A View on Alimony Reform – Dorothy Williams
Alimony reform has become a hotly contested, multi-year issue in the Florida Legislature. In our series of interviews with people that have been through the alimony process we plan to feature unrehearsed, unscripted interviews with individuals personally impacted by by both sides of the alimony controversy. Our thanks to Dorothy Williams for sharing her experience with alimony and the Florida court system.
Our specialized content, video, and other informative media are based on input from Ayo and Iken team members, outside guests, former team members of Ayo and Iken, independent journalists, and subject-matter authorities. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of Ayo and Iken. Attorneys that are not current team members at Ayo and Iken may be reached though their member listing on the Florida Bar website: www.flabar.org
About Dorothy Williams
By Robert Napper – Ayo and Iken Legal Correspondent
Dorothy Williams had a dream life.
After more than two decades as a successful pharmacist, she had a 401k flush with cash. And the grand plan she had with her husband had come true: zero debt. She and her husband had a paid off house and two lovable young sons.
But it all came crashing down in June 2011 when her husband filed for divorce. He falsely accused her of cheating on him, she said. The motive for the divorce filing, however, meant little as a devastating journey of nearly four years played out in court. What came to matter was the wealth Williams had worked so hard to accumulate and the money she continues to make.
Williams soon found herself one of a rare breed of women paying alimony. Her case is now settled with the help of Attorney Alberto Ayo – partner of the law firm Ayo & Iken. But the long arduous slog to the finish line has left Williams a passionate advocate for alimony reform in Florida.
When her husband filed for the divorce, Williams said she was blindsided. She feared most for the well-being of her young children, who today are six and ten.
She wanted full custody saying even though her husband worked part-time as they raised their children, she still did the housework, cooking, and handling of school issues. The ensuing onslaught on her finances would also soon become apparent.
Williams hired an attorney who she thought would be a strong advocate. But when she arrived for her first meeting with that lawyer, she found her case has been passed onto another attorney in the firm who she had never met.
“I think it got me in a hole from the beginning. I was passed off to another attorney, someone who I had never laid eyes on,” Williams said.
Inattention from her lawyer and an aggressive opposing counsel led to everything unraveling in her case, she said. In an early hearing, Williams was hit with $2,500-a-month in temporary alimony, which was later reduced to $1,250, plus child support as her husband obtained majority custody, and she gave up their paid off house.
But the nightmare was not over as her retirement fund then came under siege and a judge also ordered she be on the hook for her husband’s attorney fees which were thousands of dollars. Williams said her representation soon got so bad that she faced a contempt of court order because her attorney failed to file a motion. She said she suffered a sleepless weekend trying to reach her attorney for help to no avail.
Soon the dream realized of being debt free faded away. Williams’ retirement fund was gone and she found herself $40,000 in debt living in a new home and fighting just to talk to her children on the telephone when they were away.
“The most important thing to me is my children so it was devastating. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. I felt like I was in a black hole and couldn’t move in any direction,” she said.
A Fresh Start
Williams began to peruse the Internet and came upon good reviews for Ayo & Iken and hired the firm. Ayo and Attorney Howard Iken then proceeded to go over the case with a fine tooth comb, she said. Ayo became lead attorney in the case.
“Alberto was so compassionate and always available any time day or night,” she said.
The battle continued as the legal impasse worsened between the two sides so
going to trial proved the only option.
“They just kept shooting for the moon because I make more money,” she said.
Finally, a settlement deal came to the table which an exhausted Williams accepted. She agreed to pay $1,000-a-month in alimony for five years, even though Williams said her husband now has a well-paying job and a live-in girlfriend. Her husband was also granted the children eight days out of 14 and child support which will increase once the alimony expires.
Williams said agreeing to the settlement was a painful decision but one she had to make in order to ensure as much possible time with her children.
“Alberto told me he couldn’t live with himself if we went forward and the judge took away time from my children,” Williams said. “I knew at that moment that he was not just interested in the money but me and my children.”
After the trial, another brutal year passed before the judge in the case made the final ruling accepting the settlement. Williams was finally divorced in January. She is now close to paying off her debt and is moving on with her life.
“I finally feel like I can pull out of the black hole,” she said.
Her case may be over but the scars still remain. So Williams has begun advocating for alimony reform in an effort to make things better for future families facing divorce.
Williams said archaic alimony laws in Florida which leave full discretion up to judges who come down all over the map with alimony allocations is a breeding ground for greed that is tearing families apart.
“It’s the greedy lawyers who work the system to keep you in court. They see you have a retirement fund and assets and it’s over. It makes it impossible to be amicable and co-parent. I lost everything because I make more money. It’s just not fair,” Williams said.
During her ordeal, Williams said she became a member of Family Law Reform, a lobbying group that has been pushing for alimony reform for years. Williams said she went to a meeting and was astounded to hear stories of people paying alimony for life. She has since been sending letters to legislators calling for reform.
And the push for alimony reform has made progress. In 2013, a bill passed both the Florida House and Senate which would have among other things set calculation guidelines for alimony based on the length of a marriage and the parties’ income. Gov. Rick Scott vetoed that bill saying he didn’t support a retroactive clause in it.
