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He walked out, now what?
August 15, 2011 6:25 PM   Subscribe

YANML and I'm not looking for legal advice but I'd like to know what rights/entitlements a stay-at-home mom of two in California has when her husband of 13 years walks out on her.

My my sister-in-law's ("Mary") husband of 13 years ("Tom") walked out on her and their two kids (both under 10) with no warning a couple of weeks ago. He refuses to consider counseling despite the efforts of multiple friends and seems to be treating this a failed business enterprise rather than a family crisis; something that can be settled with a few emails.

Mary hasn't worked in years, having given up her job at Tom's urging to care for the kids.
All their financial accounts are in his name and he has locked her out of them.

Tom is extremely wealthy and all the real assets (two homes and some cars) of their immediate family are owned by his family corporation which consists wholly of members of Tom's extended family.

What rights does Mary have given all this, and what is the bare minimum she is entitled to legally given a decent lawyer? (Is this even an answerable question at this stage?).

There is a trust for the kids so as far as we know they'll be OK financially. He's refused to tell them what's actually going on; his interaction with them so far has consisted of telling them he's going to be gone for a while on work, and taking them out to one dinner and loading them up with gifts and dessert.

She is consulting with a lawyer and is in the process of finding counseling for her and the kids. Her family and community have all rallied and are providing the best support we can.
posted by spare sock to Law & Government (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
What is she entitled to? A lot. And if assets are locked up in a corp, she gets a nice percentage of his shares or financial equivalent.

I don't think there's a minimum but you can be assured that she will receive custody, child support and a large percentage of his assets.

Sadly, it can't buy the kids a new dad, but she'll be able to provide for them and herself.
posted by michaelh at 6:30 PM on August 15, 2011


Just be sure she gets the best lawyer his money can buy. Seriously, this is very much a lawyer thing.
posted by jadepearl at 6:32 PM on August 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


She has no assets of her own, will she be able to draw on his to pay for a lawyer or should we (her family) be prepared to pay for that?
posted by spare sock at 6:35 PM on August 15, 2011


To add to the above advice, she should find out who the best local divorce lawyers are and have consultations with all of them. This will conflict them out of representing her husband (who, frankly, sounds like a douche).
posted by Maisie at 6:36 PM on August 15, 2011 [16 favorites]


If she has no assets she will have to get support from the family while she gathers her powers. I believe that she may be able to get child support quickly (talk to lawyer), which would support her while she goes after the rest she's owed.
posted by michaelh at 6:39 PM on August 15, 2011


She'll have to negotiate payment arrangements with whoever she hires. I would expect the lawyer to ask for a retainer, so that money will have to come from somewhere. Once they're divorced, her lawyer will probably ask that Tom pay Mary's legal fees.
posted by Maisie at 6:40 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, she's in a community property state, but the corporation is an interesting wiggle that likely means he's capable of fighting to give her less than she might get otherwise. I hope Mary has a good lawyer experienced in tricky divorces. She certainly wants shares in that corporation (for herself - this is how she gets the property, essentially, instead of splitting the house via selling it and dividing the proceeds in half, or her getting one of the two cars, or whatever.)

In general I would anticipate split custody and a support order for the children, possibly including continuing health insurance for her and them (as an HR type I've been seeing a lot of those.) Support orders are based on the child's lifestyle and the difference in income/resources between the parties, and can get really complicated.

I would also anticipate that she will need to find a job, sooner rather than later. However, the support order will probably cover the cost of childcare.

But no matter what, she needs a really good lawyer. Really good. She can't look for folksy, friendly or emotionally supportive; she needs highly qualified. Every town has at least two, and I'm quite certain he'll have retained one of them already.

Divorce lawyers are often hired on retainer, so she's likely to need money up front. The courts don't order the parties to pay costs until the very end.
posted by SMPA at 6:40 PM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


She has no assets of her own

That is not true - especially in California. Half of all the marital assets belong to her. Tom was able to achieve whatever financial success because Mary was working behind the scenes.

Stop thinking and saying that she has no assets! His assets are hers - and she deserves them.
posted by Flood at 6:43 PM on August 15, 2011 [12 favorites]


To add to the above advice, she should find out who the best local divorce lawyers are and have consultations with all of them. This will conflict them out of representing her husband (who, frankly, sounds like a douche).

This is bad advice. Do not rely on it.

OP, the heart of your question is exactly why your sister is seeking legal advice. Even a matrimonial lawyer with lots of experience handling these types of issues is not going to give you an answer over the internet. Please ignore all the amateur legal advice here (no disrespect, but the above postings are largely unproductive guesswork) and don't relay either false hope or false pessimism to your sister. The best thing you can do for her (other than the usual sisterly stuff) is to mine your contacts for recommendations as to good matrimonial lawyers and keep them on file should your sister need them.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:45 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I live in CA. IANAL, but my understanding is the ex husband is well well on the losing end of this. Maybe that's why he is bullying her so much? Maybe he thinks if he's mean enough she won't fight?

