Divorced From Reality

A Colorado Supreme Court commission says this state's justice system could do more to help families -- starting with the parents.

Tom Struyk's attorney says that never happened. "Cyndee agreed to the maintenance for four years; the magistrate never determined that," Gina Weitzenkorn says. Nor did the magistrate tell Cyndee to get another job. "She wasn't even working," Weitzenkorn adds. "Cyndee thought my client should get a second job to pay the bills, and the magistrate said that wasn't appropriate."

According to Cyndee, the case ran into more problems when the expert she and Tom had hired to analyze his retirement account came up with a value that seemed too low. Cyndee consulted another accountant, who decided it was worth almost triple what the first expert had determined. Because couples in simplified-dissolution cases can hire only one expert for each disputed issue, Cyndee says she would have been "up a creek" had she tried to formally introduce the second accountant's opinion. Instead, she and her husband settled on a figure closer to the second estimate outside of the magistrate's presence.

But compared with the Leland divorce, the Struyks's dissolution was simple.

La Plata County didn't offer simplified dissolution when Leisa Leland filed for divorce three years ago. But it wouldn't have mattered. "My situation was too extreme," Leisa says. "Simplified dissolution requires some modicum of cooperation, and there was none in my case."

Yet she wasn't pleased with the traditional court system, either. Early in the divorce, she asked for a hearing in order to secure temporary child support for her daughter; because she suspected that her husband was hiding some of his assets, she knew she would need to prove it before her request was granted. So she hired a private investigator, but it took him a year and a half to gather all of the evidence. Although her husband had claimed on his financial affidavit that he was living on disability payments of only $400 a week, Leisa's private investigator discovered that he'd managed to pay $70,000 in cash for a Porsche, make a $15,000 down payment on a boat and put $10,000 down on a Land Cruiser.

"That's all true," admits Bill Leland. "But that wasn't marital money; that was money I earned after we separated."

That didn't matter to the judge. When he learned of Bill's purchases, the judge punished him by awarding Leisa maintenance, even though she hadn't asked for it. Yet that wasn't enough for Leisa. "I would have liked to have seen harsher penalties, like jail time," she says.

Last summer, the Lelands had a three-day hearing to determine how their assets would be split. "All I wanted was fifty-fifty," Leisa remembers.

Because the judge's docket was so full, he didn't render a decision until seven months later -- when he wound up awarding Leisa 66 percent of the assets. It was good news, she says, but the wait was agonizing. "You're in complete limbo during that time, not knowing if you'll have your house or what," she recalls. "Your life is on hold because of the judge."

Bill says his ex-wife actually came away with more than 66 percent: Leisa got the house, which Bill's appraiser valued at $565,000, as well as an apartment building. (They're both in the real estate business.). "I only got half a hangar in Durango worth $30,000 and a $70,000 lot in California," he adds -- and those were just some of the decisions that didn't fall in his favor.

The Lelands owned a vacant lot at the Animas Airpark, for which Bill had stopped making payments. "I had done that inadvertently when I moved," he explains. To avoid foreclosure, Bill sent the bank $8,500 to reinstate the loan and resumed making payments. When another property went into foreclosure - a hangar at the Durango/La Plata County Airport -- Bill borrowed $68,000 from his mother while he waited for a bank loan to come through. But when the judge came back with the divorce decree in February, Bill says, "I got my ass kicked."

The judge allowed Leisa to broker the sale of the vacant lot as well as keep the proceeds. "I didn't even get my $8,500 back," Bill says. The judge also ordered that the hangar be sold and determined that Leisa should pocket a large percentage of the sale price.

In April, Bill filed an appeal -- as Leisa suspected he would. "To avoid going through another five years of this," she explains, "I offered to waive the attorney's fees of $42,000 that he was supposed to pay and I agreed to waive the child-support payments he was supposed to have been making, but he rejected that."

But in May, Bill decided to accept Leisa's offer on the condition that she pay for half of their daughter's travel costs when she visits him in Arizona, where he now lives. "I rejected that, and at the time, he agreed to drop that part," Leisa says.

In fact, he dropped his appeal entirely, because he doubted he'd get a fair shake. But he hasn't dropped the idea of Leisa paying half of his daughter's travel expenses, a request that "is standard and customary, according to my attorney," he says. Next month he's taking Leisa to court on the matter.

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