And So It Begins – Splitting Our Assets

Now it wasn’t all rosy from the beginning.  There were ugly words, failed reconciliation attempts, and at least one call to the sheriff during our tumultuous early days of separation.  I feared I would lose my son, my home, and the rest of what was important to me at any given moment.  In addition to having to face the loss of my spouse, albeit my decision, I was also facing the loss of his family with whom I was very close.  While my family all lived more than a thousand miles away, his was local.  His mom treated me like a daughter and I was even the matron-of-honor in his sister’s wedding just a month before our separation.  So, yes, in the beginning (I at least felt that) they all hated me.  And I could see why.  He was their son and brother.  They saw me as the person who was ripping the family apart.  And I felt that burden deeply.

But that is not to say that the separation and the divorce was all my fault either.  I’m not writing this to fall on a sword here in some veiled attempt at redemption.  No.  While I may have been the one who called it, it almost always takes two to screw things up in a marriage.  For years I had warned that we were headed for divorce.  But those warnings did not result in resolution on either side to the problems that lied within.  So there was plenty of blame to go around.  I just ended up being the one who insisted on that final fateful move to a different life.

My then-spouse who I’ll refer to going forward as my son’s father, or Bob as he is known, warned me that if we divorced I’d be missing out on half of my son’s life.  The gravity of those words still haunts me.  And the reality of the time that has been lost over the years still brings tears to my eyes.  But feeling the time I would spend with them was going to be miserable for everyone, the quality of time that we would spend together and apart had to come first.

For me, it was the notion that I might miss out on half of my son’s life that motivated me to find a better way forward for all of us.  I didn’t want to lose that much.  I didn’t want my son’s father to lose that much either.  I didn’t hate him.  I just didn’t want to live with him.  And I certainly didn’t want my son to suffer that much loss.  So I focused on our friendship and those things about Bob that I like.  He had always been a great father and good friend.  He’s quite a comedian too.  And I was going to miss that probably the most in my daily life, that and the fact that he did most of the cleaning around the house.  Yeah, I know you’re probably wondering why I so desperately had to get out of this relationship.  But as that is not the focus of this book, nor anything that should have went any differently given where our lives have led us to now, I will just say I had reasons I felt were justified right or wrong.  It doesn’t matter now and everyone’s happy.  And I have no doubt that as I write this blog, the logic and emotion behind this decision will reveal itself.

So we set about the messy business of separating while working together to minimize the impact on our five-year old son who we both loved more than life itself.  First there was the immediate need to relieve the tension that comes from cohabitating with someone from whom you are divorcing.  The negative energy is overwhelming and at times, all out debilitating.  It’s like watching someone die – that someone was our marriage, our cohesive family.  Very depressing.  But as neither of us could afford to just take time off from work to sort through all of this, we had to come up with another interim solution. We ended up splitting weeks in the house.  One week I would stay there with our son, and Bob would stay with family.  The next week Bob would stay in the house with our son and I would go to my girlfriend’s house and stay in her guest room.  We talked about what to do with our home and ultimately, we concluded that neither of us could afford it alone as we were a two income household by necessity.  So we sold it and divided the proceeds.  Selling it was hard since we had only built the place two years earlier and Bob had just spent a lot of time finishing much of the basement.  I loved that house.  But in the end it was better to leave the negative energy we had deposited there behind as we started our new lives.

We talked about how we would divide other things up too right down to the CD collection.  Fortunately, neither of us got super territorial over the small stuff.  I took the bedroom suit we had purchased with my last bonus.  Bob took the pool table that we purchased with money he had earned from side jobs.  And honestly, even though I’m a musician at heart, the CD collection meant more to him than me.  So I let him go through it and pick out for me things he either didn’t want or wanted me to have more than he wanted to keep them.  He was very fair.  Let’s see, I got to keep both the Prince and Steely Dan boxed sets.  So I was pretty happy with that.  He left me with many others to.  I think he couldn’t bear the thought of anyone not having music.  It’s very important to him.  Or maybe he just didn’t care that much for the ones he gave me.

I rather stupidly divided up minor things like our matching glassware and dish sets hellbent on the idea of being fair.  I don’t know what I was thinking other than that we both needed to live and would need the basics.  I can say that I didn’t want Bob, his family, or friends to ever be able to say that I had taken everything or left him in a bind.  But dividing up a matched set of dishes was really dumb.  I even for some ridiculous reason divided up our monogrammed towels.  What the heck were either of us going to do with those?  Display them?  And they were a wedding gift! Geez, those really should have just gone straight to charity.  I think mine did when I finally let go of them some 10 years later, not having used them once since the separation.

Looking back on it, I’m glad we hadn’t acquired a lot of valuable stuff by that point which kept the complications and arguments to a minimum.

Now on to the two remaining substantial items – the business Bob co-owned, and the 401K.  I think technically I and his business partner’s wife were listed as the owners for tax purposes or something.  But I had no active role other than opinions any spouse would offer.  I had a 401K that had been partially funded by my employer.  Bob had no retirement at that time.  What to do?

At one point I wanted to discuss a payout to me for part of the business since I had supported us financially when the business was getting started.  However, it still wasn’t producing a great deal of profit and Bob had not been able to sock away any extra savings from it to position him to buy me out.  I on the other hand had this 401K in which I was 100% vested.  I guess a little selfishly at first, I felt that was mine.  I had worked hard to earn that money giving up countless weekends and working late nights over long stretches of time.  And if I wasn’t going to get anything from the business, why should he get anything from my work?  As we discussed this topic, Bob expressed to me that he felt the 401K had built to where it was because of our joint earnings in all but a couple of years during his start-up.  The business he owned had more debt than equity and it was his only means of immediate income.  So putting it at risk created a whole other boatload of concerns for me around what might become of my son’s standard of living.  It just didn’t work.   I didn’t want to drag it out just to see that hard-earned money sitting in my 401K end up in the hands of divorce attorneys.  So I conceded on any rights to the business and split the retirement funds with Bob.

That pretty much settled our finances as far as the divorce went.  And, oh by the way, unless you have more complicated assets than I’ve laid out above, be weary of attorneys who want to charge you thousands for this service.  I provided my attorney with a spreadsheet that showed how all of our assets would be split.  He proceeded to charge me (or rather, attempted to charge me) an exorbitant amount for his “time and effort.”  And I proceeded to pay him much less than that as a settlement which, in my opinion, was still more than he actually earned.  He never sued me and I’m sure feels adequately compensated by the amount I did pay him.

So the “stuff” of our marriage was settled… just like that.

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