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Episode 103 - Surprises Experienced by Divorcing Men
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp radio on The New Talk 106.7. Here you learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis and from time to time even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level.
Leh Meriwether: If you wanna read more about us you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. Well, Todd, what are we talking about today?
Todd Orston: I'm sorry. That was great. I mean, I didn't know who you were referring to, you didn't point to me this time when you said Todd Orston, with me is Todd Orston.
Todd Orston: Today we're gonna follow up on something we started a few weeks ago and we did a show, surprises experienced by women going through a divorce. We promised and we're gonna make good on that promise. This show we're gonna do surprises that are experience by divorcing men.
Leh Meriwether: All right.
Todd Orston: Okay. And what do we mean by that? We mean not that they are surprised that they are going through a divorce. They are surprised because they jump into a divorce and they have preconceived notions of different issues whether it's support issues, custody issues, division of property issues, whatever it might be.
Todd Orston: People come into this process and they think they know and maybe they don't know right from wrong, good from bad, whatever. And so, this show is really going to hopefully give people a better understanding on some of these issues that we see people struggle with a lot in divorce.
Leh Meriwether: Right, so, hitting the most common surprises that we see and we're focusing on men just because we tend to see men seem to process things or are surprised by things differently than women and so we're gonna just break it down by men this time.
Todd Orston: Break it down.
Leh Meriwether: Break it down. I would go into a rap but you'd make fun of me so I won't.
Todd Orston: Mercilessly. Actually, I will pay you. Please. Break into a rap.
Todd Orston: All right. So, let's start with what I believe is one of the most important issues, obviously, that people might face in a divorce. Surprises relating to custody and parenting time. Okay.
Todd Orston: Number one, we hear this all the time, read about it all the time. I'm the dad, women always win custody. Okay? True or false?
Leh Meriwether: False.
Todd Orston: Yeah. I mean, a lot of people, we see it all the time, I see it all the time. They'll come in, they'll be like, "Well, I'm a dad. Why should I even fight for custody? Why should I even throw my hat into the ring in terms of either being the primary physical custodian or just having significant parenting time because the deck is stacked against me."
Leh Meriwether: Right and that was true years ago and that's probably where people developed those preconceived notions is hearing about things from years ago where in fact there was the law ... Thirty years ago, the tender years doctrine, where there was a presumption by law that the mom was the better caretaker of children up to the age of eight. So, there's a lot of precedence for that.
Leh Meriwether: That law's been done away with, they found it to be discriminatory and not necessarily accurate but there was a time where a lot of judges continues to basically follow the law but a lot has changed over the years.
Todd Orston: Yeah, I mean, as practitioners, I know I've won custody for a large number of fathers. Okay? I know you've had cases where the father asked for and ended up getting primary custody. So, it's not accurate. I wanna make sure that that is true. You will get a fair shake in court.
Todd Orston: Now, here's the difference though. When you go into the process and people think ... And a father, let's say, thinks, "Well, okay, fine Todd. You're telling me I'm on equal footing. Then that means that I should have an equal shot to get primary custody." Then we have to look behind the curtain and we have to look at, "Okay, what is the court going to see in terms of you as a father leading up to this point." That's where a lot of the factors will come in.
Todd Orston: So, in other words, some fathers will be, "I'm a great dad, I'm this, I'm that, why can't I be the primary custodial parent? Automatically, it's gonna be the wife." No, it's not automatic. But, if the court then starts looking into things and it turns out that you travel a lot for work or you socialize a lot and you don't go to doctor visits a lot, you don't go to teacher conferences a lot, you're not the one who's really spending time doing homework and things like that. Well, then it's not a man woman thing. It's more of a who has been historically most involved with all of the children's day to day activities and needs.
Leh Meriwether: Who's done some of the hard work-
Todd Orston: That's right.
Leh Meriwether: -not that any of it's easy but sort of the grunt work maybe. Yeah, and we actually had a whole show and the title of the show was "Can a man really win custody?" and the answer was ... There was a trick question that sort of ...
Leh Meriwether: But what people get wrapped up with and before we move onto the next one I think it's important to make this point clear is, don't get wrapped up in winning. "Oh, I can? I can win custody?" And then all of a sudden they get into a fight and then they wind up losing because they get all wrapped up in winning the case rather than focusing on what's in their children's best interest.
