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The High Income Earner’s Ultimate Guide To Surviving Divorce Complete Series:
Step XII: The Proceedings.
Going to Chancery Court for divorce proceedings can be a stressful period especially if your divorce is highly contentious like mine was.
If you are incredibly lucky most of the issues were ironed out with mediation and this court appearance is merely a formality to make an official divorce decree from the mediation paperwork.
My divorce proceedings were so contentious that I had to endure multiple hearings, some lasting the entire day, during the 13 months it took between the filing for divorce and the final divorce decree.
Partly due to time elapsed and partly due to my mind trying to bury this painful period in my life, I do not know the exact number of times I had to appear in court.
Off the top of my head I can rattle off 7 different hearings but know I am likely missing several more.
This is where hopefully you have built a large financial reserve prior to divorce that can withstand the financial hit you are about to undertake.
In my situation every court day racked up massive bills:
- Paid work coverage: $1600/day.
- Legal fees: $300/hr x 8 hrs = $2400.
- If an expert witness testified on my behalf, minimum court appearance fee: $5000.
- Record of court transcription for lawyer to review: $500+ (I remember receiving one lengthy transcript bill for over $1k).
It truly felt like I was hemorrhaging money during this time.
During the course of the trial, your opposition will get his or her chance to paint an ugly picture of you and why they deserve this or that.
It took great restraint to sit through the lies my ex-wife told “under oath.”
During this process have pen and paper available so that you can quickly write down your thoughts to pass to your lawyer to use when it is his or her turn to cross-examine the witness.
I specifically wrote down questions as the trial progressed that my lawyer asked to catch my ex-wife with mistakes she made.
Similar to navigating through the deposition in Step XI of this guide, when you take the stand and are being examined by opposing counsel, it is important not to divulge any more than what is being asked.
It is wise to pause and think of exactly what is being asked of you and what the lawyer is trying to capitalize on.
It is a cat and mouse type interaction and I would often tilt the playing field to my advantage when I could predict her line of questioning and preemptively counter it with my ensuing statement.
Step XIII: Character Witnesses.
Invariably both parties will have witnesses testify in court on their behalf.
Although there is no stated limit of how many of these witnesses you can bring to court, it is advisable to limit it to as few as possible that have had meaningful interactions (always stress quality over quantity).
My ex-wife did not adhere to this suggestion and brought 10 or more witnesses, all who have never even met me and thus could not make any meaningful statements about me.
I chose to bring only 4 character witnesses who had significant interactions with both my ex-wife and me and felt their testimony was of much higher value.
It is a big favor to ask someone to be a character witness for you as it may require them missing time off for work, etc. so try and minimize the number effected.
I owe these people a debt of gratitude for the sacrifice they had made to help me out.
Step XIV: The Marital Property.
The court will also ask each party to submit what they think would be an equitable distribution of assets (if not already agreed upon in mediation).
Fight the urge to give yourself 80+/20- favorable split when submitting paperwork to the court (it makes you look bad and can have the unintended opposite effect).
- Create a list of all marital assets.
- Market value.
- Debt remaining.
- Whether income producing or not (and if so how much anticipated).
- Create a list of all marital debt.
- Consider which assets should go to the spouse with primary custody of children.
- Consider which assets could be better managed/maintained by each individual.
If you have a well thought proposed distribution of asset plan that is indeed equitable, and give explanations of why you think it should be this way, the court will likely use it as a guideline in the basis for the formal decree.
If you are the sole breadwinner or your income is significantly higher than your spouses, anticipate that the court will try and balance this out by favorably assigning higher value or income producing assets to your spouse.
Step XV: The Decision.
The court’s final ruling can almost seem anti-climatic when compared to the events preceding it.
In the divorce decree there will be obviously the grant for a divorce to occur as well as how the assets are distributed.
If there are any outstanding legal fees the court will direct the percentage each party is expected to contribute and the timeline.
This is again another financially unnerving time as your financial stores may have already been stretched thin from the prior proceedings.
I was hit with a judgement that required me to come up with over $100k in cash and given a 60 day timeline to do so.
- According to the court, this amount was used to offset some of my ex-wife’s legal expenses she incurred as well as her half of the savings account value at the time I filed for divorce.
- I thought this was quite unfair personally as it was almost like double dipping:
- My half of the savings account at time of divorce was completely depleted just to pay a small portion of my legal fees whereas she got her half of the money in addition to her lawyer fee offset.
My funds were so depleted by this time that I actually had to use credit card access checks to be able to satisfy this stipulation.
You obviously want to scrutinize the divorce decree word for word.
Make a copy of the divorce decree and highlight every obligation the court requires of you to complete and its deadline.
