It all started over dinner at the Isla Del Sol yachting club in St. Petersburg, Florida, according to John Barry at TampaBay.Com. Bob Luzenberg was having dinner with his second wife. Marlene Forand was their waiter. Bob came back a few nights later without the wife, said he was soon to be divorced. He told her he was an inventor with patents. Marlene was a licensed practical nurse, but she said if he could make something, she could market it. Bob Luzenberg and Marlene Forand got married in 1984.

Their businesses together prospered, but their marriage did not. Their divorce started in 1995. They’re still fighting over the money in court. They’ve run through 10 judges and 16 lawyers and their courthouse files fill 13 volumes.

The Florida divorce judge ordered Bob to pay Marlene a lump sum of $240,000, permanent alimony of $6,000 a month, medical insurance of $500 a month, 29 percent of Bob’s interest in a company called World Drink USA, and half of Bob’s interest in seven other companies, half interest in all of Bob’s patents, and all of Marlene’s attorney’s fees.

But Bob moved to Alabama, and when Marlene finally got him to pay over $200,000 in 2003, she netted only $80,000 after attorney fees. She has now fired her attorneys and is representing herself.

As Marlene has discovered the hard way, getting a judgment is not the same as getting the cash. You become a judgment creditor and can use the tools of the court to collect your judgment like attachment of assets and garnishment of wages. But if your spouse is unemployed or without assets, he is said to be judgment proof and you can’t collect. I wish I had a nickel for every noncollectable judgment in my file cabinet.

A false internet rumor got started yesterday that Cindy McCain was having an affair with a Maryland divorce lawyer. Google Trends will tell you the keywords for the day that people are searching for and talking about on the Internet. A blogger named Corey Palmer may have put the hot key phrases “Cindy McCain” and “Maryland Divorce Lawyer” in a silly, made-up story to draw searchers to his blog, Corey’s Hijinks. In the article called “Cindy McCain’s Affair”, Palmer stated:

“Looks like some dirt has just some out of the woodwork — a Cindy McCain affair? It doesn’t take an Maryland divorce lawyer to know what is going to happen next if this is true. A Maryland divorce lawyer (why that state? I don’t know, first one I thought of LOL). There not even from that state are they?

C’mon….I don’t think there has been an affair of any kind. Sorry, Mr. Maryland divorce lawyer, nothing to see here. But what would have happened if there was? I think people like to start these stories of husbands and wives not getting along, cheating on each other and everything else.

It’s sad all the stories that come out at these times. And it is sad to be teasing any of the Maryland divorce lawyers into thinking that there is a marriage being split up! Leave these families alone!”

In spite of the fact that this was obviously a bogus story, other blogs picked it up as true, and it gained a momentum all its own.

I particularly like Mistake #3 from Financial Planner Lee Slater’s article on Dr. Judith Gerhart’s blog entitled, “Hiring a Combative Lawyer as Punishment”. Lee says,

“This is a very bad idea for two reasons. First, except in extremely egregious cases, divorce settlements are determined by equitable distribution laws and courts will not punish your ex-spouse financially for being a bad person. Second, your attorney assumes carte blanche to increase hours spent on your case. High divorce costs mean less money will be leftover for living. Treat divorce as a business arrangement and get your revenge by living well post-divorce.”

I keep trying to educate the world about this, but it is hard sailing against the wind. Combative lawyers continue to have lots of clients. But all that combative style is for client entertainment, and a costly detour from the straight path of resolving your legal case. Take it from me. What you really need is a lawyer that is a technician, someone who quietly gets the work done, meets deadlines and returns your calls.

“Thus, it was with a smirk that I picked up the book titled Father’s Rights by James J. Gross. I intended to flip through it, roll my eyes and pity the poor father who would take such a BS book seriously.”

That’s from Chicago divorce lawyer, Marie Fahnert, at JustDivorceBlog.Com.

But, after reading the book, she says in her three part review, “To my surprise the book is very good!”

There are a lot of important actions that men can take to protect themselves in a divorce. Some things for you to consider regarding specific financial matters include the following.

1. Documents. Move your documents, records and other papers somewhere else, like a friend’s house or your attorney’s office. You can expect that your children’s mother will be going through your desk, briefcase, automobile, telephone records, bills, and computer, looking for financial information and other evidence to use against you.

2. Bank Accounts. Go to the bank and divide the joint bank accounts in half and deposit your half in your own name. You can also put them all in your name, but sometimes this will make the judge angry with you. However, it is often easier to give money back than to get it back. If you are the breadwinner do not put your children and their mother out in the cold without some money to get by on. This will aggravate the judge who will make you pay anyway. Make arrangements so that bills will be covered. Let your children’s mother know what you have done, but not before you have done it. You do not want her to clean out the account first.