Todd Orston: And it's hard to differentiate that because-
Leh Meriwether: It is.
Todd Orston: Because you might have to look within yourself and at some point you might have to realize, me being the primary custodial parent based on what I can give to my kids at this point in my life may not be the best thing. And that's really hard to come to grips with. Okay?
Todd Orston: But if you can't do it yourself then a court's gonna do that because the court's gonna look at your historical involvement and will absolutely judge you based on that.
Todd Orston: Now, I will also say very quickly that that can change and courts will recognize and I've heard courts talk about this, judges talk about this, where a mother will say, "Well, he wasn't at the doctor visits, didn't go to the school conferences," whatever. But post separation, meaning once you separate and you start going down the path of divorce, you have become much more involved. Courts recognize that, okay, when you were together mom had these responsibilities, dad had these responsibilities and now dad is stepping up and doing the right thing. That's not a negative.
Todd Orston: Absolutely if anything I would tell people, anyone listening, any fathers, step it up. It's never too late because it's only gonna benefit your children and could potentially benefit you.
Leh Meriwether: And you know, that's a really good point because I think another surprise that men have going when the divorce has been filed is a surprise of just how disconnected they've become from their family because they pour themselves into work and they're gone all the time, they're staying late for meetings or coming home late, they're not eating dinner with the family and so sometimes they're surprised when the kids may tend to wanna gravitate more towards mom just because she's been there. Not that he's necessarily a bad dad 'cause he was providing financially but there's this realization, "Oh my gosh, what have I done to my family?" And that's where you see a lot if they're inherently good parents and they start stepping it up when it comes to being a parent. So the men are a good dad where they weren't before.
Todd Orston: Yeah. Again, it's never too late.
Todd Orston: The other thing is that you need to think of things in terms of, again, what is the child or what are the children's needs. And courts will look at things like the age of a child. Okay?
Todd Orston: What a court might believe is good for a very, very young child may not be good for a very old child. So, how the court wants to and does deal with a three year old is absolutely going to be usually different than what a court would consider and what a court might do for a 13, 14, 15, 16 year old.
Todd Orston: So, when you're going into the process, it's not that the deck is stacked against you. It's that you need to think about all the things that the attorneys and the judge are thinking about which they use to define what the best situation for the child is going to be.
Leh Meriwether: Right, to define it a little bit more, that's another thing that dads are surprised of. That the age of the child does impact what the parenting schedule will be because ... And that kind of goes back to some dads get disconnected. They don't realize how much was going on. Sometimes they don't realize, and this actually can lead to the divorce. They didn't realize just how much mom was doing. How much work was involved in making sure the kids were at school on time and get their homework done and everything because there was roles at that point in time. They were busy with this but you can still see dads that suddenly, they fail to appreciate, they don't have any gratitude for everything that the mom was doing and that a lot of times we've seen contribute to the divorce.
Todd Orston: Yeah, so that's why attorneys, being able to speak to someone who absolutely understands how the judge is gonna look at these things, it's not that the system's against you. It's that there are scores of items and issues that are gonna be considered by the court and you may be able to win custody if a lot of those things lean in your favor. Okay? But a professional is gonna be able to identify the positives and the negatives to tell you what your chances are.
Leh Meriwether: And usually, when you're honest about those things, what it leads to is settlement. So rather than going into court and battling it out, which is rarely good for you, the kids, your co-parenting future and your wallet, when you are honest about those things, talk about them honestly with your lawyer and take an honest assessment of where you are, it can lead to settlements, which is in the children's best interest. A lot of the times that settlement can lead to a greater amount of parenting time than you expect.
Leh Meriwether: Hey, up next we're going to continue to break down some of the surprises that we most commonly see men experience when going through a divorce.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm or Meriwether & Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp radio on the new talk 106.7. Well, if you wanna read more about us you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. But we've got a lot of information to cover so, let's get back to it.
Leh Meriwether: What's the second most common, not necessarily in order of what we see. What is the second most common surprise that we see men experience going through divorce?
Todd Orston: What I call, and we talked about this in the last show, we were talking about surprises that women face, where did all the money go? Marital spending. Unaware of marital spending.
