Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Going to Court, Part III

Curly decided that she wanted to take the day off and come with me. She didn't want to actually come into court with me, but she wanted to be around before and after. We went down the night before so that I didn't have to get up at 4am to get to court on time.

"Going to court" really doesn't describe the experience. When you go for something like this, you start out in the courtroom, but just to check in. You then head over to the Family Relations Counselors, who try to negotiate a settlement to whatever the differences happen to be. I knew this from our previous visit, so the first thing I did was put us on the list for Family Relations. That was one of the smartest things I could have done. I was number eleven. Most people sign up after the court finishes checking people in. I went over to the list when that happened and found that 47 people had signed up after me, and more were in line.

Even so, it took a long time to see a counselor. Coincidentally, it was the same one we had the last time. We sat down and he asked the Ex to tell him her side of everything. She proceeded to paint me as an irresponsible father who didn't care about paying his son's medical bills. She said she could barely afford to get by as it was, but that my refusal to pay the medical bills was making her life extremely difficult. She went on and on, and I let her. I didn't say a thing. I didn't sigh, or get angry, I just politely waited. The counselor glanced over at me several times, but let her finish. She brought out her spreadsheets and showed him how much money I'd refused to pay. Finally, with a smile for him, she finished.

Now, before I go any further, I have to say that I was very pleased with all of this. She had explained, in very thorough detail, her side of things. She hadn't made up any new stories, and she couldn't easily change her story now.

The counselor turned to me and I began. The first thing I told him was that we had to divide things up into pre- and post- divorce because of the Dissolution Agreement. I explained that it showed that all the bills pre-divorce were specifically assigned to the Ex. He asked to see the Agreement and I pointed out where the correct paragraphs were. He read through it and came to the part where it mentioned the financial affidavits. He asked if I had those and I gave them to him. I explained the difference between the two that I had for the Ex. He read through all of this and told the Ex that it looked like the agreement stated that the bills pre-divorce were her responsibility. He also told us that he was not an attorney and that the judge might decide differently. The Ex was very upset by this. She told him that it was impossible for the agreement to specify that because she had specifically told her attorney that she didn't want to pay the bills. She said that her attorney had told her that I was responsible for the bills. She finished up with the statement that if she had to pay those bills it would be "not fair, not fair, not fair!".

The counselor said that we needed to go over the post-divorce bills, so on we went. I started at the beginning. I told him that it all started with that little sticky-note. I talked about how I'd tried to talk to her about it and she refused. About how I emailed her time and again, trying to discuss it, and got no response. About how I sent the long, pleading email. I told him that I had not received a single notification of a medical bill until six days after she filed the motion. I showed that the spreadsheets had been made just three days before she filed the paperwork, and that I felt she never had any intention of doing anything but going to court. I then explained that when I was finally informed of the bills it wasn't in any verifiable way, so I went out and got the bills myself. I think that was the turning point. I closed with my calculation of the amount that was owed. I explained that the Ex had missed several bills and that the figure I had come up with was actually more than what she was asking for, and that I was willing to pay that immediately.

I don't think he often gets this kind of attitude. He was clearly a little confused. He had a problem, however. I was willing to pay everything I owed post-divorce, but not what was specified as the Ex's responsibility in the agreement. The Ex was willing to accept nothing less than everything. His job was to try to help us find a middle ground. He told us this and explained that we were going to break for lunch. He wanted us to discuss things and try to come up with a number that was acceptable for both of us. He also told us that if we didn't settle it the judge would either make an immediate judgment or tell us that we needed to come back another day.

When we went out into the hallway the Ex asked me where I wanted to sit and talk about it. It wasn't just the way she said it, it was the look that she had on her face. Her attitude was not very nice. I told her I didn't see the need to discuss it. I was not going to compromise on the pre-divorce bills because I'd already given up a lot of money that more than covered them. I told her I felt I had a very strong case that I tried to discuss everything with her and she ignored it all. She immediately said that she had emailed me about the bills, so I laid it out for her. I told her that if she had emailed me she'd better go and get the copies of the emails. She had ample time before we had to be back - I told her that they'd be in her Sent Items folder. She was a little surprised at my confidence. She was angry and called me a few names as she got on the elevator. I went and had a little lunch.

When we got back we met in the hallway. She told me that she had come up with a new number. She said that she'd going through everything and could show that I was wrong about the bills we were talking about being the ones covered in the Dissolution Agreement. The number she came up with was about $100 less than her original number. That brought her pre-divorce number down to just under $900. It was a move of desperation and I knew it. I had gone over everything very carefully - if I hadn't I might have fallen for it, but I knew I was correct. I told her that we'd have to see the judge.