This year a similar bill was on its way to being passed when the Florida House abruptly ended session over a health insurance dispute with the Senate. But Williams said she will be back at it again next session in pushing for reform.
“I’m still passionate about changing things,” she said.
Howard Iken: We’re here with Dorothy Williams. Good morning Ms. Williams.
Ms. Williams: Good morning. Good morning.
Howard Iken: You’re here to talk about Florida’s effort at passing a new alimony law, is that correct?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: Just to clarify, you went through a long court proceeding recently? Didn’t you?
Ms. Williams: I did. A 4-year proceeding.
Howard Iken: 4 years and what county was that in?
Ms. Williams: Hillsborough County.
Howard Iken: I’m guessing that involved alimony.
Ms. Williams: It did. Yes sir.
Howard Iken: Did that come out in a way that made you happy?
Ms. Williams: No. It did not.
Howard Iken: You’re a successful woman in your career, is that correct?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: Or at least would you say that’s correct?
Ms. Williams: Yes. That’s correct.
Howard Iken: What do you do for living, Ms. Williams?
Ms. Williams: I’m a pharmacist.
Howard Iken: Okay. Have you been that for a long time?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I’ve been a pharmacist for 28 years.
Howard Iken: Have you been the primary breadwinner in your family?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I have.
Howard Iken: That’s a little bit different. That’s a switch on normal layouts of families. Would you agree with that?
Ms. Williams: That’s correct.
Howard Iken: Were you comfortable in that role?
Ms. Williams: I was. I mean I would have preferred it to be the other way, but I chose my profession. I wanted to be a pharmacist since I was 9 years old, and I followed that path.
Howard Iken: Were you happy in your family situation?
Ms. Williams: I was happy. I was very happy with my family. I had a plan, a financial plan for the family so that I could go part-time so that I could spend more time with my children.
Howard Iken: That was after a life time of working?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: Would you say you were aware that things were slightly different in your family than the traditional layout of lot of other families?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I was aware. That was just the way that it was. That was just the economics of the situation.
Howard Iken: Did you feel there was any emphasis because you were the woman and your spouse was a man to have things in different way?
Ms. Williams: Yes. It basically just came down to the fact I made more money. That was it.
Howard Iken: Did you have friction with friends or other individuals because of the dynamics in your family?
Ms. Williams: I don’t think we had any problems with other people. I think there was issues there between us that maybe I was carrying the most of the weight, not only financially but within the household.
Howard Iken: What do you mean by that?
Ms. Williams: Just the day-to-day duties, chores of the house, shopping, the finances. All those things I was doing in addition to being the majority breadwinner in the family.
Howard Iken: You also did the things that women traditionally do in a lot of households?
Ms. Williams: That’s correct.
Howard Iken: Did you try to get your spouse to do those things?
Ms. Williams: I did. Yes.
Howard Iken: Was just something that naturally fell the way it did with you doing those things?
Ms. Williams: Yes. It just naturally fell, everything fell back to me for the household duties and chores, and the majority of taking care of the children when I was not working.
Howard Iken: How about as far as income in your family? Did that pretty much fall naturally or that just fell by who was earning what over time?
Ms. Williams: That just fell by whoever was earning the most income. My oldest son was sick at a early age, and basically one of us had to cut our hours back so that we could be home with him and take him out of daycare because he kept getting sick, and it just naturally became him because we couldn’t really make it on his income if I cut back my hours or even quit altogether.
Howard Iken: You were earning the money for the household and that pretty much dictated what you guys were going to do with the children?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: You were the one who had to work more hours or?
Ms. Williams: Yes. That was very difficult because I worked long hours as a pharmacist, 14-hour days. There were days I would go to work at 8:00 in the morning where my children would be asleep, still I wouldn’t see them, and I might not see them the whole day. I get off work at 10:00 at night and I come home and they would be asleep again, and I still wouldn’t be able to interact with them while they’re awake. Of course, I go and give them a kiss, good night, but I wouldn’t be able to see them for the whole day. That was really hard, probably the hardest part.
Howard Iken: How many years did you do that for?
Ms. Williams: 5 years.
Howard Iken: That’s a long time. Did you feel like that was a big sacrifice?
Ms. Williams: That was a big sacrifice being away from my children, especially when they were infants. That was the hardest.
Howard Iken: Again during that 5 years, did you feel any sort of impact from being in a nontraditional role model in your family or you just did it?
Ms. Williams: I just did it whatever I needed to do for the family, for the good of the family, for the children knowing that it was going to be temporary that there would come a time when he would go back to work full-time instead of part-time, and then I cut back to part-time so that those roles could switch for the best interests of the children and the family.
Howard Iken: Was there an emphasis during that 5-year period where you felt forced to earn more money?
Ms. Williams: There were at times, but we were working with a financial planner. We were trying to get everything. Oh, I had a plan for the future. I thought that I did. Things changed, but I thought that I had financial security for my family, for my children, and for myself and my spouse.
Howard Iken: Were you, and I apologize if this is getting personal, were you in what you consider a loving relationship?