Todd Orston: We have situations all the time where we represent a man and he steps into this situation and he's like, "Well, I think we have this much debt and we have this much in the bank and I have some other things squirreled away here and there," and we start digging in and there's three times as much credit card debt and there's half as much money in the accounts and-
Leh Meriwether: And the cash that was in the safe is gone.
Todd Orston: Is gone. Okay? And so, I understand how that happens. Because you are in a relationship. A relationship should be based on trust and you think, if money is there, it's still there. It's not always the case. Sometimes these financial problems are what lead to the break up, lead to the divorce.
Todd Orston: But anyway, so where did all the money go? Secret bank accounts? Okay? I've had cases where let's say a spouse has a job, part-time job, maybe full time job, and it becomes a question of, "Hey, where did all that income go?" And we end up digging and digging and digging and finally get some compliance with discovery only to find out that the wife had been squirreling all that money away-
Leh Meriwether: Every penny.
Todd Orston: Every penny and was trying to make it so that that wasn't really part of the consideration in terms of how the assets are going to be divided.
Todd Orston: And so, I definitely see men be surprised when they jump into a divorce case and they really start digging and to understand their finances. The current status of their finances.
Leh Meriwether: I think another surprise people see is that, let's say they have all the money in a bank account where there's an auto-withdrawal and then all of a sudden one day they looked at the account balance and it said zero. And so, that's a surprise we see where especially if a stay at home mom that becomes fearful of if they're filing for a divorce, how are they gonna get through it? Is he gonna take away all the money? So they remove all the money ahead of time and then next thing you know, cheques are bouncing.
Todd Orston: Yeah, and courts will recognize and appreciate the argument that maybe a wife who is dependent on a husband financially transferred money because of fear. What it really comes down to is the parties need to behave. They need to act reasonably, act responsibly, not just blow through the money and spend-
Leh Meriwether: $20000 on new wardrobe.
Todd Orston: Yeah.
Leh Meriwether: Which we've seen.
Todd Orston: That's wrong and the court's gonna be upset about that. But you need to protect yourself. Okay? We tell our clients that all the time. If there's a fear that money will just be given away, we've seen that, gifts being given to people, lavish gifts being bought for third parties, trips, clothes, you name it. If you fear the dissipation of those types of assets then you need to do something to protect the asset.
Todd Orston: That does not mean cutting your spouse off from all access to money. Like, I've had situations where I had one where there was $270000 in the bank and the wife took possession of the money and the court ultimately allowed her to use it to basically live and by the time we got to a divorce, it was-
Leh Meriwether: Gone.
Todd Orston: -depleted. Significantly.
Leh Meriwether: And she needed more.
Todd Orston: Yeah. But it wasn't all gone but most of it was. But the court wasn't angry with her because she used it to live. So, was some of it unreasonable spending? Yeah, probably. I mean, I think it was. So, if you wanna avoid something like that as a man, if you wanna avoid that from happening, you may need to take control of some of those assets.
Leh Meriwether: Just shift it into another account.
Todd Orston: And it doesn't mean again that you're preventing her from having any access to any moneys but you at least know that the bulk is protected and then you can always deal with dispersing some of it to each party in a controlled way.
Leh Meriwether: All right, so, what else have we got?
Todd Orston: All right, unaware of marital debt. We owe-
Leh Meriwether: I know you put these notes ahead and I don't wanna jump ahead.
Todd Orston: Oh, suddenly it's my fault. All right, I see you.
Leh Meriwether: I don't wanna mess it up.
Todd Orston: No, no, no. So, let's talk about marital debt. We were just talking about dissipation of assets but another thing that we see all the time is a man jumps into a case and says, "Oh, I have three credit cards and there's $5000 in credit card debt. No big deal." And we have to say, "Well, hold on one second. There's actually nine credit cards and you have about $60000 in debt<" and-
Leh Meriwether: It turns out the wife forged his name on some credit cards and opened up a PO box to have all the statements go to and-
Todd Orston: And we've seen that, we've seen and we've talked about it on the show. I had one case where the wife filed for bankruptcy not once but twice without him knowing and the second time obviously she didn't have any working credit cards anymore but found a stack of his credit cards and changed the address to a PO box and ran those credit cards up and then she also ran up some things on her own. She filed for bankruptcy again but he didn't. He wasn't filing because he didn't even [crosstalk 00:17:45] know he had to.
