My STBX and I talked before our separation and I assured her that I would pay as much as I could to help her with the bills. She is living in the marital home with our two children and I am living with my parents until I can afford an apartment. We were married nearly 20 years. Since the separation she got an attorney and sent a separation agreement for me to sign asking for more than I make. I countered with the same amount that I offered before and now her attorney is telling me that they are considering some type of action. My STBX is getting over half of my income now and I cannot afford to pay her more. I only make $56k/year and she makes $30k/year. I do not understand how they can possibly ask for this since I am paying nearly all of her bills. The only thing she is left to pay is her car payment, car insurance and groceries. I can’t even afford to pay my bills. I have not missed a payment to her yet and obviously cannot afford an attorney for myself. What is your advice?
I understand that you cannot afford an attorney. If at any point you can afford to go for even one consultation, it could help you out greatly. Even if they do not go to court with you, one consultation can point you in the right direction on how to handle things yourself and the particulars of what is reasonable in your situation.
Anyhow, these are my personal thoughts:
1.) DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING THAT YOU CANNOT AFFORD TO PAY. No matter how much they threaten, no matter what they say. If you cannot pay it, you simply cannot and signing a contract saying that you can when you cannot will put you behind the eight ball from the get-go. (Signing a contract for something you know you can’t pay is tantamount to fraud.) Remember that whatever you begin to pay now, the courts will assume that you are comfortable with paying.
2.) You still have a lot of parenting to do. Try your best to set up a custody schedule that is 1/2 time with the kids. No matter what your STBX says, you are entitled to 1/2 custody.
3.) Use the child support calculator on this site to determine how much you should pay in child support and start paying that amount for the children.
4.) Stop paying all of her bills. You need to be able to live yourself and provide a home for your kids to come to. Pay her a reasonable amount in good faith for post separation support. (A consultation with an attorney with all of both your financials in hand can help you determine what a reasonable amount to pay is.)
5.) Do not agree to use the same attorney for negotiations. His loyalty right now is to his client…her…and he will try whatever it takes to get as much out of you as he can.
6.) Keep records of all phone conversations (phone logs or recordings if you can), all payments, all monies received, and all email or handwritten communications. These can be a lifesaver. (Especially if she threatens you via email stating that if you don’t sign the separation agreement or pay a certain amount, she will take you to court. That is extortion.)
7.) Never threaten her or her attorney for any reason or use the threat of prosecution or withholding money or it could be used against you.
8.) Keep all communication as emotionless as possible. Be professional and business-like.
9.) Most likely you will have to pay alimony since she makes less than you…which can only be up to the amount you can afford after child support payments and your own REASONABLE living costs are taken out of your salary. Most likely this will be a term of about 1/2 the length of the marriage, although there may be situations in which it can be longer. If she has had an affair and you can prove it, you may not have to pay alimony at all, but will probably need an attorney to negotiate that.
10.) Get copies of and gather together all financial information for both you and your STBX. (Bank accounts, expenses, tax returns, etc.) You will need these to establish what you are able to pay and what you are not and to ensure that you aren’t getting screwed over. Knowledge is power. If they do decide to file for post-separation support, proving your lack of ability to pay will help you.
11.) If you are considering filing bankruptcy, you might want to do it now, although I’d speak with someone who strictly practices bankruptcy law about whether or not it is in your best interests. The official documents required to fill out to file for bankruptcy can establish precisely what you make and what you can afford to pay in alimony and child support and are very difficult for another attorney to refute since they already have the bankruptcy court’s official stamp. An opposing attorney facing this as evidence has an uphill battle to prove that you can actually pay more. (My BF went through this as part of his legal struggles with his ex. The official documents made her and her attorney much more amenable to reasonable discussions after the documents were presented to her lawyer.)
12.) Lastly, when negotiating a separation agreement, keep in mind that the future is uncertain. Try not to agree to anything that has you committed to your STBX longer than necessary. For instance, if you agree to pay for 1/2 your children’s college, what happens if they get into Harvard or the Sorbonne? Would you be able to foot that bill for 4-6 years? On the other end of that, what happens if they get into State, but you got hit by a bus and are handicapped for life? If you sign a contract with a blanket agreement to pay for 1/2 your kids college, you are on the hook no matter how your situation changes.
I do not see how there offer is reasonable, or even possible for you. Alimony is based not only on the needs of the dependant spouse, but the ability of the supporting spouse to pay. You are not expected to go into debt to pay support, nor should you have to live with your parents indefinitely. My advice is, let them proceed with filing an action, it sounds like you will be better off going to court in this case.