THE SITUATION: David, who retained me, and Lisa have been married 10 years with two pre-teen children. Lisa earns $260,000 as a physician while David’s income as a commissioned salesman varies but averaged $100,000 each of the past three years. The marital home is valued at $400,000 and a lake cottage they enjoy with the kids in the summer is worth $80,000. The primary residence has a $200,000 mortgage on it and the lakeside getaway has $50,000 owing on its mortgage.
They have other assets and liabilities. Each spouse pays into a mutual fund they own jointly that is worth $90,000. They’ve also bought fine art now valued at $125,000, pieces acquired because they liked them and as a long-term investment. They pay off their credit cards every month but an unsecured line of credit has a $12,000 balance. Their cars are leased by their respective employers as a fringe benefit. They owe the IRS and State of Minnesota about $6,500 in back taxes because David’s company has been under withholding on his commissions.
THE OPTIONS: After detailing for David what a traditional divorce would involve – the time it may take, the likely cost if there were serious and prolonged disagreements over support, custody and unwinding their joint assets, and other issues – I gave him an overview of our unique Friendly Divorce. I suggested that he and Lisa complete our questionnaire to determine if they are candidates for the easier process.
THE PROCESS: The couple decided to see if they could make Friendly Divorce work after filling in our questionnaire. When they came to a meeting with me, I told Lisa that I’d be happy to complete and file the court papers as long as she and David agreed between themselves on all of the issues involving the children, support and property settlement, but that David was my client. I told her that the Minnesota Bar Association ethics rules prevent me from representing both parties in a divorce, so she would have to find her own attorney. She acknowledged this and said that she and David were committed at this point to try achieving an amicable divorce.
THE NEGOTIATION: On some of the often-thorny issues, David reported to me that the couple had reached quick agreement. Because Lisa’s schedule was erratic and unpredictable, David would be the custodial parent of the children and remain in the marital home; Lisa would have their daughters every weekend, if she wasn’t on call at a hospital. They divided summer weekends at the lake home. Because of their income disparity, Lisa would contribute $2,000 a month to child support until the girls completed college. David would assume responsibility for paying the back taxes on his income. However, they were seemingly at loggerheads over how to divide the artwork in their home and repaying the line of credit. I gave David some ideas on how to resolve their differences, which he followed in talks with Lisa although several times the couple’s negotiation almost fell apart. It took nearly six months of discussions, during which time David consulted with me frequently to both keep me informed and to solicit my ideas on ways to resolve the stalemate. Finally, they were able to successfully conclude the negotiating process, clearing the way for a Friendly Divorce.
THE OUTCOME: I drafted a final divorce decree, which included the terms of David and Lisa’s agreement. Once that was done I drafted all of the other required court documents and filed them with family court in Hennepin County, requesting a final hearing date at the same time. On the appointed date, David and I appeared before a judge – Lisa did not need to attend because there wasn’t anything in dispute and the divorce was granted quickly.
THE COST: Each divorce has its own dynamic so the cost will vary, sometimes widely. I can explain the cost to you once we’ve met and I have a better idea of your specific situation.