Leh Meriwether: He didn't know. Yeah.
Todd Orston: So, look, the takeaway there is don't be surprised. How? Be vigilant. Okay?
Leh Meriwether: Pull your credit report.
Todd Orston: Pull credit report, absolutely. But also, sometimes that doesn't work 100% because she may be running up the credit card debt in her name.
Leh Meriwether: Which we've seen happen before where they'll go out, they'll feel like for whatever reason ... Well, we've seen some people have an addiction to spending.
Todd Orston: That's right.
Leh Meriwether: I mean to shopping. I know that sounds weird but we have seen it before-
Todd Orston: Oh, god yeah.
Leh Meriwether: -and we've had clients that part of the reason for the divorce is that their spouse or wife wouldn't stop spending and would just they'd find a credit card that they'd somehow managed to get and somebody happened to give them credit that they maxed out and some of them I've even seen open up a storage unit to put all their stuff in. So they didn't have to bring it home but they needed help with the spending, the shopping issue.
Todd Orston: Yeah, but here is the problem. The real problem is because that's a situation where you have just grossly inappropriate spending. The not lesser seen but another kind of situation is where it may not rise to that level of gross spending, but you're living a lifestyle beyond means and if we're talking about one month, no big deal, but if it's the accumulation of a year or two years or five years-
Leh Meriwether: It could be a debt of thousand cuts.
Todd Orston: Absolutely, and now all of a sudden, you have 50000, 60000, $70000 in debt and if you then try to make the argument, "Well I didn't know about it" but then the court looks at the spending and it's shoes for the kids and eating out maybe too often but there's nothing blatant like a trip with three of your girlfriends to Paris then guess what, you might be held responsible for that and if you're the primary breadwinner guess who's walking away with probably a majority of that debt?
Todd Orston: So, you have to be vigilant, you have to be aware if more money is being spent, if you see more groceries and more clothes and you're like, "Well, hold on one second, I don't know where the money's going."
Leh Meriwether: And you just brought up a good point that I think goes right along with this. That there's a shock sometimes when they say, "Well, she ran up $20000 in debt I didn't know about, shouldn't she be responsible for that?"
Todd Orston: Right.
Leh Meriwether: And a lot of times the court says, "No, that's a marital debt." Okay, I get it but you know, she was spending it on the kids. All those extracurricular activities like the travel baseball and soccer and cheerleading. All those just added up over the course of a couple of years and it wound up being $20000 and he just wasn't paying attention, he was busy working and nothing wrong with that, but so it becomes a shock. And he's also shocked that he could be responsible for at least 50% of it.
Todd Orston: Yeah, and if your wife, because understand, if your wife maybe can earn minimum wage because she has dedicated her life to being a stay at home mom, again, absolutely nothing wrong with that but now the reality that you are in is that you make X amount of dollars which is far more than your wife can earn and therefore if the court is trying to determine how is that debt going to be paid, it will take your wife 318 years to pay that off at minimum wage and it won't take you that long. Now, you may get saddled [inaudible 00:21:30].
Leh Meriwether: I think before we move to the next segment I do think that it's important to ... When you do get surprised by this, don't overreact, talk through it with the lawyer 'cause what you can do is you can figure out some way to deal with this debt where it doesn't require you maybe picking on all the liability. Sometimes people sell the house and negotiate in a settlement rather than going to court that the house is sold and then that certain proceeds are taken to take care of this debt right off the top.
Leh Meriwether: So, don't panic, don't make it worse by lashing out at your spouse. That can create problems. They say, "The reason I did this 'cause he was abusive and controlling and so I didn't have a choice." So, talk to your lawyer when you have this discovery, don't freak out, don't attack your wife. Figure out a way to get past it.
Leh Meriwether: Hey, and up next we're gonna talk about some of the surprises, common surprises we see men have concerning alimony and child support.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether. With me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp radio on The New Talk 106.7. If you wanna read more about us, you can always check us out online, atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: Well, today, we've been talking about the most common surprises that we see men experience going through a divorce and we've touched on some things like surprises about custody and parenting time. That the old system where women automatically got custody isn't in place anymore. Discovering marital spending that they were unaware of, discovering marital debt they were unaware of. Now we're gonna talk about alimony and child support surprises. Surprise.
