August 16, 2013

Dear Frannie Friday--Myths About Divorce

You wanna hear a funny story that happened to me the other day?  So I'm driving to work and listening to the radio (which is out of character for me--I'm an iPod gal) and the DJs were talking about custody battles.  "Who's worse?" they ask "Who's more vindictive--the men or the women?"  So I think to myself, this is the perfect time for me to call into a radio station!  I have so much to say!  I work in this and I can really educate people on this topic!  So I call, I get through (riiiiiight???) and the DJ assistant guy asks me what I'm going to talk about.  I tell him and he patches me through to the DJs!  I'm all excited when I hear the person before me on a tirade about her divorce.  And I freak out and hang up.  I continue driving to work and hear "Our next caller works in family law.  She has a lot to contribute I think.  Robin? . . . Where's Robin?  . . . Ok I guess we lost Robin."

 So instead of telling Denver, why don't I just spill it on the blog eh?  Ok, first of all, I have to premise this by stating that I only know Colorado divorce law.  But I've been in this field for 5 years now and have been through 2 "divorces" (we were never really married, but still) myself.  So I do have some level of expertise to share.  And here it is.

 First of all, I hear a lot of negative things about divorce--about men and women.  Most of it involves property division ("she/he is gonna get half of everything"), spousal support, endless fighting and the like.  Even some of my favorite comedians talk about divorce like it's the worst thing ever.

But here's the thing--it doesn't have to be this way.  And it's not always like this.  For starters, as far as Colorado law goes, their job in divorces are 1) putting the best interests of the children first and 2) making sure that things are fair, conscionable and equitable.

So as far as spousal support goes--yes majority of the time, from what I've seen, women are awarded some form of spousal support.  But, not just women.  I have seen many cases wherein the wife pays spousal support to the husband.  It happens.  So what is this largely based off of?  Well, of course, what are the roles of the household?  How old are the parties?  What is their employment history like?  Do they have any college education?  How is their health?  The reason that these questions are important and come into play is due to equity.  If there is one party who has spent the last 9 years raising babies, has no degree and no special skills or training, it's gonna be a lot harder for them to just go out and find a job.  Likewise, it is hard for someone to find a job who is older, disabled or sick.  So the Court will do its best to make sure that the life that the parties had built together is maintained as best as possible after the divorce is final.  It would not be fair for one party to live it up like nothing happened while the other finds themselves in poverty.  It is definitely not a decision taken lightly by Judges nor is it just handed out like candy.  In other words, you can't very well just walk in and say "I'm unemployed" and get handed a bunch of money or assets.  This is a very tricky scenario too because there are no, at least in Colorado, set standards for how to award spousal support and it is reviewed very carefully.

Along the same lines--child support.  There is a big cliche around that child support is "just a paycheck" for the primary custodian of the children.  It's not.  There actually is a guideline that is put into effect for child support.  I believe this to be through all of the U.S., not just in Colorado.  This is calculated through a program and takes into account the income of the parties, who pays daycare and how much, who pays health insurance and how much, how many overnights are spent with each parent, an extraordinary monthly expenses (does the child have therapy costs?  do they go to summer camp every year?, etc.) and how many children there are.  You can't just walk into Court and ask for an amount of child support and have it granted.  It is a black and white calculation.  Enforcement of child support and disclosure of income is a whooooole other issue, but I can't get into that here.

I'm very lucky to work where I work because we do a lot of collaborative law.  What that means is that each party has an attorney who looks out for their best interests, but they all four work together on a solution, kind of like an ongoing mediation.  It is great because everyone agrees from the get-go that there will not be any litigation.  In fact, if there is, the parties both need to find new lawyers because there is such a conflict of interest for the collaborative lawyers to represent the parties in Court since they are so invested in what both parties think and feel.  It is an agreement entered into by both parties prior to starting any work.  It is shown to be extremely effective in avoiding litigation, keeping legal costs at a minimum and ensuring that both parties walk away feeling heard, like they got a fair deal, that they had a voice and without animosity toward the other person.  Not only is this great for the clients, but for their families and children since they are inevitably more apt not to blow up about issues that come up and are more likely to work them out on their own without even needing an attorney.

Not everyone can go this route.  And, we do have our fair share of clients or their spouses that are horrendous--in Court for every decision for their kids, fighting constantly, in litigation for years on end, never satisfied with the outcome.  It's truly sad and often scary!  You wouldn't think of family law as a dangerous career, but just in my personal office or area in the last five years I've seen or experienced the following: 1) one of the clients of our officemate had a bomb shipped to her house and a threatening letter sent to her lawyer, our officemate.  We had to be extremely careful opening and receiving packages to our office for weeks.  2) a divorce attorney in Denver was shot and killed.  She had made an out of office hours consultation with someone who just shot her because that person had been through a terrible divorce and wanted to seek vengeance on a divorce attorney.  3) one of our clients who had a very civil divorce, years later, her ex-husband tried to shoot her and their teenage children and thankfully missed, but ended up shooting and killing the client's father.  4)  just today I got a very angry, threatening, violent, screaming phone call from someone not happy with their situation.  Very scary.

When you deal with people at their most sensitive times, feeling like they will or are losing their kids, house, spouse, property, security, belongings and life in general, it's obviously a big deal and shouldn't be taken lightly.  That's why I wish that divorce was portrayed in a more positive light.  It sucks.  It does.  But it also sucks to be going through hell on a daily basis or pretending to be in love for the kids or just plain being miserable.  Divorce, when handled properly, can be a good thing, both for the parties and the children.  If I hadn't gotten divorced, my kids wouldn't have a stepdad, a stepmom and two whole new families to love them.  And that's not a bad thing.  I like to tell people what I was told looooong ago: think about the kids.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Before you do or say anything with or to your ex or soon to be ex think this---how does this effect the kids?

Do you have a question or suggestion for Dear Frannie Friday?  Email me at

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