If you haven’t read Part 1, please read that first.
The years after the divorce were painful. Jill sunk into a depression and her difficult doctorate program coupled with her new status as a single mom left her hopeless and in despair. A year after the divorce, Jill was diagnosed with breast cancer. It decimated her mental health even after surgery was able to remove all the cancer without signs of having spread. Her finances were in shambles due to her already low student salary being split into child support, spousal support, and daycare expenses. She was racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt paying for living expenses and Dan’s tuition. Jill worked hard to get along with Dan, care for her kids half the time, and still get her research done. Two years after the divorce, Jill graduated with her PhD, and had secured a post-doc at the same school until Dan could finish his degree at which point they would all move back to Colorado.
Dan, for his part, did well in his undergraduate education and had minor jobs here and there to supplement the child and spousal support he was receiving. Dan also took out student loans to make ends meet. He made new friends at school, and He and Hannah enjoyed a wonderful honeymoon. They also went regularly to visit Hannah’s family in SC. Dan worked hard to make birthdays special for the kids and help support continuity in their lives. Dan graduated with a degree in a vocational area certain it would provide a good job in Colorado. Hannah worked at the local library to supplement their income in that household.
As per the agreement Dan and Jill both remained in Massachussetts after the divorce. They even lived in the same town and the kids remained in the same school providing continuity. After the high-conflict divorce, Dan and Jill struggled to be civil and learn to co-parent together. After all, if you couldn’t make it work when married, odds of it working after divorce seem even lower. Jill felt she had to do everything. She took kids to doctor appointments, bought them shoes, clothes, paid for daycare, went to Parent-Teacher conferences, etc. Dan was used to caring for the kids full time, but had not been used to having a job or attending school while doing it. Dan felt like it was high-time Jill learned to take more responsibility for parenting their children. Although Hannah was there and provided some help, she needed to work to make ends meet.
It worked. Not well, but it worked.
As Dan was nearing completion of his undergraduate degree, Jill was finishing her postdoc and looking for jobs in Colorado. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going well. Colorado didn’t have a strong industry segment amenable to Jill’s expertise. So Jill applied to jobs outside her field which companies intimated she was overqualified for. Academic positions are exceedingly scarce and despite many applications to the universities in Colorado, they all fell flat. Jill sent out over 50 applications in all, getting increasingly desperate with each rejection. Jill sent exactly one application somewhere outside of Colorado. A university. Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be), Jill was offered the job, setting up what would likely become the most painful decision of her life.
Dan was finishing up school and seemed to have good leads on jobs in Colorado. His vocation was universally needed and he had several companies express interest. He was also interested in getting a graduate degree. His plan was to attend school full-time and work part-time to make ends meet. However, by this time, Hannah was pregnant with their first child, due about the time the couple would be moving back to Colorado.
Unfortunate timing led to more painful legal battles as deadlines neared. As Dan graduated last he had control of the timing of the move as per the agreement. Jill, unable to find a job in Colorado began trying to negotiate with Dan about how they could make custody work if Jill accepted the job outside of Colorado. But negotiation and cooperation was never their strong suit, even when it involved the kids’ well-being. Several compromise solutions were put forth by Jill but Dan was insistent that the settlement be followed. So Jill filed a motion with the court to revisit the parenting time arrangement.
If the divorce was painful to level x, the custody battle was painful to level 100x. To Jill, this is what she had to do to force a renegotiation since a job outside Colorado was the only one she could get. But Dan did not see it this way. Dan felt personally attacked that Jill had filed this motion while Hannah was pregnant. He also believed that Jill was trying to take the kids away, and, fixed on this belief, pulled out all the stops. Dan and his lawyer seemed to make sport of long legal briefings filled with vitriol and accusations rehashing conflicts from their relationship prior to the divorce and decimating the relationship all over again. New claims about neglect and controlling behavior made Jill look like a monster. Jill, inclined more toward facts, tried to rebut the claims citing evidence and past court proceedings. Jill brought up Dan’s affair, but Dan continued to deny that Hannah had been anything but a friend – which seemed to settle the matter to the court. Jill was unable to counter Dan’s claims faster than he pushed them out. If Jill was about finding solutions to the difficult situation they were in, Dan seemed fixed on punishing Jill.
Jill fought HARD for what she thought would be best for the kids. Jill and her lawyer presented solution after solution after solution that they thought would be mutually agreeable and in the kids’ best interests. She tried to find ways for the kids to still spend half their time at both houses. But this court seemed to have a different objective – picking a winner and loser. Dan and Jill were literally pitted against each other and told that one would win and one would lose – without any advocate for what was best for the children. Jill was losing. She learned it was a losing strategy to try and argue for what might be best for the kids. Dan was winning by making lists of accusations and suggesting he was a victim of Jill’s educational ambitions. To Dan, Jill owed him the kids and a large payout from her degree. Dan would share the kids with Jill when it was convenient for him. Jill’s lawyer was baffled. Baffled as to why the relationship prior to the divorce was being rehashed. Baffled as to why a major fight was being provoked with half-truths and victimhood. Baffled that the judge was entertaining all the drama! Jill’s lawyer, like Jill, seemed clinically interested in finding resolution that was in the best interests of the kids. This was a losing strategy.
Ultimately there were too many falsehoods, and the court seemed disinterested in finding the truth. Dan sowed doubt, lies, and presented himself as a victim at every turn. Eventually the court seemed to stop caring about who was right and who was wrong, and even seemed to stop caring about what was best for the children. It just wanted resolution.
Dan convincingly won. In the new custody order:
* Dan would move home to Colorado and have the kids during the school year.
* Jill would have the kids for 8 of the 12 weeks of summer, and they would rotate holidays during the school year.
* Dan would get the kids for his week-long family reunion in mid-July each summer, interrupting Jill’s time with the kids during the summer and forcing a 28 hour drive for both parties and the kids.
* Jill would be able to see the kids any time she came to Colorado if she gave enough notice.
* Jill would have video chat time with the kids three days each week at a time agreeable to the parties.
* Dan and Jill would meet halfway between the 850 miles of distance separating their new locations for the exchanges.
* As Jill was starting a new job, and Dan was matriculating in graduate school, Jill was ordered to pay $5000 of Dan’s legal fees.
* Similarly, child support was recalculated using Jill’s academic salary plus her academic startup package, and assuming two months of summer salary from extra work during the summer. As Dan would be in school full-time he would have no income. Jill’s protests to see proof of Dan having enrolled in school were dismissed. Her requests that Dan be imputed income for having a degree she paid for and subsequently unused were dismissed .
* Jill would pay for health insurance, and 92% of out-of-pocket health care expenses.
* Jill was NOT granted relief from her “non-modifiable” spousal support obligation despite Dan being remarried. She would finish paying all 4 years of spousal support to Dan.
 The burden of proof for imputing income to a spouse is high, particularly if that spouse has little history of working. It’s much easier to persuade a court to impute income to someone who quits their job.