Todd Orston: It can be a lot of money and so it's not a good surprise.
Leh Meriwether: No.
Todd Orston: But the surprises we're talking about are people again come in, men come in with these notions of fairness. What is right, what is wrong and what I should be paying and unfortunately sometimes, it doesn't match up with the reality. Okay? So, that's what we're really talking about.
Todd Orston: Like, for instance, the effect of one's monthly expenses on let's say your child support or alimony obligations. Okay? Child support. Can it have some bearing? Yes, there's been some new changes to the laws in Georgia where your actual expenses can play a role and have an impact but for the most part, you have to assume no. Historically your expenses were pretty much irrelevant.
Leh Meriwether: Right, all that mattered was your income and her income and then it got plugged into a formula and there's different other variables that can be plugged into this formula, that the formula produced the child support amount that you're supposed to pay. And like you said, the new law changed where the court can actually do a financial analysis to see if the obligor has the ability to pay. But in Georgia that just came out this summer so we haven't really seen the practical impact of that.
Leh Meriwether: And I know the reason that was added in there because it's a federal ... I don't know if it's a federal mandate but the federal office that's sort of looking over child support across the country has been really pushing this down to other states. I don't know which states have enacted this but suffice it to say in practical applications, I'm really expecting judges to go, "Sir, I understand you have three Porsches but you only really need ... You don't even need a Porsche."
Todd Orston: Yeah, I was about to say, you only need two. Come on, let's be honest here, sir.
Leh Meriwether: So, I do remember a case where the court said, "Sir, I understand you have all this debt but at the end of the day you have a truck payment, a boat payment and a Harley payment. You only need the truck payment to get to and from work and drive your kids. You're gonna have to sell those two other things because the child support [inaudible 00:25:58], I'm not deviating from the child support calculator."
Todd Orston: And that's really what we're talking about. We're talking about ... In saying that we don't really yet know how the court's going to approach this we don't have years under our belts where judges have heard the arguments and issued orders either deviating or not. So, again, people are coming in and they're surprised that-
Leh Meriwether: I have to pay that much?
Todd Orston: Yeah, it's like, the three Porsches or my house or my this or my that. I'm gonna have no money left. I get it. I understand and we're going to go into budgets in a moment.
Todd Orston: Another thing where they're surprised, where people come in, they have started a new family. Let's say the divorce occurs and this goes more into modifications but I wanna touch on it and they have had other children and they're still married to, let's say, that person and they're like, "Well, I can't pay a lot of child support because I have to raise my new children." Okay? Doesn't work that way.
Leh Meriwether: I mean, there's a deviation that sometimes discretionary and sometimes there's mandatory but apart from that the deviation isn't that much. So, that can be a big surprise.
Leh Meriwether: I think another big surprise we've seen is that there's allowed deviations for child support if there's a fifty-fifty custodial arrangement but some people assume, "Well, if it's fifty-fifty that means I don't have to pay any child support," and that's not the case either-
Todd Orston: No.
Leh Meriwether: -because the court's still gonna look at what's in the best interest of the children if you make ... There was actually a case in Georgia where the ... I wanna say the husband made about $300000 a year and the wife didn't make anything. Well, dad won primary physical custody, mom only had every other weekend but dad had to pay full child support because there was such an income discrepancy that they didn't want the children visiting mom in a cardboard box.
Todd Orston: Right, so we were talking about maybe a shared custody arrangement. That's an example of dad actually got primary custody having more than 51% of the time with the children and yet still had to pay child support because of that discrepancy in income.
Todd Orston: In shared custody arrangements we see a lot of surprise because they come in and they'll be ... You see a lot of starting positions on custody be "I want half of the time," and when you dig in with some of these people, you realize that it's really a child support issue. Okay, I'm not saying all the time, not even most of the time. I'm saying sometimes you see that's really what the driving force is and then you have to have a conversation and say, "Well, even if we are able to get that shared custody arrangement for you, you make significantly more than she does. You may still have to pay some child support," so that does come as a big surprise.
Leh Meriwether: So, let's talk about alimony now.
Todd Orston: Yeah.
Leh Meriwether: So, what sort of surprises you see men have concerning alimony?
