Thursday, June 09, 2005

Picture me dancing in the streets…

…cause I ought to be. The meeting. It really could not have gone any better for me, with one exception – it did not go well for the STBX. That could cause problems, but I’ll get to that later. It started out with some questions for me about my job loss, some of which grew out of the STBX’s accusations. I don’t remember if I posted this before, but recently my attorney told me that she had gotten word from the STBX’s attorney that STBX had uncovered valuable information. According to her, I had been fired for misusing my corporate credit card. First, that’s completely untrue, and second, how would the STBX know about it if I had? I was asked about where I was applying, and I told them. The STBX immediately began scribbling furiously on her little pad, for what reason I don’t know. It soon became apparent. She had been calling all of my old employers trying to get dirt on me.

Well, once my grilling was over (which was not pleasant, by the way) we started moving into other areas. We’ve been having trouble with the health insurance my company switched everybody over to this year – it’s called a High Deductible Plan. Basically, that means they don’t pay anything until you reach a very high deductible, and there’s a health savings account to cover that deductible over the year. The trouble is that they break up the payments to the health savings account over 12 months. So what happens if you go over what was contributed to the HSA for the month? Nothing. They still don’t pay until you reach the deductible for the year. It’s truly the stupidest plan the company could have gone with.

Anyway, the STBX had some accusations here. She accused me of changing the plan without her permission. Well, that was easy enough to counter. The company switched every employee over to it, we had no choice. She next claimed that I should pay all the medical bills because she wouldn’t have gone if she’d known that the plan was such a problem. My attorney then sweetly asked her “So you would not have brought your son to the doctors if he needed it?” The other problem was the assumption that I knew the plan would be such a pain in the neck. By the end of it both attorneys agreed that it was a non-issue, which made the STBX quite angry.

We began to go through the debt. My debt came first, as it was the easiest to deal with. I don’t have much in credit cards in my name. The STBX, however, argued that it was not marital debt, but mine alone. That got shot down pretty fast. Another thing for her to stew over. We had some real fun when we got to hers. She has a little over $25,000 in credit card debt. First, she made the claim that I “forced” her to charge to them. When asked to elaborate, she said it was because there were times that there wasn’t enough money in the checking account to buy what she wanted, so she was forced to use her credit cards. That didn’t get very far either. My attorney suddenly perked up. She had just realized that I had not had charge privileges on these cards. She had thought all this time that I had been using them and helped run up the debt. This discovery definitely meant something to her. The STBX was getting a little frantic at this point because she was realizing that she might not be able to foist off all of the debt onto me.

Next came the real fight. The equity in the condo, which is about $70,000 according to today’s calculations. The STBX was adamant that I was not entitled to one red cent of this. She started out by saying that I was in major debt when we started dating, and pulled out an old Amex statement to prove it. It was for the month before we started dating, and the amount due was $8000. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? I might until you realize that this bill covered two months of expenses (it’s not uncommon for expense reports to not get in on time, pushing payment by the company back a month) and my average expense report was about $4000 per month. It took some explaining, but eventually everybody, except the STBX, understood that this was not a “debt”, but simply a statement. I asked where the rest of the statements were so we could go through them to show this, but she said she’d found only the one. Right. The other statements in the folder in the filing cabinet are on vacation in the Florida Keys

We did some calculations and it turned out that even if I paid for half the debt I’d be entitled to about $8000 after everything was said and done. You can imagine how this went over. The attorneys started looking at the financials for the STBX and came to the conclusion that she’d either have to file for bankruptcy, get a home equity loan or borrow money from a relative to pay off the debt. The STBX has always been terrified of bankruptcy. I could tell she was hitting her limits just by looking at her. The attorneys realized that she was the only one who could file because the debt was in her name and I’d never had charging privileges on the accounts. I guess the bankruptcy court cannot come after me for it. There’s also a homestead exemption, so the condo would be safe. The STBX was in literal disbelief that she might have to file for bankruptcy.

