Meanwhile, Mommy’s crying, frustrated, angry, but Dad gets to play Santa. So when the family court judge asks the kids who they want to live with, the answer is “Daddy.” Of course, sometimes the family is back in court two weeks later when the kids want to move back in with Mommy. But meanwhile, Daddy has leverage over Mommy: I’ll let you have the kids if you drop your demand for half of my retirement savings & benefits.
Also, I’m surprised when lawyers are okay with the woman moving out of the house; the courts generally don’t like it when the woman leaves and takes the kids, unless she has a formal charge of abuse against the husband. I know this doesn’t sound fair, but it’s not a fair process. “Fairness” in divorce is the first fantasy you have to give up. One person will come out better off than the other.
In addition to supporting the kids, the woman needs to think about her own future, especially retirement. If she’s been married at least 11 years to "that guy", then she will be able to collect Social Security retirement payments on his Social Security record. Go to www.ssa.gov for more info. If she hasn’t been married for 11 years, she should time the final decree so that she will get this benefit. But of course she will need more money than what she’ll get from Social Security, unless she enjoys eating cat food.
Fortunately, if the court grants her some of her husband’s federal retirement benefits, the decree goes to the Office of Personnel Management, and they will garnish his retirement pay (he won’t have control over that). If he has money in the Thrift Savings Plan and the court awards her some of that money, her lawyer would send the court decree to the TSP administrator; again, the husband would have no control over that.
The next big thing is health insurance. Once the decree is final, the kids could stay on their father’s health insurance plan (part of the settlement should be that he pays for that), but the woman does not. She could have (as part of the settlement) him pay for her health insurance for "X" number of years or until she turns 65 and is eligible for Medicare.
I know of one divorce lawyer in the Maryland suburbs who would con the other side into allowing the case to be moved to a rural county in Western MD. He would then tell them that the rural court had a smaller docket and would get the proceedings over faster. He wouldn’t tell them that he was good buddies with all the judges in that county. Typical.
That the husband is willing to spend $15k on a divorce lawyer signals that he wants to pound the woman into the ground, and get off supporting his kids and repaying the woman for her homemaking sacrifice as cheaply as possible. If the woman's lawyer isn’t aggressive, because he or she makes their money on volume, not by intensively working cases, then the woman will get hurt financially for the rest of her life.
A good book is “The Dollars and Sense of Divorce” by Briles, Schilling & Wilson. You can get it at Borders. It is very dispassionate as the title indicates.
Last note: the woman should consider going back to school and getting the ex-husband to pay for it. She could become a Registered Nurse rather quickly, and begin earning good pay as nursing seems to be recession-proof; plus hospitals having signing bonuses. You don’t need a 4-year degree to become a nurse; she could become an RN in about 18 months, and then get the credits for a 4 year nursing degree later. Most hospitals pay for the tuition. It would do her a lot of good to have something totally different and positive to occupy her mind.
Even if the ex-husband won’t pay, I think there are programs for ‘displaced homemakers’ that might pay for some of the tuition. The college/university financial aid office should know about that.