Our clients do the oddest things while they struggle in the grip of the emotional tempest created by divorce. When they choose the traditional divorce option, going to court, there is no professional involved in the process to help address this intense stress, and the sometimes consequent inability to make decisions rationally. Last week, I told my own story about ending a marriage in the worst way possible. But I’ll let my client tell his own story about ending a marriage in the strangest way possible.
My Beloved (Mercedes)
As you watch the woman you love gingerly make her way to you down the aisle, you never expect she will become your biggest nightmare. Ten years into my marriage, Mariela had become just that. The woman I once baked cookies for (in a lame attempt at romance), now gave me the cold sweats. We agreed to divorce; it was the last time we ever agreed on anything. It was not pretty. Unfortunately, when you get caught up in an emotional tornado, you’ll agree to just about anything to escape. Two years after the divorce, when the dust had finally settled, I realized that our agreement had to be modified. I had let myself be taken advantage of, simply to avoid getting sucked up in her maelstrom.
In our agreement, Mariela had been given primary residential responsibility of our twelve-year-old son, Robert. However, since our divorce, he had been living mostly with me. Although she was a good mother, she must have felt she had a new lease on life – she was going out a lot at night and a kid probably put a damper on this. I was happy with this arrangement – he and I were close. However, during those two years, I continued to pay her child support because I knew that she would insist he move back in with her if I attempted to modify anything. As long as I continued paying child support, she happily let Robert live with me. But now, I was over it!
In our divorce, I had been ordered to pay Mariela’s mortgage by direct payment to the mortgagee. (This would never have happened without us agreeing to it first, but I wanted to ensure the mortgage got paid; my name was on it!) Because the real estate taxes and the insurance were rolled into the monthly payment, I was paying those as well, although not required to do so. My attorney had neglected to appreciate this conundrum at the time. To be fair, in my desperate attempt to escape my marriage, so did I.
To remedy this, my new attorney requested that my alimony be reduced by the amount of the taxes and insurance – a reasonable request, I thought. I also sought custody of Robert and to modify child support accordingly.
As I prophesied, Mariela hired an expensive attorney to fight everything, despite the fact that she had been fine with not having actual custody for the past two years.
It took a year, here in Tampa, to get a final hearing because they are so difficult to schedule. During this time, her attorney racked up hours and expenses with unnecessary formalities. This translated to costs for me because my own attorney spent time responding and meeting with me. Not to mention all the time I had to take off of work for meetings and hearings. At one point, Mariela’s attorney sent me a notice of deposition, which I found excessive. I didn’t bother having her deposed – we already knew everything there was to know about each other. But he scheduled me for two whole hours. Not only did that mean two hours of charges from both attorneys, but I also had to meet with my attorney to prep me beforehand. Mariela’s attorney ended up taking the entire two hours, asking the most mundane questions.
On the day of the deposition, I showed up at the appointed time and place, sat down and readied myself for the dirty laundry to be aired.
After some formalities, he got right to it. “What’s Robert’s favorite color?” he asked, tapping his pencil on his legal pad.
I hesitated, raising my eyebrows. Robert’s favorite color? What does that have to do with anything? I remembered my attorney’s advice to meet the opposing attorney eye-to-eye and answer the questions directly. “Blue,” I answered.
“His favorite food?” he asked right away, presumably jotting down my answer to the last question.
“Macaroni and Cheese.” I was starting to wonder where this was headed.
“What’s Robert’s favorite game?”
I hesitated again, thinking these were silly questions and a waste of my time. But I remembered my attorney advising me in our prep not to rush, to be polite, and to understand what was being asked of me. I realized these questions were ways to see how well I knew Robert. I also remembered my attorney’s advice not to guess – that “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer, if it is true.
“I don’t know,” I answered him. “Two weeks ago it was basketball, but this week he’s been more interested in soccer. It changes.”
The deposition droned on and on. It was a relief when it was over. Thank god, my attorney felt no need to ask me anything.
I only wished that was the end of it. But things went from bad to crazy.
After the divorce, I was also required to pay Mariela’s monthly lease payments on a C240 Mercedes-Benz. I could deduct those payments from the alimony payments I made, so long as she possessed the C240 and there were recurring lease payments. When I later purchased a new car, we agreed she would give me the C240 and take my previous car, a SL 500 Mercedes-Benz, which was a better vehicle.
A week after Mariela took possession of my beloved SL 500, I received a phone call from her while I was at work.
“Allen, you have a problem!”
“Mariela, I’m at work and I just had to leave a meeting. I don’t have time for games,” I said, exasperated. “What do you mean, I have a problem?”
“We-e-ell,” she said, slowly, dragging it out. “I was in an accident.”
“What?!” I exclaimed. “Are you okay? What happened? Are you hurt?” And yes, this barrage of questions concerning my ex’s well-being poured out of me before my thoughts even turned to the condition of the car. I could see Tampa General Hospital in my mind’s eye.
“Yes, yes. I’m fine. I got into a tiny spat with one of the drivers because they’re all saying it was my fault. But, whatever,” she calmly told me. “That’s not your problem. The problem is your car.”
“My car? What?” I continued, dumbfounded.
“It was pretty banged up after the accident.”
“Oh,” I said, starting to collect my wits, “that’s fine. The insurance will help. I’m just glad nobody was hurt.” Ever the caring guy, I know! But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little dismayed at the thought of the car being damaged – a cracked headlight, her shiny silver paint marred with scratches. I was a “wax and clay bar every month” kind of guy.
“No, Allen. The car was banged up a bit in the accident,” she told me. “But, then – well…I moved it.”
“It ‘was’ banged up a bit, but ‘then’…?” I repeated, questioningly.
She gave a short laugh. “I must have left it on a railroad track…”
She let that hang. I had a feeling she was enjoying this at some level. I quietly waited for her to explain, as the image of me patiently buffing out a few scratches over the weekend quickly dissipated like smoke.
“It got hit by a train, Allen. It’s wrecked.”
I don’t think I said much after that.
Weeks later, I found out that, although she had agreed to obtain insurance for the SL 500 in our lease agreement, she had never done so, and thus her insurance company denied her claim.
My insurance company estimated that it would cost me $31,000 for repairs but only reimbursed me $17,000.
After Mariela’s accident, I returned the C240 to her, as she needed a car. Because of the accident, my insurer dropped me, and I had to obtain new coverage at an increased cost of $8,000 per year. So I was paying the lease on the C240 of $600 per month, the lease on the wrecked SL 500 of $1,700 per month, and an insurance increase due to Mariela’s accident. To make matters worse, I proposed that Mariela be held responsible for the expenses from the accident and credit it to alimony, but she refused. Thus I was forced to store the SL 500 at a body shop to preserve it as evidence. Over time this cost me a whopping $21,000.
And you thought that your ex was a pain!
In the end, despite all the headaches, I ended up with primary timesharing. The judge ordered Mariela to pay me child support, which I didn’t want. However, as my attorney explained to me – child support belongs to the child, not the parent. But the matter was settled and I was no longer unfairly supporting my ex-wife. I had faced the tornado head on and ended up having thousands of dollars and my beloved Mercedes sucked away from me. However, in the aftermath, as I played soccer with Robert, I realized that the peace of mind, despite ending a marriage in the strangest way possible, was well worth it.