Lesson’s From My Parents Divorce
by Darin Colburn
Both of my parents have been married and divorced three times. My mom is on her fourth marriage (poor guy). That last part was a just a joke—my mom’s current husband is a wonderful guy. My parent’s own divorce lasted more than six years, and their docket history is longer than any case I have come across in practice. Today, I have a unique perspective on their divorce because, not only did I live through it as a 6 to 12-year-old kid, but since I became an attorney, I have spoken to each of them about the case. As an attorney, I’ve tried to remove myself from the situation and imagined what I would’ve said to each of them during the divorce had they been a client of mine.
My parents spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on attorney’s fees and cost. At the time, it was worth every penny because they both thought the other person was “out to get them,” and they both thought they were doing what was best for my brother and I (I’m a twin). 20 years later, I can tell you that both of my parents regret not having that money in a retirement account. Further, what was important to my parents during the heat of the divorce, ended up being of no consequence in the long run.
My Dad’s Perspective Then vs. Now
When my parents’ divorce began, my dad was a senior partner at one of the largest law firms in the Southwest. He was a trial lawyer who traveled all over the country defending large product liability claims. As such, he spent more time at the office than he did at home. But he made a lot of money. Earning a lot of money, however, does not necessarily mean you are wealthy. As much money came in each month, a similar, or higher amount went out. Back then, my dad would’ve told you that my mom had a spending problem, and he would’ve blamed their financial state on her. Why should he have to pay her all this money in spousal maintenance and child support when she’s the reason they are in debt. Besides, she would just spend it any way, and not on the children, right? My dad would also tell you that my mom had a drinking problem, and he was concerned about her parental fitness.
Today, my dad would tell you that he still believes my mom had a spending problem, but he would take more ownership in the ultimate result. After all, he never told her no, and he was not exactly a penny pincher himself. While on some level, he probably still holds onto the sentiment about spousal maintenance and child support, he would probably tell you that he spent more money fighting those claims than was ultimately worth it, and that everyone would’ve been better off if he would have just offered her more money rather than paying his attorneys.
My Mom’s Perspective Then vs. Now
If you are talking to my mother during their divorce, she would be telling you all about my dad’s income without mentioning any of the debt or expenses. She would tell you that he hated her and he wanted to screw her over. That she only received $99 a month for child support (for twins). She would not tell you that the reason she only received $99 a month for child support was because she was also receiving thousands of dollars per month for spousal maintenance, and she failed to modify child support when spousal maintenance expired. She would also tell you that she won the pre-nup argument.
Today my mom would tell you that she wishes she would’ve settled the case early on. She would also tell you that she would have been better off with the prenup in place. What felt like a great victory at the time, ended up being detrimental in the long run. She would tell you that she made a lot of her decisions based on a fear that he was trying to take my brother and me away from her, but that she should have known we would always love her and be in her life no matter what. She would also have a lot of nice things to say about my dad.
My Perspective Then vs. Now
My mom has a copy of a letter I wrote to the judge during their divorce. Back then I would’ve told you that I loved both my parents and I didn’t want to be taken away from either of them. Today I would just tell you I love both my parents, and while neither one of them is perfect, they each love me in their own way. I am very lucky to have them.