The settlement is almost there, and the awakening dread

I think we’re close to a final agreement on the divorce settlement. It hasn’t been contentious, but I’ve been a bit careful about the language because I figure that my wife will misunderstand something and try to fuck me on it later.

I don’t have to appear in court, so I’m going to skip that. My attorney will take care of that. But, once the court approves the settlement I’m back to the problem that I think was the biggest part of the divorce: my wife does not take care of her financial responsibilities and doesn’t understand her obligations. Again, I’ve tried to make it very clear in the settlement what she needs to do so I can protect myself.

I haven’t spoken to her in over a year. Even though this is an “amicable” divorce, she hates me and still isn’t grateful for what I’m doing for her. I’ve reined in my attorney plenty of times where I could have been vindictively harsh in the terms. There’s no good that can come to me from destroying her to the extent of my legal rights. I think I’m already coming out of this process much better off than most people would have since I’m not making emotional decisions (which is different than not being emotional about it).

But, once divorced, I’m back to the stomach-churning process of dealing with my Ex and our shared finances. Imagine having to negotiate with a middle schooler who at once doesn’t understand the financial devices but also has a naïve (often liberal) belief in the way the world works. For things that don’t matter, like where to eat or what to watch on TV, there’s no real risk. When it comes to retirement accounts and how much money I’ll have this year to spend on food, it’s maddening.

So several months I’ve been at peace with the state of my divorce, but now that we’re close to the end it’s picking at old wounds. With some distance, especially emotionally, so things make more sense.

I think the last straw in our marriage was a Christmas trip she took alone that last year we were together. That would be our last holiday together. Her parents are divorced and geographically distant from each other. Normally, we’d visit both of them each year and switch up Thanksgiving and Christmas. In June, I had asked her who we’d visit when so we could buy the airline tickets. I asked her a few more times before she decided in November, but which time tickets had tripled and gone beyond what I thought we could afford at the time.

Her decision was to go without me, spending more on just her ticket than we could have spent for both of us. When she got back, she was chilly toward me in a way she had never been. She was physically repulsed by me, and I that’s the last time she allowed me to touch her. I think her family had worked on her over the holiday and that she had probably lied about the reason I wasn’t there during the holiday. She wouldn’t have told them that I tried to arrange it so both of us to go but she delayed until the last moment. I don’t think that she would have told them that she spent much more than I thought we could afford so that she could abandon me during Christmas.

But, I think the seeds were already there. Since I knew I wouldn’t be with her on Christmas Day, I had arranged a pre-Christmas the week before. We had hung stockings, gotten a little tree that we decorated, and had planned our own Christmas dinner.

Looking back on that now, I understand more about her behavior even then. I had quite a bit of fun filling her stocking (and the stockings for our cats!) with various trivial fun things, including citrus as part of a throwback to the days when oranges were treats. I was unable to hide my disappointment when I discovered on our fake-Christmas morning that she had done nothing similar. She said “I didn’t know we were doing that”, a bit flatly. And that’s the rub: unless I pushed and specified something she didn’t do it. I wasn’t hurt so much that she didn’t do the thing I expected, but that she hadn’t thought to do anything.

That she might have already divorced me in her mind might explain why her only gift to me was a three-ring binder. It was a step up from what you’d get at Staples, and I saw her intent to collect the photobooth filmstrips of us I collected. Still, it was a three-ring binder. My own gift to her had been an expensive bottle of scotch and special scotch tasting glasses, underscoring her latest interest, at once relevant and desired.

She had unwrapped her present first; I take care of myself last. That’s just me. But two things happened. I think she was embarrassed at her own lack of effort and thoughtfulness even before she opened her gifts, but my gift amplified her feelings of guilt and shame. Her reaction might have been worse than mine, even before I opened her gift to me. Her enjoyment of my gift was belayed by her own thoughtlessness.

I wasn’t able to hide my disappointment at her gift, something I regret but also see as unavoidable. It’s the irony of wanting genuine connection but realizing a well-executed lie would work better. I immediately saw her intent, but also recognized the last minute nature of it. I think I started to cry a little, and had to walk to the back of the house to get myself together. I knew I wasn’t that important in her life, and I’d always known that I think, but this was putting a big exclamation point on it. I wrote about that in Gifts, the Revealer of Reality.

What I saw most, though, was a reflection of myself. For her previous birthday, I had bought her a deluxe sheet-music binder engraved with her name and voice type. It had a place to hold a pencil even, as singers make frequent interpretative notes in their scores. It was admired by many other singers and conductors. Her low-rent tattered school binder was a bit of an embarrassment for a world-class singer. I think she mirrored that gift and might have noticed me looking for the missing inscription on the binder, realizing that what I had given her was personalized and what she had given me was off-the-shelf. But it’s also Cut off Culture: once they’ve made their decision, they don’t really care what you think. I think she was more upset that she didn’t get away with it rather than my feelings.

On her solo holiday trip she’d made the decision that we were definitely done. She didn’t tell me though. Still, she tried to get us into counseling. I think she only did that because she thought the counselor would tell me I was an asshole and that she’d feel better about her decision. It was definitely over when he told her she needed to start seeing a psychiatrist right away and that I was doing what I needed to do. In short, she had to face that she had severe problems.

