As a young Cleveland divorce lawyer, Laurel G Stein wrote this article and has graciously consented to have me publish it as Examiner article. It makes for very interesting and relevant reading.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do…
When I was 26 years old, I was sent by my boss to do my first solo divorce trial in Lake County. After resolving the major issues of custody and support, I spent the better part of a very long day, negotiating the division of duck decoys. The divorcing couple spent all afternoon paying their respective attorneys hundreds of dollars to fight over husband’s collection of duck decoys. Not being an avid hunter myself, I did not even know what a duck decoy was or why it was so important to my client. Yet, he persisted with the fight as though the duck decoys were made of gold.
A few weeks later, at another final divorce hearing, I sat on the hard benches of the Cuyahoga County Courthouse all day working to resolve all the “complicated issues” of the shared parenting plan, child support and spousal support. Once those issues were settled I thought we were home free, until we started the tedious process of dividing the personal effects. I spent the next several hours wrangling over vacuum cleaners and television sets. I advised my client that she was wasting her time paying me to fight over vacuum cleaners. If she just agreed to give her husband the vacuum cleaner, I would reduce my fee by an hour or so, which would allow her to buy a brand new vacuum cleaner. Despite my best attempts, she just wanted the couple’s old vacuum cleaner.
At the time I had been married just short of one year and I came home to our apartment, devoid of furniture, with wedding presents piled in the empty dining room, and I said to my husband that we needed to divide up our belongings right now because there was no way I was going to pay an attorney $250 an hour to divide up our junk.
It was not until further into my career that I realized that it was not about the duck decoys or the vacuum cleaners, but rather that last material possession that connected the couple. It was about getting the last word or winning the last battle. It was about letting go.
Mine, Yours and Ours…
As I settled into a career of dividing up other people’s bank accounts and credit card debts, I decided that I was never going to be someone that got so intermingled with another person that it would be impossible to untangle my assets. While all of my friends were getting married and feeling so excited about the prospect of a joint checking account and joint credit cards, I was insistent on having my own checking account and my own credit cards. Close friends could not understand my insistence at being financially independent. To that end, I replied that they had not spent days upon days separating comingled assets and attempting to determine separate property from marital property. They had not seen one spouse financially ruin another spouse’s credit by failing to pay the bills or overextending their credit. To this day, I still have my own checking account and my own credit cards, along with some joint accounts for good measure.
The “standard order of visitation,” provides that the non-residential parent shall have the child(ren)every other weekend and one night during the week. If the parties cannot agree on that weekday evening, it shall be Wednesday. Every domestic relations attorney probably has this permanently engrained into their heads. If I was ever out for dinner on a Wednesday night and saw a father or mother alone with two kids, I would remark to my husband that the person was divorced. He would always marvel at this observation. I would reply that it was WEDNESDAY night. Wednesday night…the night that divorced fathers or mothers all over the country get their weekday bonding time with the children over chicken fingers and French fries.
Who Pays the Bills…
It never ceased to amaze me that some clients had no idea what their bills consisted of, how much the monthly payments were, or even, if their spouse was actually paying the bills. Letting one person handle all of the finances is all well and good, until the bills stop getting paid prior to a divorce and finances start to slide downhill fast. One of the best pieces of advice for any client, including one going through a divorce, is to know all aspects of your finances. Never stay in the dark and leave everything to the other person as you never know what tomorrow will bring. To this day, the paying of bills is a joint activity in my house.
Practice Pointer: Obviously, working as a divorce attorney skews your idealistic view of marriage and finances. It keeps you grounded in reality and forever thankful that your marriage is not on the cutting room floor. It gives you perspective that things could always be worse. And, most of all, it teaches you not to pay your attorney hundreds of dollars an hour to divide up your duck decoys and vacuum cleaners.