It was hours before we got to see the judge. In an effort to try and give as much incentive to people to resolve their differences the court has a policy that anybody who can't come to an agreement goes dead last. That meant that we had to sit through several hours of other people coming before the judge. It was very educational. The judge was very fair, which made me very happy. He didn't allow emotion to outweigh facts, and if somebody made an honest effort to do something they were supposed to he took that into account. Watching all the other cases made me much more confident.

When it finally came to our turn he asked her to explain her side of things. She did, but did change a little bit. She explained that her attorney had obviously made a mistake and that it needed to be corrected. She made it sound like her attorney had expressly gone against her wishes and colluded with me to cheat her. The judge let her go on for a little bit, then stopped her. He brought out the Dissolution Agreement and read it and the financial affidavits. He then told her that the Agreement was clear - the pre-divorce bills were her responsibility. She tried another half-hearted explanation, but he stopped her and told her that there was nothing he could do. He then told her she needed to come up with an amount (post-divorce) that she felt she was owed. Up until this point he had said nothing at all to me.

She sat down and started calculating. He turned to me and asked me if I'd received any notification of medical expenses. I told him I hadn't until she had sent me the spreadsheets, which was six days after she filed the motion. She's studiously kept her head buried in her calculations at this point, which is a good thing. The judge was very unhappy to hear this, and was glaring at her. He said that we were going to fix the problem with notifications. He explained that I needed to come up with my estimate of what I owed. I told him I had it already, and explained that I had gone out and gotten the information myself. He was clearly surprised to hear that I had done that.

The Ex finished her calculations. The judge asked her if the number that she came up with was 49% of the total, and she realized she'd made a mistake. She'd calculated it at 50%. Not much of a difference, I know, but he had told her to calculate it at 49%. He was not happy at another delay, and I spoke up and told him that I had no problem going with the 50% calculation, and scored more points. He asked me if I was able to pay her in a reasonable amount of time and I told him I had my checkbook with me and could pay her whatever we calculated immediately. That was a 3-pointer. He was elated.

We went out into the hallway so she could explain her calculations to me. She surprised me then - she burst into tears and apologized. She told me that she really thought the pre-divorce bills were my responsibility. I know this is not true because of some of the things she said before, but I'm not a gloater. I told her I'd rather have her talk to me than have to apologize. I took a quick look at her calculations and found that they were pretty close to what they should be. I didn't want to go through them with a fine-tooth comb so I just wrote her a check. It came out to just over $400 - a far cry from what she was originally trying to get out of me.

We went back in and the judge was once again surprised - he wasn't expecting me to have already written a check and given it to her. He was all set to send us home, but I stopped him. I told him that we still needed to fix the notification issue. He had forgotten, and put in an order that proof of expense had to be given within two weeks. That's even better than the 30 days I was hoping for.

All in all I was very happy with the way it went. The story doesn't quite finish there, however. There's what happened as we were leaving the court, which I'll write about next time. It's good news, and really surprised me.

Going to Court, Part II

Two weeks to prepare. For some of the things I needed to do it was plenty of time, for others it wasn't.

When I told Curly that I'd been served she was not surprised. She told me that she suspected something was going on when I told her that the Ex was in a strangely happy mood. Curly was very upset by the whole thing - she gets aggravated when the Ex pulls her stunts. She sees me trying to do things the right way and sees nothing of the sort from the Ex. Curly even saw the long email I sent the Ex before I sent it - I wanted to make sure I didn't come across the wrong way.

For myself? I was actually laughing about it. Here I was for weeks thinking about having to take the Ex to court over a stupid bill and she decides to come after me! I looked at it as her doing me a favor because now I didn't have to take a day off to go file the paperwork. I wasn't very worried about it right then, mainly because I'd done so much to try to resolve the situation.

The first thing I did was call all of the doctors and pharmacies and request copies of all the bills. The Ex was supposed to give me receipts or actual bills to get reimbursed, not just provide me with a spreadsheet. So, in legal terms, she still had not met the requirements set forth in the divorce agreement. If I were less meticulous (and stupider), I'd just let it go at that and walk into court and claim that since she hadn't given me "official" paperwork it didn't count. However, that's just not me. Now that I knew the bills existed I made it my business to get everything I needed to determine what I owed.

Over the next two weeks I gathered as much information and evidence as I could. I had to divide everything into two parts - pre- and post- divorce. I'd found and reread the divorce agreement and it said exactly what I thought it did about the division of debt. In fact, it was even clearer than I'd hoped. I also had her financial affidavit and a previous one. The previous one was one of the ones where she was still trying to assign me half the debt (that was one step better than me taking it all, but not good enough), so she showed the debts at 50% her responsibility. The final one, reflecting our agreement, showed them at 100% her responsibility. The agreement specifically stated that it was her responsibility. So, basically, everything pre-divorce was hers. The post-divorce medical expenses were actually, under the agreement, 49% my responsibility.