Todd Orston: Well, alimony again ... First of all, there are a lot of people who they think, for instance, "My wife has a degree. We've been married for 30 years, she has a degree, she could go and she could work. She's not working." Okay, well, sir, when was the last time your wife worked? "Well, in 1978, she had an incredible job." Okay, and since then? "Since then, she's been a stay at home mom and whatever."
Todd Orston: Okay, so you do see some people ... I know that's a sarcastic example okay, but where they come in and they have this expectation that no alimony because your spouse may have some level of an ability to work, but that's not the way it plays out. That's not the way it works. Court will look at whether or not your spouse has an ability to work but your spouse is gonna be given time to get a job and get on their feet and start earning.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. And so, you might even have to be responsible for covering their re-education. We've seen it with teachers, they sometimes had to get to re-certified so there's a process they have to go through. So, you could be responsible for that too. So, there's a surprise there and there's some states where after so many years of marriage, it is presumed permanent lifetime alimony. So-
Todd Orston: Georgia doesn't have that [crosstalk 00:30:15] but absolutely, there are states where ... And that absolutely comes as a surprise to people. Let's put it this way, I'm glad it's not here in Georgia because I wouldn't wanna be the one having that conversation with somebody where it's like, "Oh, listen, for the rest of your life you're gonna be paying support."
Todd Orston: But there are many attorneys across this nation where they have to have their conversation with their clients. But alimony is fairly common and by that, again, people are sometimes surprised because even somebody who is working, even if your spouse has already re-entered the workforce, if your income is far greater or if they're just getting on their feet, just because I'm saying alimony is pretty common, it doesn't mean that you're gonna be paying five, ten years of alimony. Some people will get three months of alimony to help get them on their feet. Some will get six months, some will get a year, some will get ten years. It just depends on the facts and circumstances of the case but people, men, need to go into these situations understanding it's a reality and we can fight against it, meaning we can put arguments forth to explain why maybe alimony isn't reasonable but courts don't look at it as this outlier kind of issue where, "We don't really do alimony here." No, they really do alimony here.
Todd Orston: The other thing is, temporary versus final or permanent. Sometimes people, they are surprised 'cause they step into a case and right off the bat they're going in front of a judge on a temporary basis and next thing you know, they're paying all the household bills, all that and they're being ordered to pay child support and alimony to their spouse.
Leh Meriwether: Or one or the other. Or it could be child support paying but then all their [inaudible 00:32:09] but in that same scenario they're paying all the expenses at the marital home but they've had to move out and get their own apartment.
Todd Orston: Right.
Leh Meriwether: So, now they're paying for two households. So, that's something that goes back to, we hit at the end of the last segment, and I think it's important to reiterate it here, when you discover this or when this revelation comes along and you're surprised by it, process the surprise but don't lash out at your spouse or anything like that.
Leh Meriwether: Talk to your lawyer about how to work through it because we've had a show where we talked about working through that, how to develop a plan. Okay, if your spouse won't do it, you do the research and go out there and say, "Well, you know what? She used to be a nurse. What is it gonna take in the state of Georgia? she was a nurse in Illinois, but what will it take in the state of Georgia to get re-certified as a nurse?" Go figure that out. Say, "Okay, it looks like you can go back as a nurse but it's gonna be probably a one year ... You're gonna have to go back to school for a year, get re-certified and then you should be in the workforce in 18 months and your salary will be about X," and so you consider making an alimony proposal, you get ahead of it, put together a proposal that says, "Here we go, I actually laid out a possibility for you to re-enter the workforce and I'll cover the expenses as we go."
Leh Meriwether: And up next we're gonna talk about budget and support ... More budget and support surprises and the difference between generous and stupid.
Leh Meriwether: Todd, while we're on a break, let's take a moment to speak just with our podcast listeners.
Todd Orston: Great idea Leh. First, thank you for listening. If you're a client of ours, thank you for taking the time to educate yourself. It really helps us help you.
Leh Meriwether: And I wanna thank those that recently took a moment to review our podcast. We really appreciate it. If you feel like you're gaining a value from the show, please take a moment to post a review. The reviews help others find the show which allows us to help even more people.
