How do I get a rough estimate of alimony in my upcoming divorce?
December 18, 2013 7:28 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are splitting up relatively amicably in the state of California. We'd both like to avoid a legal fight over money and income, but after some requests of hers that seem a little unreasonable, I'd like to get an assessment of how our income would roughly split up if we *did* go the legal route. Still, I'd rather avoid paying hundreds of dollars to a lawyer to figure that out. Is there some cheap way to get an extremely rough assessment of alimony?

Vague details: Income is sort of tricky. We were married for just under 4 years, and had basically nonexistant income (<$20k household income per year) for that time. During that time we both got masters degrees (and $30k of credit card debt). My training led to a book deal with a major publisher ($50-100k advance + royalties). The book was written during the marriage and publication will occur next year, and I'm basing a new company and product line on the book, which will be developed over the course of the next year. Her training hasn't yet led to a lucrative career (but will probably start earning her significant income in 1-2 years).
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Please go talk to a lawyer.
posted by jaguar at 7:40 PM on December 18, 2013 [11 favorites]

there's a spreadsheet for that, every divorce lawyer where i used to practice (sonoma county and surroundings) will have a copy, you plug in the incomes of the supporting and supported parties on the row and the column and see where they intersect.

1. it's called spousal (or child, or family) support, we don't say alimony.

2. trying to save several hundred bucks by not having a lawyer is penny wise pound foolish when you consider the magnitude of the hit you could take if you fuck this up.

3. if you're in the north bay area, memail me if you want a good divorce lawyer recommendation.
posted by bruce at 7:44 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get a lawyer. Totally worth it. Whatever you think will be saved will be easily eaten up the moment this gets problematic. And the chances of that are not insignificant even in the best situations.
posted by HMSSM at 7:46 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Legal doesn't necessarily mean acrimonious. You provide your lawyer with a pile of docs that detail your financial circumstances, and as bruce says, the lawyer plugs it into a spreadsheet and crunches a number. At this point it's a bit like hiring an accountant to do your taxes. Spouse can do the same. It could get contested, but as long as you have docs that state your assets etc., the number-crunching is to pre-defined formulas. It could get acrimonious - but then you would need a lawyer anyway.
posted by carter at 7:55 PM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you are going to start a business based on ideas that you developed when you were married you really really really want to talk to an attorney.

Using a lawyer doesn't mean you are trying to start a fight or hurt your wife. An important aspect of a lawyer's job is to make sure that everything is clear and well understood and agreed upon. You don't want any surprises later.

Get a good lawyer. That doesn't mean an aggressive lawyer, just a good competent one who will listen to what you want and help you out. If your business is successful you'll be very happy you did this.
posted by alms at 8:47 PM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, you're living in a community property state and have some questions with non-obvious answers about what is or is not marital property. A lawyer is what you need here, and "hundreds of dollars" is a small price to pay for getting it right. Nobody here is trying to be unhelpful or play CYA -- a lawyer really is the best answer for your question, in that it will be the cheapest and best way to find out what you should expect in terms of asset division and spousal support. Just going to a lawyer doesn't commit you to a contested divorce; if you want, you can even find a lawyer who practices collaborative law who will facilitate an amicable divorce. But whichever way you go about it, your lawyer is the person to answer this question.
posted by katemonster at 9:35 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Talk to a lawyer for advice (worth the money), but I recommend trying to do the divorce through a mediator rather than through two lawyers. A mediator will help you figure out whats fair, whereas lawyers are often trained to hurt the other party.

And, if you start with a mediator, you can always fall back to a lawyer-based divorce. The other way never happens.

Hope this ends as amicably as it started.
posted by eisenkr at 9:54 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Going to a lawyer doesn't have to be terribly expensive. We did our divorce mostly on our own (in Wisconsin), having absolutely nothing of value to split, but I still consulted someone just to make sure. She was very clear that she was MY lawyer, but her help was immensely valuable to both of us. I saw her twice, for half an hour at a time.

