”

As I’ve noted in a few brief entries here, Penny and I have spoken from time to time about what we agree to in terms of how we want the divorce to proceed. A couple of weeks ago, I told her I’d made babysitting arrangements so that we could re-convene, as we’d agreed (and actually start signing off on the things that we agree to), and, well, she said she didn’t see the point. “It seems to me that our next step is talking to a lawyer,” she said.

That feeling that people describe as having the rug pulled out from under you? Yeah. That’s what I felt. I knew it was always possible that this would happen, so I was braced for it, but that doesn’t make it any less… unsettling.

She said she’d read an article about collaborative divorce and had the name of a guy in a nearby town we could talk to. Okayyy. (I’ll take her word for it that she “read about” this guy, but I have my suspicions that of the two people Penny has told about our impending marriage, one of them may be making suggestions. This woman went through an ugly, ugly divorce.)

As seems to fit a pattern, Penny left it up to me to research this collaborative lawyer and make the appointment. I perused his website. I noted the cost. I spoke with him on the phone and arranged for the three of us to meet.

I told Penny about the likely cost of a collaborative divorce (his site suggested an average cost of $6,600, which is much less than a contested divorce, but much more than do-it-yourself). She said that we should look at it as an investment in making sure we do things right for the long haul. (And yes, I admit that this has some logic to it, but it’s an odd line of reasoning coming from someone who says she is concerned about our financial situation.)

I told her I was (am) becoming concerned about her reneging on what we’d agreed to. And that’s when she revealed that, yes, she doesn’t feel comfortable with a fifty-fifty split on child care costs when I’m currently making so much more money than she is.

And friends, do understand: I get it. I see her point of view on this. And I’m willing to work with her on this; to agree to a percentage of actual costs for child care, based upon actual income. But remember, my contract is currently slated to end in June, and could actually end at any time before or after. I am very, very concerned about having this lovely spigot of money suddenly shut off, while Penny wants sole custody of our business. And I am not inclined to submit to the state’s one-size-fits-all, rather punitive formula for child support payments that work out to be de facto alimony arrangements.

There are other emotional hot-buttons here, as well. The fact that all these years, I encouraged her to keep her career going, while she insisted on staying at home… and now she complains that her earning power has been reduced. After this conversation, after I had time to cool down and think about it, yes, I can see that both statements are true. Her earning power has diminished. Of course, she also wants to continue to live in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the Puget Sound… see, there I go again. See how easily one hot button easily leads to the next?

Penny is scared. She isn’t sure how she’s going to make it on her own, financially. Of course, I’m similarly worried for myself. But I’m also annoyed. I didn’t want this divorce. I was willing to do what it takes to make it work. Penny didn’t want to stay married to me. But she still wants to have me there as her safety net. Her legally-bound safety net.

She hasn’t started making demands. She says she just wants to see what a collaborative mediator has to suggest. Okay. Let’s talk.

Our (first) session with the lawyer is later today.

I suppose I should try to get some sleep.

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Responses

  1. I have no sage words or calming words or make it better words. I only have the pathetic, “I’m so incredibly sorry for this turn of events” words. I am. I understand your fear and support it 100%. Here’s hoping meeting with someone in the center will help. Good luck.

  2. the more she talks to people the more she is going to be encouraged to “protect herself” and then anything you guys have agreeded to will go down the drain…because any lawyer is going to tell her you can’t trust him to do the right thing later…better get your agreement done and fast before she gets any more “advice”

  3. Mediation might be a good thing here since it sounds like you’re not sure how to make things fair. However, I brought the terms that we agreed on to a lawyer (uncontested divorced; my ex didn’t get a lawyer), and he only charged me $1200 to take care of the paperwork and file it. For me, it was a nice happy medium between DIY and they typical divorce costs. Of course, that would only work if you and Penny could come to an agreement. Good luck!

  4. You better get your own lawyer. Seriously.

  5. I’ve been worried that she would start down this path. Having never been there myself, I really don’t have much advice. But I am inclined to tell you to perhaps do some research on a good lawyer… For you. You may not need it and I hope that’s the case, but I’m not particularly trusting of Penny and/or the advice she’s getting. Know that I’m thinking of you and I wish you the best of luck with your meeting today!

  6. oh, boy. i agree with TDG – get a lawyer of your own. i don’t have my own lawyer, but i’m an attorney in the state in which we’re pursuing the divorce, so i can represent myself. my ex got a lawyer behind my back, and everything we’d negotiated had turned itself 100% upside down before i knew what had happened.

    the longer i go through this, the more i realize that this “do it yourself” avenue is a comforting lie. nothing more. mediation may be good. the new process we’ve had to go through as a result of his legal advice has actually inured to my benefit for all of this. but that’s not always a guarantee. even a consultation with your own attorney will make you feel better, i think.

    thinking of you through it all.

  7. I agree with DivorcedGuy – as she is showing signs of re-neging, you should protect yourself. Even though mine was more amicable, I still had my own lawyer. Yes, it cost 3K but it was worth it for the “just in case” factor/peace of mind. Hang in there.