Todd Orston: And if you're not sure how to post a review, our webmasters put together a simple explanation on our webpage. You can find it at mtlawoffice.com/reviewit. That's M as in Mary, T as in Tom, law office dot com slash review it.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm or Meriwether & Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp radio on The New Talk 106.7. If you wanna read more about us you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: We've been talking about this show the biggest or some of the most common surprises that we see men experience going through a divorce. We've touched on everything from custody to marital debt to child support and alimony and understanding those things. The time it takes to perhaps being responsible for what could be called rehabilitative alimony, the time it takes for their wife to re-enter the workforce. Now we're gonna talk about budget and support surprises and we wanna touch on this because I think you and I have both seen situations where people, they wanna be generous in their settlement proposals and-
Todd Orston: And that can be born out of guilt, it could be born out of just I wanna be generous. But they wanna give a lot to make the other party comfortable and provide for them and provide for the children. But there's a difference between generous and dumb. Okay?
Todd Orston: And what I mean by that is the budget is so important. When we take on a client, one of the first things we do is we work on their budget and we make sure that we fully understand what their budget looks like and we put accurate numbers in it and the reason is I can't tell you how many times I, and I think I can speak for both of us and probably everyone in our firm and probably every family lawyer out there, we have seen someone come to us and say, "Well, I entered into an agreement. What can I do? I entered into an agreement, signed off on it, and I'm about 1000, 2000, $3000 in the hole every single month." And there's not much that you can do.
Leh Meriwether: No.
Todd Orston: So, it comes as a surprise because most people don't do a budget that reflects your expenses at any given time.
Leh Meriwether: Or they'll be thinking, "I'm generous" and they'll understand their current budget and so they'll make, "Okay, I'll pay the following bills and I'll take care of these expenses" and then they'll fail to do a budget. A future budget and what it will be like when they're at two separate houses. Because there's a lot more driving involved then. I know that may sound silly but you can suddenly go to if your wife is the one primarily responsible for taking the kids to and from extracurriculars and you work out a deal but now you're driving them all around and next thing you know they're asking you to write these cheques for travel baseball and all those things and you're like, "Well, I didn't think of those things."
Leh Meriwether: So, it's important not only to figure out your current budget but also figure out your future budget. And so people come in and they're surprised, they're, "Well, I made this offer to her, we've been talking," and we're like, "From what you told me, I don't know how you're going to afford that." And so they have to struggle walking back from that offer and so one of the things we have to do is get them to get the numbers together to show the other side. And that's both the biggest surprise and [inaudible 00:38:08] been a surprise for the women sometimes too in that situation because they were promised something by their husband and now when it comes down to a written agreement, he's not honoring that promise.
Todd Orston: Yeah, and it's because it wasn't a reasonable offer in the first place but you don't know that until you do the budget so we have people who are surprised because when we sit down and we show them this is what your financial world is going to look like post divorce and you are just offering an amount that if you pay that you are one, two, three, four, $5000 beyond what you are able to pay. So, we may get you some money in the division of property, you're gonna be for the next several years using that to make good on your obligations for support and the other thing that people are sometime surprised, especially the ones who come to us and say, "I already signed on an agreement, what can I do?" There's not much you can do. Waking up the next day and saying, "You know what? I worked on a budget. I don't think I can do that," after you've already signed on the dotted line, that doesn't work.
Leh Meriwether: And I've even had a case where thankfully we were able to negotiate something in a modification. The other side was willing to work with us and we modified the support obligation. But when we got in front of the judge and some other issues that we couldn't work out, the judge said to our client, "I remember this case. Sir, I told you, you shouldn't enter this agreement but you said you knew what you were doing."
Todd Orston: Judge, it wasn't me.
Leh Meriwether: Then he went on to say, "Your lawyers did a darn fine job because I wouldn't have modified this if you'd had a hearing." So, yeah, it was-
Todd Orston: Once it's done it's done.
Leh Meriwether: It's done, yeah. So, that's a big surprise. All right, well ...
Todd Orston: Let's move onto property division. Okay, 'cause, we could spend five segments on budget and things like that and do a whole show but trying to get some of this other information in, which I think is really important for people to start thinking about if they're going down this path of a divorce, it's the what I call, I earned it. What's mine is mine, what's yours is your mentality. Okay? Great thought other than the fact that it-
Leh Meriwether: It's not Georgia law.