It is also wise to highlight (in a different color) the obligations your now former spouse needs to fulfill and corresponding deadlines.
I made the mistake of not following up on my former spouse’s obligations.
In the divorce decree I received our marital home (it was currently underwater due to the mortgage crisis (which actually was to my benefit as it was valued a lot lower than it should have been).
My ex was required to sign a Quitclaim Deed so that her name would be taken off the title.
Years later when I finally paid off my home and received paperwork, I was shocked to see her name was still on the title.
Unlike me, my ex chose not to follow through on all of the courts orders.
By the time I discovered this omission, my ex had moved out of the country and was basically out of touch/uncooperative.
I ended up having to file another motion for a legal decree that took her name off the title (which was another expense I had to bear for her lack of follow through).
If you have real estate property with a mortgage listing both parties, petition the court to require the mortgage to be redone under the awarded party’s name only.
I cannot stress how important it is to get your name off a mortgage for an asset that will be subsequently controlled by your former spouse.
I created this tip out of my own awful experience.
I had two condominiums that were awarded to my ex-wife, both carrying mortgage balances.
I unfortunately was not advised about re-doing the mortgage and just signed a quitclaim deed removing my rights to these properties.
My name, however, remained on the mortgage documents and I became a financial prisoner to whatever whims my ex had.
Whether it was done on purpose, or it truly was her haphazard ways of handling finances, my ex would fall behind on one or both mortgage payments to the point where letters threatening foreclosure were sent out.
Right before foreclosure proceedings would occur, she would then suddenly pay the amount to bring it up to date and reset the clock.
Soon this cycle repeated, with actually one of the condos ending up being foreclosed upon.
The damage to my credit score was evident with these financial shenanigans she was doing as I was originally in the low 800s prior to divorce and soon found myself in the mid 600s.
As a result, credit card companies that had previously issued cards with a high 5 figure credit limit started sending me letters that they were either closing these accounts or severely reducing my limits based on my new credit history.
I actually was hoping that the second condo would be foreclosed upon soon after the first so that, although I would take both massive credit hits at once, I could at least start the clock to when they would fall off my credit report (7 years).
I petitioned both the mortgage company and the credit reporting agencies, even going as far as sending them the actual divorce decree saying the property was no longer mine, but this was to no avail.
This continued for another couple of years until, fortunately for me, the remaining condo was sold at the time another round of foreclosure proceedings was ramping up.
A truly vengeful person could use this financial game to purposely destroy your credit throughout the length of the original mortgage (we were in year 4 of a 30 year mortgage at time of divorce).
It has taken some time, but I have successfully built back my credit score to the low 800s again even though technically the hits from the late payments and foreclosure still have not fallen off the records.
Step XVI: The Aftermath.
“They say justice is blind but you may feel the judge was too.” – Xrayvsn
Either party has the option to file an appeal if they disagree with the court rulings within a set time frame dependent on local jurisdiction.
Typically a motion for appeal needs to be registered within 21-45 days from the time the divorce judgement is filed.
Think long and hard before you choose to go this route.
There should be some legal precedence of why you think the judge’s divorce decree was unjust and not do it as a knee-jerk reaction because your former spouse received something you really wanted.
Bear in mind that going through an appeals process is also an additional expense.
You should expect at least 100-200 hours of preparation for an appeals case by your lawyer with a corresponding bill.
Step XVII: Picking Up The Pieces.
The time for recovery will definitely vary between individuals.
Some jump back into life right away as a newly minted, and much happier, single.
Others may have been so burnt out by the experience and have misgivings about the opposite sex that they may find themselves withdrawing from social interactions.
During this challenging time, heavily lean on friends and family for support.
There are support groups for divorce, both online and locally, that can also be used as an additional resource to help you recover.
For me it took a long while to process what happened.
For a period of two years I did not even want to go out on a date or interact with anyone outside of work.
I became a couch potato and used food and TV as a crutch.
As my weight ballooned even more, something happened that started the healing process for me.
Two female co-workers took me out during Halloween to several attractions (haunted woods, haunted maze, etc).
And for the first time in two years I genuinely enjoyed myself in the company of others.
It lit a spark that has since grown and I could slowly see my life getting back to happier times.
I started working out again and rapidly reclaimed my body.
I ventured into dating and eventually found someone, of my own choosing this time, that has restored my faith in love.
Divorce is an incredibly stressful process to endure.
On the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, divorce is ranked #2 (73 points) only behind the death of a spouse (100 points).
This guide is not meant to encourage divorce, but merely serves as a resource for those considering going through or are currently undergoing this incredibly challenging time.
While it is impossible to eliminate all stress a divorce surely will entail, by having a step by step guideline of what to expect and what to look out for, it is my hope that you will be able to at least reduce it to more manageable levels.
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