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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Divorce Settlement Agreements—What I’d Do Differently

One of the important steps in the divorce process is the Settlement Agreement. A piece of advice—get exactly how much money you want. Not just what you need. Now that I have 20-20 hindsight, I would do things a little differently.

I can’t be too hard on myself. I was afraid of my husband so I didn’t want to make any waves.

All of my friends urged me to get a lump sum because they knew he wouldn’t pay alimony. I couldn’t believe it. Even though my ex was an abusive, controlling, betraying person, my mind wouldn’t fathom him not being honest in his dealings with me. My friend, a divorce lawyer in another state, told me all of his court cases revolve around women who are trying to get the alimony owed by their deadbeat husbands.

My first glance at the reality my ex would not keep up alimony payments happened when he offered to give me only one year of alimony in an agreement he forged during divorce mediation. He thought he was being generous. In his mind, I didn’t deserve anything. He said he knew I would agree with him, in principle, that he put all the sweat equity into our marriage.

I asked him if he included the thirty-six months I spent being pregnant with his four children. Isn't that sweat equity? He wasn’t convinced what I did had any merit because he brought in the money. I think you get the picture of what I was up against.

We got our house appraised and put it on the market. He got nervous because we didn’t get one nibble in a month’s time. The market was in a downturn. He decided to take it off the market. After that, he actually told me he didn’t want a divorce. The writing was on the wall--he would have to buy me out. He didn’t want to.

He reasoned with me that our money was fluid, why should we get a divorce? He wanted everything to stay status-quo. After hearing that, I told him I did want a divorce, I would get a lawyer and a court order to get him out. He quickly changed his tune, knowing he would have to pay $$ for that.

In a short period of time, he became anxious to have me out. He was active on dating sites and probably had some nibbles.  After many back-and-forth counter agreements, I came up with a sum in my head and told him that’s what I wanted, and what he needed to do for me to “go away.”

We went to the bank to see how much they would give my husband in a loan to buy me out. It was short of the sum I wanted.

I gave in and took a lesser number because he threw up his hands and said he couldn’t give any more. Why did I give in? The difference I lost out on could have been his alimony payment in monthly installments for about two years. Two years of alimony after a 30+-year marriage. In Pennsylvania, I was entitled to one year of alimony for every three years of marriage.

I think I was anxious to make my exit, to protect myself, and I shied away from the confrontation it would have taken. I couldn't gamble with my life that his abuse wouldn't accelerate.

His mortgage payment turned out to be the same price someone would pay to rent an apartment. Even our mediator said he got a very good deal.

After I left and established myself with a full-time job in another state, but making a “supplemental income” three times less than what he makes, I felt cheated. The lump sum I received paid for a modest twin home, but I really could have used a monthly payment coming in on top of that lump sum.

I’m just saying. . . stick to your guns. Don’t back down. Don’t give in. Work out what you need and then add to that number. Protect yourself. Emergencies happen. I had an accident that involved two surgeries on my ankle. It took me a few years to pay this off. Alimony payments would have come in handy.

Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed and I know it. I’m blessed that I got money from the house. My children are adults so I don’t have to worry about feeding my kids when the deadbeat doesn’t provide. I’m blessed to have a job and a reason to wake up in the morning. I am so blessed to have supportive friends and family.

What would you do differently in your divorce settlement?

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