Thursday, April 28, 2011

No Fight

April 28, 2011

Dear Andrea,

            "I want a divorce." My client, a businessman dressed in a white starched shirt, a red tie with a paisley pattern in tones of blues, and tailored navy blue suit sits across the desk from me. "What can I expect?"

            "How long have you been married?" I ask.

            "23 years."

            "That's a long time." I say. I thought of my own marriage, then 16 years old.

            "I just can't do it anymore." He looks at his hands in his lap as he tells me this.  There was a plain gold band strangling the ring finger on his left hand.

            On this day that he has come to meet me, I have been a divorce lawyer for over 17 years. I do not pry. If he wants to tell me why "he just can't do it anymore" he will. 

            "Do you have children?" I ask him, as I record his answer on my yellow pad.

            "Two." He answers.

            "How old?" I ask.

            "Ten and Twelve.” He answers.

            "Does your wife work?" I ask.

            "She does," he answers," she is a secretary."

            We talk about her income. She has no retirement plan, no healthcare benefits, everything they have acquired is in both their names.

            Then we talk about his income, his 401(k), his retirement plan, his benefits. He makes four times more than her.

            I have him list the bank accounts, investments, real estate, cars, other property of any value.  I reduce his marriage to a list of possessions.

            Then I lay it out for him. "Here is what you can expect. You have two children. You will pay child support for each child until they turn 18 or graduate from high school. If they go to college, expect to continue paying child support until they finish. In addition to child support, you will pay a portion of health insurance plus part of uninsured medical expenses for your children. Your wife makes less than you. Expect to pay maintenance, perhaps until you retire. Your 401(k), your retirement, she is entitled to half of everything earned during your marriage – at least half – the law says an equitable portion. The house, the cars, the bank accounts, investments, anything of value, all gets added up then split equitably, generally that means half."

            He looks up at me. He weighs what I have told him." At least half of everything?" He asks.

            "At least." I answer.

            He is quiet. He looks back down, studies his hands folded in his lap. I see his knuckles turn white.

            "Child support, maintenance, and half of everything?" He asks.

            "That pretty much sums it up." I say.

            Again there is silence. He works his hands kneading the fingertips into the space between his knuckles.

            "Thank you." He says when he finally looks up at me. His eyes meet mine."I think I'll stay."

            Though Dean and I had no children together and we both made about the same income, I knew if I ever left I would have to fight for half of anything.  He would not be fair.  He would not be kind.  He would want to keep everything.

            And after you died, I had no fight in me. But there was only this truth. Nothing Dean and I had accumulated  was worth the cost of staying.

            I was right.

                                                                                            I Love You,