------

My understanding is there is a retainer paid up front, and the rest comes from the settlement. In your sister's precise situation, a lawyer might defer the retainer and start immediate proceedings to get her temporary support while the rest of the divorce is hammered out. She'll certainly be able to negotiate something she can handle (retainer paid in installments, deferred, loans from family friends) but she needs to find a lawyer she likes first.


With respect, you sound naive and misinformed. This is why you (your sister, really) needs to start phoning around to attorneys ASAP.

I'm not sure what sort of reassurance you are seeking. Your sister needs to start making calls to lawyers and be up front about her situation. If the sort of financial shenanigans her husband is engaging in worked, everyone would do it! Instead, there are plenty of laws to protect your sister in this situation. Lawyer. Really, that is the best advice here.x

- You might ask us for recommendations for someone excellent in her area? Maybe someone can MeMail you with referrals?

One last piece of advice? Stay practical. The tone in your ask is a little worrisome in light of common basic knowledge that California has pretty strict divorce laws. I understand how traumatic this is for your family. Just don't feed the Dramaz.

Good luck to your sister.
posted by jbenben at 7:01 PM on August 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


She doesn't need a good lawyer. She doesn't even need a very good lawyer. She needs a vicious lawyer, because her husband is already fighting dirty. Consultations are frequently free - one of the things she should bring up right away is having husband pay her lawyer fees. Also, she can possibly retain a second lawyer who's job is to represent the children's interests. Husband can be made to pay for that, also.

I can't emphasize enough how important it is to get the right lawyer. The outcome of this divorce can (and probably will) affect her and the children for the rest of their lives.

Also, she's stayed home for years to care for the children? She may be able to get spousal support.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:04 PM on August 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


I can't say anything about CA family law, but I am a family lawyer who will defer payment to the end of a divorce in cases like this. Keep looking until she finds a lawyer who will work with this situation.
posted by freshwater at 7:05 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tell her to get a lawyer, stat. If he actually is wealthy, she can get a decent divorce lawyer who will take his cut of the settlement.
posted by empath at 7:07 PM on August 15, 2011


That is not true - especially in California. Half of all the marital assets belong to her. Tom was able to achieve whatever financial success because Mary was working behind the scenes.

Stop thinking and saying that she has no assets! His assets are hers - and she deserves them


I think the point is she has no access to assets right now. Whether or not a court settlement will determine she receives a share of his assets in the future, right now she has no money.

OP, it sounds like you want reassurance that this man will be held accountable for his actions financially. So far it seems the general consensus is a resounding yes. It's hard to say exactly how much she will get. She may get half of his assets; she may not. It may be, for example, that he has managed to reallocate his assets in such a way that they would not normally be considered in a traditional divorce proceedings. I don't know. But this is why the OP's sister should probably make sure the divorce attorney she chooses has knowledge of some corporate law issues along with family law.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:08 PM on August 15, 2011


If they were married for 13 years and she raised two of their kids, she should be getting custody, alimony, child support and half the assets of the marriage. That's pretty much the default outcome in most states barring extenuating circumstances. But she really needs to talk to a lawyer immediately, the sooner the better. And start taking notes of everything that's happened, and every conversation she has with him.
posted by empath at 7:11 PM on August 15, 2011


The "family corporation" sounds like a tax dodge. Does Mary have any access to financial records? She should make photocopies.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:49 PM on August 15, 2011


I am a California attorney. I used to practice family law. I no longer practice family law. This is not legal advice, etc.

If she has no income or property of her own, the court can and normally does order the husband to pay her attorney's fees. Most lawyers will be willing to take her case on this basis without requiring an upfront retainer. But it's more important to have a lawyer you like and trust than to have one that won't require an upfront retainer. To get any specific advice, you need to talk to an attorney.

She is entitled to her share of the community property. It's a tough situation to find yourself in, but the right attorney will be able to provide the needed emotional support in addition to the necessary legal advocacy. Seriously talk to multiple attorneys! A lot of the initial advice about her rights will be similar, so make sure the fit is right and they have experience with complicated high net worth divorces. If you're in Los Angeles County or Orange County I can provide some great recommendations.

If you're in anywhere else in California, I can ask for some recommendations from other lawyers I know and trust.
posted by Arbac at 9:05 PM on August 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


To add to the above advice, she should find out who the best local divorce lawyers are and have consultations with all of them. This will conflict them out of representing her husband (who, frankly, sounds like a douche).

Terrible advice. This won't work in some jurisdictions and is unethical in all of them.

Everyone who is saying she needs to get the best possible lawyer ASAP is right. Get a lawyer today, do not put off getting a lawyer, stop reading mefi and start calling lawyers. Law law law lawyers.
posted by prefpara at 10:58 PM on August 15, 2011


Please get a lawyer, a good one, tomorrow. Probably the biggest way you can help this person is to either help directly with this aspect or take over some day-to-day stuff so she can go out and find said attorney.

Needless to say, all communication, if there is any, between the spouses needs to be documented and NOTHING signed or agreed to without her attorney saying "yea".
posted by maxwelton at 11:12 PM on August 15, 2011


I would be very surprised if there was not a pre-nup already in place. The kind of people who do the whole family-corporation thing are the kind that invented pre-nups.
posted by w0mbat at 3:35 PM on August 16, 2011


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