Todd Orston: -goes against Georgia law.
Leh Meriwether: And most states.
Todd Orston: And most states.
Leh Meriwether: In fact, I don't know any states that ... Whether it's community property or equitable division, the court's gonna look at everything earned during the course of the marriage to decide ... They're gonna look at everything-
Todd Orston: What's marital [crosstalk 00:40:45] and therefore what's subject to division. So, I have a lot of clients who come in and they are surprised. When I'm looking at them and I'm defining for them separate versus marital property, marital being what is then subject to division and what can be therefore a portion of that can be given to the wife and there are a lot of people who have these preconceived notions of what is fair and they're like, "Well, I worked, I earned, I built up a 401K and retirement and pension and bap, bap, bap ... I should bet 80% of the estate." And that's not what Georgia law says.
Leh Meriwether: And some people think the title makes the difference, so, "Yeah, we're gonna split the house but we'll each keep our 401Ks," and you're going, "Your 401K is worth 400000, hers is worth 18000, so that's not gonna work."
Todd Orston: What?
Leh Meriwether: And it's my separate 401K and that's when we have to explain, well, the court can divide it and it actually can be divided without tax consequences because a lot of people don't know about that as well and it's called a [inaudible 00:41:51] that does that. So, that's something that people are really shocked ... Men particularly are really shocked by it.
Todd Orston: Really, the advice I'm gonna give is that you have to go into this thinking in terms of how is the court gonna look at the assets that were accumulated during the marriage. The way the court looks at it is any dollar that you've earned during the marriage is a marital dollar even though you worked, you bled for it, you whatever. It is just as much of your spouse's dollar as it is yours.
Leh Meriwether: So, we got two more.
Todd Orston: Yeah.
Leh Meriwether: We got just a few minutes to hit them. Why is the case taking so long?
Todd Orston: Get that all the time.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah.
Todd Orston: All the time. And I wish that we could say that the system itself was better, more efficient, faster, whatever. It is a process and there are things that need to be done in order to do it right. We have to engage in what's called discovery, we need to potentially sometimes go in front of a judge for a temporary hearing. Getting on a final trial calendar can sometimes take upwards of a month or so and then that's just getting on the calendar and then actually being put on for a final trial, sometimes you're waiting two, three months. Sometimes you get to that day and you get bumped off that calendar and pushed to another calendar.
Leh Meriwether: The other thing in the taking long is men don't realize that a lot of times their wives may need time to process things and so we've seen where the husband ... And this isn't just a man woman thing but I seem to see it more on the men side where in their head, this marriage is over, it's been over. Let's make this happen. And the other side is, "I gotta process this." And the husband will make a very generous offer, not stupid but generous and they won't even respond 'cause they're having trouble dealing with it.
Leh Meriwether: So, just let process work, let the person on the other side process it so that you can move on and eventually settle it 'cause those that can, those that are able to sit back and allow their spouse to process what's happening, those cases, I've never had one of those go to trial. They've all settled. So, all right. Last one.
Todd Orston: Number nine. Underestimating the cost of divorce. Men deal with this a lot more often because they are ... And it just happens to be they are oftentimes the primary breadwinner. And so they'll start the process and they will go and they'll hire themselves an attorney and then we start talking and it's, "Oh, okay that's great. What does your wife do? Doesn't work. All right. Well, do you understand that at some point she's probably gonna get an attorney? Do you understand that if she has no income you may be asked, or the marital assets may be used to pay for her to get an attorney? And then when we start talking about the actual costs, you've hired your own attorney that has to do work so you may be asked to pay something for your wife. There may be experts, there may be other court expenses like mediations or depositions if you're doing a deposition." And so, oftentimes people just come into the situation and they are not aware of what they might be tapped on their shoulder to pay.
Leh Meriwether: Well, one thing I'm aware of is we're out of time.
Todd Orston: I keep asking for three hours.
Leh Meriwether: [crosstalk 00:45:18] Do you need more time? Hey everyone, thanks so much for listening. If you wanna read more about us, you can always go to atlantadivorceteam.com. You can also find transcripts of this show and others at mtlawoffice.com/podcasts.
Speaker 3: This audio program does not establish an attorney client relationship with Meriwether & Tharp.