  8. My stomach is in knots for you friend. I had hoped that it wouldn’t come to this. So sorry it is appearing to rear its ugly head down another path. I wish I had some words of wisdom for you but do start being a bit selfish and protect yourself. You are a good person at the end of the day trying to do what you think is best.

  9. I have no advice to offer, since my divorce was like emmasota’s: one lawyer, nothing contested, $1200.

    It does worry me that Penny is taking a more adversarial stance based on possibly paranoid advice, which could escalate the “hot buttons.”

    I like the new tagline to your blog title (re: having an umbrella ready.) How much is it worth to you to make it rain again? Do whatever you can to free yourself from this arid relationship.

  10. My theory is that Knowledge is Power. A collaborative divorce requires that both of you be will to, well – collaborate. If it’s not in your best interests then you walk away from the table.

    I hope you two can find a way to file on your own. That was my goal with my X – but he went crazy and brought a gun into the situation and that made any kind of mediation impossible.

    I ended up having to get a lawyer and go to court, having him served while in prison wasn’t a joy, but at least I’m safe for now.

    I can’t imagine why a collaboration would cost that much. I would do more research. Maybe it’s because of the business? My entire divorce, with a lawyer, in court etc. didn’t cost that much.

    Also in a divorce there are always compromises made. Penny may just have to move to a different area if she’s the one asking for the divorce and there are financial concerns. It’s the cost of playing poker as the saying goes.

  11. as a follow up, my divorce started the “we will figure this out on our own and it will be as painless as possible,” and ended as “you #@*!&#!!! stupid *(%$!!” and it cost me in the neighborhood of $40,000

    Don’t let your pride cost you your ass. Get a fucking lawyer

  12. I’m writing this before I read the other comments.

    Reality bites, doesn’t it Penny? The problem with living in Fantasyland is that the fairy tale bill comes due at some point. Few of us live with a crowd of harmless dwarves who have a jewel mine in the backyard to cover that expense.

    As for you, INRIS, be very careful here. California law may well be different than Washington law, but here a man who has any kind of an earning record is expected to maintain or exceed that earning record – especially if kids are affected. Not having a job is not an acceptable excuse. You will be ordered to find gainful employment at the necessary income level whether jobs are available or not, else your residency gets shifted to the Greybar Hotel for contempt. I hope for your sake that Washington law isn’t as stringent.

    I have now read the other comments.

    I agree with the majority: You need a lawyer to represent YOU. It’s becoming clear to some of us that Penny is caving in to fear and will stick it to you if you continue to trust her. This ends the collaborative effort. As I pointed out above, reality is slapping her in the face, and she is afraid that she will lose her comfort zone if she doesn’t get herself some legal defense against you. What she doesn’t yet realize is that she is in the process of throwing that comfort zone away by divorcing you.

    She isn’t the woman who married you anymore. There is no relationship (beyond being parents) that you need to maintain. You need someone to play the heavy in your defense so that you can maintain a necessary distance in order to conduct your parental business with her without excessive acrimony.

    So in closing, I refer you to TheDivorcedGuy’s last sentence immediately above my comment. Take it seriously. You are running out of time to protect yourself. Act now, and we won’t throw in a set of Ginsu Knives!

  13. AS you know, we went the DIY route. It was cheap. And look at me now. In court, if I ever get a date, fighting for child support. Seriously.

    In the bastardized words of Kit in Pretty Woman, “Skype me when you’re through. Take care of you.”

  14. May I point out that so far, everything you have feared the most has NOT happened?

    You are working, and it has so far turned out to be more than temporary. None of us really has “job security”; you could be laid off after 10 or 15 years on a job these days.
    Penny has not really done an about face, she is just talking to people. You didn’t lose the business, she is running it now (successfully, no?)

    So, I think it wouldn’t hurt to research hiring a lawyer, but also, I would be very logical with Penny (she does seem logical to me) and point out that “wasting” so much money on lawyers is NOT in the best interests of the children, and that they are your #1 priority….and that the two of you not becoming enemies is for THEM, as well.

    If you can get her to focus on the fact that wasted money and bad blood between you will HARM her children, I think she may think about it.

    I will also share what a friend of mine did, and I’m not saying it would work for you, but it sure worked for him:
    He sat his wife down and said, “If you want to go this route, then I think I’d rather pay child support, and give you full custody (they had 4 small kids), because I’m going to need to be “free” to concentrate on working so I can pay the lawyer bills. I’ll see the kids every other weekend, so that I can also concentrate on my dating life. When they’re older they’ll understand that you left me no other choice.”
    She freaked out at the possibility of losing control, and being “stuck” with 4 kids virtually 24/7. while he was having a good time of it.
    She immediately shaped up.

  15. The emotional aspect of a divorce can never be under estimated. Its amazing how, once two loving people, can turn on each other so quickly. I can only advise you that your relationship with Penny, if not already, will become a business relationship. As such, as the Divorce Guy and others have mentioned you should take heed in protecting yourself.

    I too experienced how once agreements can be re-niged on after the fact, and I was left holding the bag.

    It appears that she isn’t 100% supportive of a do it yourself or collaborative divorce. It could be a sign of things to come.


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