This is the person I’ll have to deal with directly to split the remaining shared assets. We won’t have attorneys to mediate the actual settling of the accounts.

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Splitting stocks

1930 Pickwick Corp

This is a different sort of stock split. As part of the divorce agreement, we’re splitting down the middle all of the securities we own. Since stock certificates don’t really exist anymore, owning fractional shares isn’t really a problem. We own 68.462816 shares of a particular stock. It’s that precise.

My lawyer asked why don’t we save all the trouble and give one account to my Ex and I keep another. If you only look at the current market value, that might make sense if both accounts had the same market value.

But securities are more than their market value, which only has meaning at the time of sell. You probably can’t sell at the current market price. It will be slightly off, up or down, when you do the actual transaction (ignoring us deliberately selling below the market, in which case we can sell at any price we like).

First, each position has a cost basis and a tax consequence. Although holdings in two different securities might have the same current market price, the shares in one account might have been bought at a different price. That gives them a different cost basis, which means the taxable gain is different. These aren’t exactly fungible because the brokerage who holds them and who would have to transfer them has to figure the sell based on the price they came into that account with. Each brokerage issues their own tax form. Even though we end up with the same number of shares, we don’t end up with the same value.

Second, ignoring the cost basis and taking the current market value of the shares in one company and comparing them to the same current market value in another company doesn’t work either. Say I keep the Apple stock and she keeps the Microsoft. One is going to gain (or lose) more value than the other. Someone is going to come up short. It’s better to split every share of every company right down the middle. We both get the same gain or loss.

Checking with the brokerages, the process is easy. There’s even a FAQ for divorces (as there are for deaths). Once we have the court order, I simply transfer shares to her account and remove her as a joint tenant and beneficiary. It’s much more complicated to transfer outside the brokerage, but if she wants to do that, she can do that after we split everything.

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First conference with the lawyer

It turns out my lawyer is just the sort of lawyer I’ve always wanted to have. I explain to her the outcome that I desire, which is to protect myself while my name is still on the mortgage but keep my Ex in the condo, and she tells me how to do that. Unlike other lawyers I’ve engaged, she doesn’t give me a list of options and makes me choose.

She tells me which way works best and what the courts in my county are doing lately. For instance, although both my Ex and I are 100% owners of our condo, if I stop being an owner, she does not gain anything. In real estate terms, this means there should be no transfer tax.

But here’s the tricky thing about taxes. Governments apply them based on their need for revenue. They’ll even illegally apply them when they think they can get away with it. If you trust your government, just wait until they need money. In my county, they are now sending tax bills when one spouse keeps the property they 100% own.

To protect me from this illegal and immoral overreach of government, my lawyer put in language in the divorce agreement to make my Ex liable for the government crime. If the state or county imposes a tax, she pays it in full and I pay nothing. Since the house is effectively hers now, I’m making her pay any expenses connected to it.

Aside from all of that, my lawyer was quick to pick up on what I wanted. I’m not trying to be fair (in fact, I’m getting fucked pretty hard). Instead, I’m trying to do it with the lowest cost. She gets that, so although she notes that some things are a bit unfair to me, it’s my outcome that matters more.

I think this should all be worked out by summer, over two years from the start of all this mess.

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I hired my lawyer

Since we went through mediation, we didn’t do things through personal lawyers. My wife hired her lawyer, who fixed up the mediation documents, which I then sat on for a couple of months. Most of the document is boring definitions. With a straightforward divorce, the terms are very easy and everything looks in order.

I needed to get my own lawyer to carry it the rest of the way. She could review the documents, note what might screw me, and then represent me in court.

This is about the time that I need to be served, or maybe not. I’ve made her be the plaintiff because that makes me feel better about the actual event. I didn’t ask for or push this; she forced it on me. That means that she’s required to engage the sheriff to serve me with papers and I’ll make her pay that. But, my lawyer will get the papers. I don’t need the po-po to show up.

Lawyers are tough. Most of them are crap. They tend to withhold their experience and advice in deference to your desires. I’ve never been divorced, and divorce lawyers have gone through this process hundreds of times. It’s a dodge to say every one is different.

I trolled my friends for recommendations, which didn’t work out with the mediator. Still, a recommendation is better than throwing darts at a phonebook.

In my first conference, my lawyer (who starts the relationship as soon as we talk, I guess) says that her normal retainer is $5,000, but since my case is simple, she drops the retainer to $1,500. As she does work, she deducts the money from the retainer. Best of all, she takes American Express, so, airline miles. I’m getting frequent flyer miles as I get divorced.

Instead of me talking to my wife, who pretty much hates me at this point, my lawyer will talk to her lawyer.

Not only that, I don’t have to show up for the “prove up”. We don’t have a divorce trial since we have a settlement. The judge will read the settlement, and if he agrees with it he approves it and I’m divorced. I don’t even need to show up; my attorney does that for me.

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Our Mediator Fails

Since my mediation session, way back in April, we got the second mediator to actually agree to what we had both already agreed to, mostly. He told me my wife was incompetent to manage her own affairs, indirectly, and I thought we had everything we needed to move forward.