I started going through and verifying the spreadsheets. I found a surprising number of mistakes. She had not done a very thorough job of keeping track of everything. After I added the expenses she had missed and calculating my share at 49% (instead of the 50% she was calculating it at) I found I owed about $100 or so more than she had claimed. It came out to a little over $400 total. I wasn't upset that it was more than she calculated - I was intent on making sure she got exactly what I owed. I have no problem paying my share of my son's medical bills. I was actually happy my calculations came out the way they did because I'd be walking into court ready and willing to pay more than she was claiming - I felt this would look good.

I also went through all my email. I printed out every email that went between us since the divorce became final. I went through my file and pulled out every handwritten note she'd given me. I even had the little sticky-note that said "owe allergist". As it turned out, the stack of paperwork I'd be bringing into court was over three inches tall.

As the court date closed in, I got more stressed about it. I felt I had a very strong case, but you can't help but worry about the unknown. Would she lie? Would she manufacture some evidence? Would she claim that she'd been telling me verbally about the medical bills?

I wrote up a summary of the whole situation to use as a reference when I was in court. There was so much information and evidence that I didn't trust myself to remember it all or to be able to come up with it at a moment's notice.

Here's what I had:

The Dissolution agreement which specifically dealt with all debt. It assigned all the bills in question to her.
Two copies of her financial affidavit, one at 50% (old), one at 100%.
The sticky-note that started the whole thing with the words "owe allergist"
Three emails I sent her trying to discuss the situation (which at the time was limited to one bill)
The long email I sent her, which nearly begged her to talk to me about the bill.
The email she sent me 6 days after I was served.
The court papers I had been served, which showed that she filed them the same day I sent her the long email.
The three spreadsheets she had sent me, six days after she filed the motion.
Printouts of the internal properties of the spreadsheets. You might have heard that Microsoft Office documents have information embedded in them. Included in that are when the document was created, edited and printed. She obviously didn't know this - I could now show the spreadsheets were created three days before she filed her motion - she never had any intention of telling me about the bills before she filed the motion.
Proof that I'd been providing my son's health insurance, at my own expense, for months.
A corrected version of her spreadsheet, with the things she missed.

Here's what she had:
Her spreadsheets.
An incomplete set of bills.

Here's what she didn't have:
Anything showing that she notified me about the bills.
Any responses to my first three emails trying to discuss the matter.
Anything else.

She was so confident that she'd just be awarded the money that she didn't really prepare anything more than what she'd submitted to the court.

What happened at court was interesting, entertaining, educational and very satisfying. For me. That's Part III.

Going to Court, Part I

It's hard to know where to start in telling the story of the latest court battle. I think it makes the most sense to just start at the beginning and not worry about what I might have mentioned already.

The Ex was not too happy with me one day, and when I brought my son back for the drop-off she had her little bit of revenge ready. She handed me a slip of paper which said (at the bottom) "owe allergist". I asked her what that meant and, after a bit of prodding, she finally explained that it was my share of our son's medical bill. I told her that this was her responsibility under the agreement, but she denied that, saying that her attorney said otherwise.

This bill has been a hot point for her for quite a while. Her initial proposal in the divorce negotiations was for me to take on all the marital debt and for her to take all the marital assets. She honestly believed that this was a reasonable position. She was very unhappy when she was told that I had the right to half of our marital assets and was responsible for half of our marital debt. She was unhappy about that because it meant that at the end of everything she'd have to come up with about $15000 to give me.

She continued to come up with reasons to support her belief that I was not entitled to any of the marital assets and that she was not responsible for any of the marital debt. It finally came to a head in a meeting that we finally got her to attend. Her attorney and my attorney working together finally got through to her that if she didn't compromise that the judge would simply split things down the middle.

I had no desire to make things hard for her, so I proposed that I would take my personal credit card debt and she would take everything else. That meant that she'd take on the rest of the marital debt and get to keep the equity we had in our condo. It meant that I was giving quite a bit of money, but it made things easier to settle. She was livid, even though this was very much to her advantage. She was crying, but was red-faced with anger when we broke the meeting up.

She later accused me of "screwing her" with the bills. This note was her opening salvo in an attempt to reassign all the debt we had settled back over to me.

