TWO FAMILY LAWSUITS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Sometimes we do things in life that seem like the right thing at the time but in retrospect, were really bad ideas.

One big regret I have is suing my ex-husband, Larry, on a contract we entered into as a side agreement to our divorce settlement. It’s way too convoluted and complicated to go into in detail. Suffice it to say that Larry wanted to become a co-owner with me, for a fixed amount of time, of an excellent investment I had at the time. In exchange, he paid me a fixed amount of money for three years. Our divorce did not provide for alimony, so we called this annual stipend ‘alimony’ for tax purposes.

Instead of going up, as we had anticipated, the investment went way down as the tech bubble burst in the market downturn of 2000. It went down to almost nothing. Larry claimed that he had agreed to share in the gains on the investment but not the losses. I wanted him to share the losses with me, as I believed we had agreed in our contract. That meant that he owed me money, for his share of the losses.

Me at around the time of the first lawsuit

I had spent 25 years being dominated and controlled by Larry. He almost always got what he wanted, often at my expense. I was finally out from under and I didn’t want to be screwed over by him again. Or taken advantage of again. I was flexing my new-found strength and ego. I also needed the money since I had just lost my major asset, which I had relied on to support myself and my kids. I still should have just let it go.

To me, this was just a business conflict. Larry took it personally. Very personally. We had been on very good terms after the divorce. But now he was livid with me. He refused to come to our daughter, Sarah’s, high school graduation. He was afraid I would have a process-server serve him at the ceremony. I promised I wouldn’t and agreed to put it in writing. I would never have done that. He was ranting and raving to Sarah about me but he finally agreed to come to the graduation. However, he refused to promise to behave civilly so Sarah could have ‘her’ day. Sarah ended up telling Larry not to come because she didn’t trust him not to cause a scene and ruin the day for her. She was right not to trust him.

Larry died a few years later. The first thing Sarah said to me was “Now I can never make it up to him by having him at my college graduation!” This has haunted Sarah through the years.

Larry with his daughter near the end of his life

We tried to settle the lawsuit but Larry refused to increase his initial, low ball offer. I should have settled. Had I known these were Larry’s last years and understood degree of damage the lawsuit did during his last years, I would have dropped the suit in a second. In truth, while I had a good case on liability, the damages would have been hard to prove. But I was trying to prove something to myself and to Larry. The whole family paid a high price.

We actually went to trial on this. My side came across very well and Larry’s didn’t. But the amazing thing about the two-day trial, was that Larry and I hung out and had a great time together. We reminisced, we joked, we plotted how our son should arrange the furniture in his new house. (At 26, David was finally moving out of my house. His girlfriend, and later his wife, had been living with us for a year and a half too. So this was a big deal).

My divorce lawyer testified at the trial and said he thought Larry and I were still tied at the hip. He also said he thought Larry still had influence over me. Very embarrassing. I came out of the trial realizing we had to settle the case and get back to being a family. I sent Larry a very conciliatory email. I’m glad I did.

About two weeks after the trial, Larry’s mother died. I thought Larry looked sick at the funeral but didn’t think anyone would listen to me if I said anything. Larry died in his sleep three weeks later of a massive coronary. The kids were devastated. I was devastated. He was 58 years old and full of energy and life. He left a three and a half-year old daughter with his second wife, Karen.

Karen was a sharp lawyer and found a clause in our contract that could be interpreted as voiding the contract if either of us died before the contract terminated. The lawsuit was eventually thrown out, on appeal, because of this clause.

Now we come to the plot twist. When Larry died, he left Karen three insurance policies. Two for $1,000,000 each and one for $5000. He also left me an insurance policy – a large one! He had maintained this policy for four and a half years after our divorce was final. Karen was furious. She didn’t tell me about the policy for a year and a half, which violated her duties as Larry’s executor. Then she sued to have the policy transferred to her on the ground that Larry ‘meant to’ transfer the policy to her when he was alive. There was absolutely no evidence of this. In fact, there was evidence to the contrary. Also, the law says that until you actually go through the procedure to transfer a policy, intent is irrelevant.

After two years and lots of legal fees, I won the lawsuit. I believe Larry gave that money to me as compensation for getting screwed on the contract and the divorce. There was always something between us, no matter how much he protested that he hated me (true even when we were married). Our ‘connection’ was alive and well at our trial, a month before his death.

These lawsuits consumed years of my life. They also left a permanent mark. Karen was so bitter towards me and so angry at my kids for ‘supporting’ me, that she refused to let my kids see their sister from the time she was four. She is now fifteen and there has been no contact for eleven years. Everyone is heartbroken. Including me. My kids wanted to be there for their sister. They would have been wonderful siblings. Everyone lost in this scenario.

So, in retrospect, maybe if I had never filed my lawsuit, or had settled it sooner, the family rift would not have been so deep and irreparable. I feel terrible about this situation. And there’s nothing I can do now to fix it.

8 thoughts on “TWO FAMILY LAWSUITS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. But you should never feel guilty for standing up for yourself and doing what seemed right at the time. It is a shame that your children don’t see their sister, but that could not have been foreseen, and isn’t your fault!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree and I don’t let myself feel bad about it any more. But I caused a huge family rift for years and we’re still suffering the side effects of it today. I should have settled and gotten it over with. I would have made my point and recoupped at least something.

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    • I’m almost at letting it go totally. There’s just a little piece of me that thinks that I should have settled for a nominal amount and let it go at the time. Pursuing it to the end left me with less money – I could have at least gotten back my legal fees if I had settled. And I ended up fighting with Larry through the last years of his life instead of supporting him through a tough time. I didn’t know that at the time of course. So I have some regrets looking back but not the major guilt I used to feel. Thanks for your understanding!

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