Since then, my wife has been dealing with the mediator, doing I don’t know what, but on her timetable. I would see an email about once a month where they had talked about all sorts of things without me. The mediator would screw up a bunch of stuff instead of doing what we asked. Part of the problem, I think, is that I express my intent instead of particular demands. Most lawyers I know have trouble with such loose parameters, but I think it’s essential to a good outcome in these sorts of disputes.

Last month I received a forwarded email from the mediator to my wife saying that he quit. He never talked to me about anything, and since my wife doesn’t talk to me anymore, I don’t know what happened to cause this. It’s very strange, but completely symptomatic of what destroyed our marriage. I think she’s probably embarrassed to tell me what happened because she’d have to admit that she was wrong about my view of lawyers.

And this guy came highly recommended by a friend who’s a personal friend of his.

I think the likely situation is that she was bothering him much more than he bargained for, but then, he’s the guy with experience and skills to handle this sort of thing. We’re hardly a difficult case, but most likely one of the easiest cases he’s ever had.

But it gets worse. My wife engaged a lawyer for herself, which we’ll both have to do to represent us in court and handle any last minute things the judge might throw at us. My wife said her lawyer would fix up the last of the mediation agreement for us and we’d go from there.

The news from my wife’s lawyer is that the work of the mediator is completely useless as a court order. I’m not sure what the mediator was supposed to provide in legal documents, but I thought he’d give something to both our lawyers something they’d lightly review and we’d all go to court. Apparently that’s not what he provided.

Now, I have the new agreement in my email. My wife forwarded me her lawyer’s email without comment, after she ignored my previous email about getting the house completely into her name. I had also asked her what she was thinking about timeframes for a court date, but, she’s not talking to me. After thinking I was ridiculous about how long this would take, here we are at the end of the year and still married. I don’t think we’ll get a court date before the beginning of the year.

But since she’s not talking to me about court dates, I’m letting her dictate the timeline. That really means I’m not pushing and nothing is happening. Right now the technicality of my marital status isn’t causing me problems so I don’t care how long this takes. I’ve also offered to sign any documents that waive my right to be served by the sherif. She hasn’t responded to that either.

I haven’t read the new documents yet. I’m putting it off. I can’t imagine they come out good for me.

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The Difference Between a Man and a Woman

Oscar Wilde says in “The Difference Between a Man and a Woman”

I happen to approve of this difference because how can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being.

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Re-skilling

I didn’t know that there was a term for something that I didn’t realize that I had been doing. Re-skilling is a movement to prevent the next Dark Age, where we have become so prosperous that nobody knows how to do anything anymore. It’s a bit like The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where the apes are at the start of their technological advance as Gary Oldman is trying to keep man from losing electricity forever.

I wasn’t content with the way I grew up. At the end of high school I thought I hadn’t learned anything useful—anything that made me a useful person. At home, it was even worse.

My family came up through the post World War II life of convenience: TV dinners, canned foods, the miracles of chemistry. I had an epiphany. It didn’t go as far as recognizing how the system is set up as a consumer economy and we’re being groomed to make money for Procter & Gamble, but it was close enough. We weren’t able to take care of ourselves. Given a basket of fresh food, we couldn’t turn it into dinner. Furthermore, that dinner was eaten in front of the television, ensuring that we forgot how to tell stories or communicate.

For prosperous people, skills were something you paid other people to bring to you. Simple things, like changing a light bulb, fixing the thermostat, or painting a room required the help of a stranger in a viscous spiral of helplessness. Forget about cars: AAA changed the tire and the dealer has to fix the engine (you can’t even get tools).

Do-It-Yourself

I reacted against this strongly in my marriage and tried to go the other way. I wanted to take charge of my life instead of being a simple consumer feeding the Corporate Beast. I wanted to learn to cook so I wasn’t dependent on packaged meals or processed foods. I wanted to do the common household repairs. I wanted to at least try to do the things I could hire other people to do.

My wife was the other way. Our master bathroom toilet was noisy because the float (or whatever) was cheap or slightly damaged. It didn’t bother me, but my wife didn’t like it. I think she was waiting for me to fix it, but she had plenty of free time. Finally she complains about it and I get frustrated. “Just fucking fix it if you don’t like it”. She wasn’t hurt, but I could tell she didn’t like that. But then she bought the parts and fixed it. It wasn’t noisy anymore. She spent maybe an hour on it, including walking to the hardware store.

I think she was surprised that she could fix something herself, but even with that, she didn’t embrace that. There were other things she didn’t like around the house, but I’d tell her if she didn’t like it, change it. Fix it. Improve it. Whatever you want. We own the joint. And, many of these things are easy, especially with the easy access to information on the internet, and even more so with the instructional videos on YouTube.

Maybe she was socialized into the idea that there was woman’s work and men’s work. If so, she wasn’t doing her work either. If she was at home, it meant she wasn’t traveling or working. During those times, I tried to impress on her that it would really help me if she could manage some things to let me concentrate on my work. However, we were never really in a partnership, so there wasn’t that trade off.

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