Every week from that point forward I tried to talk to her about the bill. She refused to discuss it on most occasions, but I did get an interesting comment out of her when I told her I would take this to court if I had to. She said "If you think that, as a father, you'll go in there and not have to pay, you're crazy!". Obviously, she'd been getting ideas about how things went in court from somewhere.
I emailed her several times about it also. She never responded to any of my emails. Over the weeks I resigned myself to having to take her to court. I decided that I'd try one more time before I sent and filed papers. So one night I sat down and wrote a long and detailed email. I went over why I thought the bill was her responsibility. I went over how many times I'd tried to talk to her about it with no response. I told her that if she thought I was wrong about it she had to discuss it with me. Lastly, I told her that if she refused to communicate with me about it then I'd have no choice but to take her to court. I waited an hour or so before I actually sent it to make sure I didn't think of anything else. The day I sent this email is important for reasons you'll read in a little while. I expected a quick reply this time because of some of the things I said, but I was wrong. I didn't get anything for six days.

Six days later. When I saw the email I hoped that it meant that she'd finally decided to talk about the situation. How wrong I was. The email started out with a question - I won't quote it - asking me how I could sleep at night. She accused me of refusing to pay for our son's medical bills. It went downhill from there. It was vicious and very unfriendly. She told me that her attorney had told her that I was responsible for half of all medical bills, no matter how far back they went. She made accusation after accusation, and basically finished up with a statement that I could pay the allergist first and all the rest after that. Did you catch that? Weren't we talking about one bill before? Yes. Now we were suddenly talking about more than that one bill.

The full extent of it was covered in the attached spreadsheets. The three attached spreadsheets. The first covered 2003 and 2004, the second 2005 and the last one covered 2006. That's right. She was now going back through three years of bills and trying to reassign them to me. Some of them had already been paid (while we were married, before we even separated), but she was now claiming she was entitled to be reimbursed for half of them. She claimed I owed her $938, and that I had to pay a lot of the bills she hadn't paid on top of that.

It's important to note here that I'm responsible for half of all unreimbursed medical expenses for my son. That only applies to medical expenses that occurred since the divorce was final. Everything from before that is covered in the divorce agreement. The divorce agreement stated that I was required to reimburse her within 30 days of official proof of expense. From the date of the divorce until I received this email I had not received a single bill. She had been hoarding them the entire time.

I decided that I needed to analyze the spreadsheets before I responded to the email, which might take a little while. That weekend, however, things got even more interesting. When I picked up my son, the Ex was in a very chipper mood. I was suspicious of that, because it's so unusual. I even called Curly and told her about it. Later on I found out why she was in such a good mood. On returning my son, I was served. The papers simply stated that I had refused to pay medical expenses, as well as a couple of other minor things. The minor things were that she wanted proof that I carried our son's medicine. I found this last part as particularly stupid because all she had to do was ask me and I'd show it to her.

The timing of all these events is very interesting. Looking at the court papers, I could see the date she filed them. It was the same day that I sent the long email - remember I said that the date I sent it was very important? Well, she filed the paperwork during the day, and that evening I sent her the email, telling her that she couldn't keep refusing to communicate with me about the bill. Six days after that I received the first notification ever of any outstanding medical bills. Get that? She filed paperwork saying I'm refusing to pay medical bills, then six days later I get my first idea that I even owe anything.

The court papers gave me just over two weeks to prepare.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

They let me out of my Tower…

I recently got an email from another blogger and it made me realize that I needed to find the time to write more often. There’s so much to write about and so little time these days. I’ve only got a few minutes tonight, so I thought I’d give a preview of some of the things that I’ll be writing about soon:

  1. Being served and going to court again for the medical bills I was planning on taking her to court for. I won, completely and easily. There’s a lot more to the story than that, however.
  1. My car’s deteriorating health. With the bucking it’s currently subjecting me to I am considering a side-career as a Rodeo Rider (though a job as a clown would fit me better…).
  1. Getting used to a good relationship – Curly’s still around, and, as a kicker, my son loves her.
  1. Getting used to more paranoia from the Ex. She’s grilled our son for details, and knows Curly’s name. She recently mumbled a comment about wanting to “inspect” where I’m living. Not a chance.
  1. My son – The Best Little Boy Ever Born. Although he now tells me, at just over three, that he’s a big boy. He’s started emulating me: when he heard my favorite color was green he decided it was his favorite too. He likes to do things at the same time with me too – like drink our drinks when we’re eating.
  1. Going to a pediatrician’s appointment with him and the Ex. She didn’t like me being there, but that’s just too bad. I got to listen to her try to convince the doctor that our son had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder…because he liked to eat the same foods all the time and he once told his preschool teacher he wanted her to clean the bathroom three times. The doctor pretty much put that idea out to pasture.

That’s just a start – what I could come up with in the short time I have to sit here tonight.