3. Stock. Call your broker and divide any stock, bonds or mutual funds that are held jointly with your children’s mother. While this is not a taxable event, you will have to take future taxes into account if you want to be fair. Therefore, ask your broker to make sure the tax basis is equalized as well.

4. Credit Cards. You do not want to wake up one morning and discover that your children’s mother has charged $5,000 on your joint credit card on a spending spree. You may be responsible for paying part or all of that $5,000. Close all joint credit or loan accounts and notify the banks, charge cards, and others by a certified, return receipt letter that you are no longer responsible for the expenses of your children’s mother. You may ask the company to reopen an account in your own name. This is a good time to request it. Let your children’s mother know so she is not caught by surprise at the gas pump when the credit card no longer works. If your she has already started her spending spree, report the card as stolen. If she has charged her attorney fees on the card, you can dispute the charges with the company.

5. Insurance. If you cover your spouse or children on your insurance, do not drop them from the policy at least until the divorce is final. You are probably responsible for their medical bills until then anyway. Even after the divorce, the employed spouse may want to keep the spouse and children covered. If you are paying child support, a large unexpected medical expense for the child could be assessed against the noncustodial parent as additional child support. The same could happen with alimony and an ex-spouse. Federal law allows most employees to cover their spouses for up to thirty six months after a divorce for a small additional premium. However, the employer must be notified prior to the final divorce decree.

6. Expenses. Two cannot live as cheaply as one, especially if they are separated and trying to maintain two households. It is time to cut costs as much as possible. Cancel anything you do not need like extra telephone lines or cable television. If there is any personal property you do not want or need, sell it. However, do not cut off the utilities on your children and their mother without giving them plenty of notice. Make sure you can prove this notice to the court because leaving your children and their mother home without heat or light in December seldom sits well
with the judge.

7. Pensions. Retirement funds acquired during a marriage are marital assets that can be divided by the divorce court. So chances are good that your wife will share in anything you contribute now to your pension plan at work or your Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Fill out the paperwork to have your employer stop your contributions to your 401(k) account or other pension plan. Do not make contributions this year to your IRA. This will keep your spouse from getting part of it and chances are you will be needing the money soon.

8. Inventory. Make a list of everything in the house. Take pictures or video tape everything if you wish. Be sure to date your inventory. Include furniture, furnishings, appliances, clothing and jewelry. Then you will know if something turns up missing, and you will have evidence of it.

9. Valuables. Move any valuables, like collections, jewelry, artwork, firearms, cash, and heirlooms out of the house to a safe place. Anything with significant or sentimental value to you ought to be secured from your children’s mother. You are not trying to hide things. But you do not want to come home from work and find that your valuables have been sold at a yard sale.

10. Safe Deposit Box. You can establish a safe deposit box to store your valuables away from the house. If you already have a safe deposit box, and your children’s mother has access to it, you will want to remove your items and store them somewhere else. Make a list or take a picture or video tape of whatever is left in the box for proof later. The same goes for any storage unit you may have.

11. Get a Lawyer. Find a good family lawyer and set up an appointment right away. Some lawyers charge for an initial consultation and some do not. In the initial meeting, you will be able to get some good advice and strategy for your particular facts and circumstances. You will also be able to assess the attorney to see if it’s a good fit for you. During this meeting, the attorney will discuss costs with you. But be aware that any estimate by an attorney is the roughest of all guesses and depends upon what your spouse and her attorney do. Your attorney will probably tell you not to sign anything before he or she reviews it. Your attorney will also advise you about other matters you will need to consider during this change in your life, for example executing a new will and changing any powers of attorney.

?The judge has continued the visitation order against Britney Spears for failing to show up at her custody hearing earlier this month.

Law Professor, Joanna Grossman, has written an instructive article on the lessons we can learn from the Spears case. She notes that Spears probably could have won custody, and maybe she could even now, but she continues to shoot herself in the foot. Here are some things not to do if you want to win a custody case.

1. Obey Court Orders. Spears lost access to her two sons last year when she failed to submit to a drug test.

2. Show Up for Court. This month, Spears made it to the courthouse, albeit 4 hours late, but then left abruptly before going into the courtroom. The judge continued the no contact order against her.

3. Behavior Counts. The court will decide who gets custody. The judge will make this decision based on which parent he or she thinks is going to be best for the children. The court will rely on the custody evaluator. If you are involved with drugs or alcohol and party every night, do not expect this to be in your favor.

4. The Judge Decides. Leaving it up to the judge, a stranger, is usually not the best way to get what you want.

5. Listen to Your Lawyer. Britney is on her third law firm and that one has petitioned to be allowed to withdraw from her case. Why pay a lawyer for advice if you are not going to follow it?

6. Custody is Always Modifiable. Britney could still turn this case around. But she has to turn herself around first.