Ask Terry Questions How to survive a 5-year divorce when $158,000 in savings paid for attorney’s fees.

How to survive a 5-year divorce when $158,000 in savings paid for attorney’s fees.

By Terry Savage on April 03, 2015 | Financial Planning / Retirement

I am a reasonably healthy 64 year old woman who has used all of her cash/investments to pay for a protracted divorce. I thought I was done, but my attorney ex-husband (after a 12-day divorce trial) has filed an appeal in the appellate court. After divesting stocks and cash to pay for the divorce, I do not know how I will pay for the appeal. Do I borrow against the 401K ($350,000) or withdraw from my IRA funds ($178,000)? The end of the divorce, I was to pay him $60,000 from my IRA in the form of a quadro (sp)? He has never opened an account for this purpose. I own my own home which was purchased when I moved out from marital home about 4 years ago, there is around $125,000 in equity. I worry about how much tax I will pay from withdrawing from the IRA but how will I be able to pay back the 401K at my age? I am investing 14% of my income to my 401K, should I reduce this so that I can pay for the appeal? As you can see, I feel this could wipe me out financially.

Terry Says:  Pardon me for saying this now, but your OWN LAWYER was your worst enemy — not your ex.  I have just written a book with a famous divorce attorney and long time divorce court judge.  Go to to learn more about it.

This issue is my burning pet peeve!

It was your OWN lawyer who kept this process going as long as you were able and willing to pay his or her fees!  I suggest you go to the state bar association immediately and register a complaint!   Let your attorney know that is what you are going to do!  Demand that your lawyer represent you for free on the appeal — or you will pursue a malpractice claim.

And check the bankruptcy laws in your state to see if your home and retirement plan are exempt. They are, in Florida, for example.   (Just get a consultation from a bankruptcy attorney.) When you know that, you can threaten this leech of an ex-husband with filing bankruptcy.  In the meantime, do not take one penny out of your IRA or 40l(k) to pay either him or a lawyer.   Yes, it would be tough to start again after a bankruptcy — but it would be equally tough again to start over broke!!

I don’t want to practice law without a license — but you certainly might need more legal help to win an appeal.  Since it appears that you have substantial assets at stake, and that your husband must have some influence with the court, you might also threaten him to make the proceedings very public — via the media.  That might be enough to get him to drop the appeal.   Please do write back and let me know what you decide to do — and what happens as a result.

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