Again: you may think you can't afford it, but it's worth the money and then some to do it right.
posted by Madamina at 10:48 PM on December 18, 2013

I went through what was intended to be an 'amicable' divorce. Amazing how fast it gets un-amicable once you have different interests.

Definitely visit a lawyer. My experience was that my lawyer was keen to work to get a fair and legal settlement - at no point was her intent or suggestion to "hurt" anyone.

Also of note - we wound up using a professional mediator to reach an agreement one thorny point in the divorce, and the mediator was both suggested and supplied by my lawyer.

Nthing that to not visit a lawyer when you live in a community property state and may profit from a deal made during the marriage would be penny wise but pound foolish.
posted by dotgirl at 10:54 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, seeing a lawyer can help sort out some of the tricky legal tid bits: like the same payment called one thing is taxable to the paying spouse, but called something else, it's taxable to the receiving spouse (and a deduction for the paying spouse).
posted by susiswimmer at 12:01 AM on December 19, 2013

My own experience in a community property state; YMMV. A) it gets ugly quickly especially with lawyers involved and a big pot of money at stake. That sound you hear is salivation, from your STBX and counsel. B) When they say it's not about the money it's about the money. C) NO NO NO on a "mediator." They will social-work you right into a lifetime of penury. D) YES on get a lawyer, at once if not sooner. But not some tired old grandparenty wheeze. Get a young tough rip out the throat fighter because that is the arena you are entering whether you like it or not. E) "formulas" are guidelines only and go straight out the window once battle commences. Good luck.
posted by reacheround at 5:09 AM on December 19, 2013

I'd like to get an assessment of how our income would roughly split up if we *did* go the legal route. Still, I'd rather avoid paying hundreds of dollars to a lawyer to figure that out.

Good news! This isn't going to cost you hundreds of dollars.

Bad news! It's going to cost you thousands of dollars.

As one of the patriarchs of my local divorce bar puts it, "Love is grand, but a divorce is ten grand."

Is there some cheap way to get an extremely rough assessment of alimony?

posted by valkyryn at 6:55 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get a young tough rip out the throat fighter because that is the arena you are entering whether you like it or not.

Not necessarily. I'm partial to the "young" bit, but deliberately hiring a lawyer known to be confrontational is a bad idea unless the other side has already proven to be confrontational. Confrontation is expensive, and in many cases pointless. Spending $50,000 to keep an extra $10,000 is no way to be, but hiring a "rip out the throat fighter" is going to put you in that situation more often than not.

Hire someone with a reputation as being willing to fight if necessary but willing to deal where possible.
posted by valkyryn at 6:58 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I suggest looking into divorce mediation, if amicable is your goal. For relatively simple situations, they'll sit down with you in an initial consultation for about $500, and at least be able to estimate spousal support.

But this doesn't sound like a simple situation.

You can always go back to the adversarial route if things start to get contentious, but it will be more expensive, and there's no reason to start there.

As mentioned above, the whole filing process will cost thousands of dollars no matter what you do.
posted by Llamadog-dad at 8:05 AM on December 19, 2013

There's a life lesson here, not specific to divorce: when one party to a financial interaction seems especially eager to come to an quick 'amicable' settlement, without permitting any legal or other outside consultation, it's usually because they have already done so themselves and know there's an advantage to keeping their counterparty in the dark until they sign on the dotted line.

Would you buy a used car from someone who insisted that it would be a waste of money to have it inspected by a professional? How about a house? You're talking potentially housey-amounts of money here, and if you think divorcing spouses are generally more honest and ethical than used-car salesmen or sleazy realtors...well, bless your heart.

Get legal advice from an actual lawyer, then make the decision to mediate or not based on a cost/benefit analysis of what you walk away from versus the potential (shared) costs of litigation.
posted by The Prawn Reproach at 8:47 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should at least consult with an attorney. Almost everyone uses DissoMaster for support calculations. During the initial consult, you can ask someone to run the numbers for you.

It is not a good idea to do this without legal counsel. IAMAL, IANYL. If you're in Southern California, MeMail me and I can provide some great affordable recommendations.
posted by Arbac at 10:55 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

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