Lost my job in the middle of a divorce. How do we pay for everything until we're finished?
December 7, 2012 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Lost my job in the middle of a divorce. How do we pay for separate households until we're finished?

I am discussing options with my lawyer, but more input is always good. So is validation on what I think is fair or not.

I have been the primary breadwinner for years, and was still that when we started the divorce. It's a contentious one. We have a temporary court agreement with a monthly amount that I am obligated to pay to my soon-to-be-ex wife, to support her (she was a stay at home mom who only recently started a part time job) and ostensibly the kids. I say ostensibly because we have no real kid expenses except housing (which we both have anyway - separately) and food (which we both have to buy anyway). Currently in the temp I have the kids about 1/3 of the time.

I've just lost my job, with no severance, and am currently looking for something new. In the meantime, there's that temporary amount obligation. There's no way I can pay that from a salary that doesn't exist, plus I need money to live on too.

I'm getting unemployment but it's not nearly enough. It's roughly equivalent to her part time jobs.

Potential sources of cash for living until I get a job are:

Stocks, some of which are marital and some that aren't.
Cash from the sale of our home, which is currently escrowed with her attorney.
Credit line at my credit union (solely in my name)
Credit cards (she has some in her name and I have some in my name)

What's the best course of action to get cash flow?

Also, what's the fairest way to approach this? For example, I suggested we split the house proceeds 50/50 and each live on that until I get a job, at which point we'll move as quickly as possible to a trial. (Mediation didn't work and we can't agree on things).

Her answer to that was the house proceeds should be used for the monthly amount I'm obligated to pay her, and THEN we'll split the rest when we finalize. That doesn't seem fair. If she's living off of those proceeds, I should be too, and the easiest thing to do is split them.

I want to be fair and I also don't want to pull money from the "wrong" places.
posted by punocchio to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
In my opinion, you have three pots of money: Your, Hers, and Y'alls. If You are supposed to pay Her, then you don't take out of the Hers or Y'alls pots. You take out of Your pot. So, that would be stocks that are not marital, a credit line in your name only, or credit cards in your name only.

(Although, if in your state everything is "joint and several liability" then maybe it doesn't matter. Your lawyer would know best.) If it were me, I'd get a separate line of credit that I would use only for this, so that I'm always very clear about how much money was spent for this specific thing, just in case it drags out and you need to see the full cost to you including interest.
posted by Houstonian at 1:24 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your lawyer knows best, but logically the spousal support you were ordered to pay was to share your current earnings because of the career sacrifices that she likely made. If you don't have any earnings, then logically you should not be paying. The top Google result for "unemployment, alimony" shows that in some places, you can petition the court to change the agreement. I suggest that you do that.

You might also want to explore helping out more with raising your child (i.e. having 50-50 custody) now that you have more time. This might reduce your future alimony payment, and gives you more time with your child.

Even though it sounds like she's being extremely unreasonable, try not to let it "burn your blood". Focus on "deliverables": What do you want, and what do you think is fair. Try not to be bogged down in moral battles.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:44 PM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

to support her (she was a stay at home mom who only recently started a part time job) and ostensibly the kids. I say ostensibly because we have no real kid expenses except housing (which we both have anyway - separately) and food (which we both have to buy anyway). Currently in the temp I have the kids about 1/3 of the time.

I'm really surprised that you're saying you want to be fair and saying that your children have no real expenses except food and housing. Do your kids wear clothing? Are they growing? When was the last time you bought them shoes and do you have any idea of the actual cost? Do they play sports? Do they need gear for that? Do they go on school trips? Do they attend birthday parties for friends and do they follow the social convention of bringing gifts? Do they get haircuts, wear braces, see a doctor, have their eyes checked, wear glasses, get periods, need school books, need tutors, go to summer camp, require Christmas or birthday gifts?

If your wife has them 2/3rds of the time, by the way, a substantial portion of that support payment is to maintain the children's primary residence, ie a substantial portion of the mortgage and insurance to house them. Anything not marked as alimony specifically is to support the kids.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:56 PM on December 7, 2012 [20 favorites]

Bear in mind that -- and I am not at all saying this is true of you -- it is not unknown for parents, usually fathers, to deliberately lose their jobs just as they suddenly will be forced to pay alimony and child support. So your ex-wife's lawyer may have other reasons to be suggesting that she not give in on support right now.
posted by jeather at 2:17 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Modification of support orders or agreements due to change of circumstance (such as unemployment) is one of the most common issues to arise in any family court in the country.

Probably the two most important factors are whether you have significant separate resources you could use to fund the obligation, and whether your support payment levels are set by reference to the minimum dollar amounts customary in your jurisdiction, or at much higher levels linked to your salary and designed to maintain your estranged wife and kids in the lifestyle to which they'd been accustomed.

This is so common, in fact, that you should be concerned if your lawyer is expressing a great deal of uncertainty, or suggesting that this is something that is supposed to be the subject of a wide-open negotiation with opposing counsel. Either your lawyer doesn't really have the lay of the land, or you are in front of a very capricious and unpredictable judge (which is unfortunate if true, needless to say).
posted by MattD at 2:46 PM on December 7, 2012

Everything Darlingbri says. Kids are a big expense and always need stuff. Also, health insurance and medicine, transportation, food expenses (you need to feed growing children and the food expense for kids is extra given that 4 people need more food than 2).
posted by discopolo at 3:59 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

My SO was told that the kids don't stop having needs just because his job changes. If you were still married and you lost your job, you'd still be feeding the kids, wouldn't you?

Support to *her* is, otoh, probably a lot more negotiable...
posted by JoannaC at 5:26 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The biggest weirdness here is the fact that it's a temporary agreement until the permanent divorce. We can't agree on custody so we've not been able to come up with a final yet, and will likely wind up in court. In the temporary there is no reference to "alimony" or "child support", it's just some monthly sum to support her and the kids.

I completely get that kids have expenses like clothing and summer camp and the like. I was talking about during the period while I'm between jobs, that they don't have ongoing expenses other than regular living.

This is still ongoing, I do not have a new job yet, but very strong prospects for January.

I suppose I'll fund the obligation as best I can. We have a hearing coming up soon to modify the temporary order, we'll see how that goes.
posted by punocchio at 9:55 PM on December 17, 2012

« Older Red (Meat) Scare?   |   Help me figure out my life post-PhD Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.