I’m not exactly sure when this came up, but we talked about the money disappearing. This was very interesting. My attorney said she wanted to talk about the money that disappeared. When I pulled out the paperwork I had gotten from the bank the STBX got nervous. She stiffened up her resolve and then claimed that she had taken the money out of the checking account and put it in the savings account. I only said “No, you didn’t. I have the bank records here that show that the money was removed from both accounts just before I was served.” She did not know I had brought the bank records with me. She then said that “of course” she had removed the money, she had to pay the bills. My next question was “So you admit now that you took the money?” and she said that she had never denied taking it. My attorney stopped her right there and told her that her first attorney had told her (my attorney) that she (the STBX) had said that I had taken the money. The STBX was upset, but claimed her attorney told her she could take it and she had never denied it. Next, the extra $1000 came up. She immediately claimed that her attorney had told her she was entitled to take that. This was really interesting – both attorneys said at the same time “No you weren’t”. Her attorney explained to her that once the agreement had been made it was binding and she had had no right to take the money, so it needed to be credited to me in the calculations. I found out after the meeting that the STBX’s current attorney is angry because the first firm made his job a lot harder. Apparently, they are the source of all the bad advice the STBX had gotten, like how to file the false charges. They had also told her she was going to be getting a lot of money in alimony which her current attorney had to reeducate her about. My attorney told me the group is considered very sleazy by most attorneys in the area. Yes, this is the group of business attorneys the STBX hired to represent her in the divorce.

I was expecting the next question – the STBX’s attorney asked me what I was willing to do if she did file for bankruptcy. What he meant was that she’d be taking the hit for a debt that I would be partially responsible for otherwise. I’d already written a note to my attorney in anticipation of this. I had written that if she decided she wanted to file bankruptcy, then I would be willing to give up my interest in the condo. It was a lot more than I needed to give up, but it would be hard to convince her to file otherwise. We suggested this and the STBX’s attorney was obviously very surprised. I think it was this point it got through to him that I was truly not out to screw over my STBX. He wanted this to work, because he knew I was being VERY generous. The STBX was actively fighting this, falling back on the argument that I should take on all of the debt, and that it wasn’t fair. Her attorney explained. He told her that he had not seen even one instance of me trying to take advantage of her, that I’d paid a lot more than I’d needed to, and that I was entitled to more than I was asking for. He made it clear that if we went into court I’d end up with much more than I was asking for. The STBX was very, very upset at this point and the attorneys felt that we all needed a period of private time. My attorney turned to me after they left and asked me if I was sure about this, that I could do a lot better. I told her that this was good for a couple of reasons.

What I said next to her seemed to make a real impression. I don’t think she’s ever really taken seriously the fact that my STBX might actually be schizophrenic. I think she really thought that I was just saying this to gain some kind of advantage or because I was angry with the STBX. I think I dispelled that. I told her that we were pretty much at the limit of what the STBX could bear – if we pushed much harder than she might literally lose control. This is pulled from a medical site called “The Doctor Will See You Now”:

Cheryl Corcoran, M.D., and Dolores Malaspina, M.D., M.S.P.H.

Stress seems to be particularly harmful for those suffering from the psychiatric disorder schizophrenia. For a patient with schizophrenia, the death of a parent or other loved one, a change in therapist, moving from one apartment to another; these events can trigger acute anxiety, depression and psychotic episodes, which may lead to hospitalization. Even seemingly mildly stressful events such as a job interview or a date can have a devastating effect.

In the past, the STBX has reacted badly to stressful situations, and I told her that the stress we were causing her right now was at least equal to that. When she lost her job she was suicidal for months. I told her that giving up a couple of thousand dollars was worth it to me to make this easier on her, and therefore, my son. I had to keep in mind that I have to deal with the STBX for many, many years to come. My attorney seemed to “get it”.

Over the course of the entire meeting the STBX would start weeping or crying at times. It was actually very hard to watch, I felt very bad for her. I did love her very much before all of this happened – otherwise I’d never had stayed with her as long as I did. She was a wonderful woman, and in some ways still is (she’s a great mother to our son). It hurts to see someone suffer like this and not be able to do anything. I felt myself wanting to comfort her somehow, and realized that I couldn’t allow myself to think like that. As much as I feel sorry for her and wish she didn’t have to suffer from whatever mental illness she has, the fact remains that it’s the mental illness which is making her target me. No matter how I feel I can’t relax as long as she is targeting me, it just isn’t safe. I pushed the sorrow for her to the side, which is very difficult, but thinking of the things I’d gone through made it easier.

She didn’t end up agreeing to the proposal, but her attorney told my attorney that he was going to talk to her about it after she had calmed down some. He shook my hand on the way out, and the “Thank you” he gave me seemed to be very heartfelt. He seemed to get that I was trying to be kind also.

I’m almost in tears now thinking back on that. I’ve been through so much and the people who need to know seemed to understand that I wasn’t the problem. It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than where I was before.