Ms. Williams: Yes I was.
Howard Iken: Was there any reason were you felt you needed to protect yourself?
Ms. Williams: No. No. I didn’t feel that way at all.
Howard Iken: Did you think there would be any consequences waiting for you later on?
Ms. Williams: I had no idea. I had no idea what was possible within the realm of the legal system, what can happen to me, and what could happen when a spouse just one day wakes up and decides they don’t want to be married for whatever reason and comes at you with full force with everything for alimony, child support, exclusive use and possession of the home, basically everything you’ve worked for your whole life.
Howard Iken: Now everyone knows someone else who’s been divorced. You must have known other people who have gone through that. Didn’t you hear stories of that that alerted you, that you may have a possible problem?
Ms. Williams: I had heard stories. I actually knew someone in New York state who had gone through very bad, bitter divorce, but I just never dreamed that will happen to me. I just never dreamed that my marriage would end first of all, and I never dreamed even when he threatened me with alimony. This divorce, in general, I never dreamed what was possible through the legal system.
Howard Iken: I assume at some point you guys were quarreling?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: That led to eventually a divorce case?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: Did he actually threaten you with certain consequences? You hinted at that.
Ms. Williams: Yes. It was very sudden. It came on very sudden. He just changed. Made acquisitions of me, and within 3 weeks, served my divorce papers. He came after me full force with everything that he had. He vowed to me that he would drain our estate on legal fees.
Howard Iken: He actually said that?
Ms. Williams: He said that.
Howard Iken: That he would drain your money.
Ms. Williams: Yes. He said he would dry. Those were his exact words. He would drain our estate on legal fees.
Howard Iken: I’m sorry, I’ve got to ask you this. What did he accuse you of?
Ms. Williams: He accused me of having an affair with our neighbor and best friend.
Howard Iken: Did you do anything?
Ms. Williams: No I did not.
Howard Iken: Was there any proof he had?
Ms. Williams: No. There was not.
Howard Iken: Was there one shred of anything he could actually point to other than suspicions?
Ms. Williams: No.
Howard Iken: Did you tell him that?
Ms. Williams: Yes I did.
Howard Iken: Did you guys go to counseling?
Ms. Williams: We did, and actually the counselors thought that he should get help because he was having some sort of paranoid delusion. I’m not exactly sure why. I believe it could have been of the medication that he started taking at that time, and that is a possible side effect.
Howard Iken: You guys were fighting the entire time?
Ms. Williams: Yes. We were living in the same house with the children. He was living in the guest bedroom for, I believe it was about 10 months or so, maybe 8 to 10 months, and that’s when he was taking me to court for temporary relief.
Howard Iken: All right, so before that, before a case was filed, were there lawyers involved in your life? Did you go see a lawyer?
Ms. Williams: I’ve never step foot in a lawyer’s office in my entire life. I’ve never had any interaction with a lawyer besides being on jury duty, may be 4 or 5 times in my life.
Howard Iken: When he threatened you, you didn’t think of getting some advice?
Ms. Williams: I didn’t because I didn’t think he would follow through with it based on a false accusation, that he would actually go through with it.
Howard Iken: Sure. Did you talk with friends or family about what was going on?
Ms. Williams: I talked to friends and family. I tried to talk to him. Swear on my Bible, on my children’s lives that I’ve never been unfaithful.
Howard Iken: Everything, you tried to convince him?
Ms. Williams: I tried to convince him, and there was nothing I could do. He was just, he had it set in his mind that that’s what happened, and I decided to go forward from there.
Howard Iken: Any family step in and talk with him, anything?
Ms. Williams: Yes. Early on, his uncle called him. The one I was referring to that he had gone through lengthy and very bad divorce in New York state. His uncle called him and he tried to tell him right away that … He knew me, he knew I wasn’t capable of that.
Howard Iken: His uncle, not your uncle?
Ms. Williams: His uncle, not mine, and that divorce is worse than a death. A death is final. Divorce goes on forever.
Howard Iken: A lot of people say that.
Ms. Williams: It’s always there. Birthdays, marriages. When your children get married, holidays, special occasions, it’s always there. It never goes away.
Howard Iken: Sure.
Ms. Williams: He was trying to get him to realize or work it out or seek, get counseling.
Howard Iken: How many months was that process where family spoke to him, you were speaking to him? You were trying to move on from that incident. How long?
Ms. Williams: Before the final divorce.
Howard Iken: Sure. Before anything got filed, how long did you?
Ms. Williams: 3 weeks.
Howard Iken: 3 weeks.
Ms. Williams: 3 weeks.
Howard Iken: Not months or anything like that.
Ms. Williams: No. 3 weeks from his first accusation to the time that he served me with divorce papers at my job.
Howard Iken: Really, really quick.
Ms. Williams: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Howard Iken: You really, I would imagine you really didn’t have time to protect yourself or think of things or anything. Is that true?
Ms. Williams: That’s correct. I didn’t. He was threatening me that he was going to serve me with divorce papers. I knew that he had gone to talk to a couple lawyers but I really didn’t believe that he was going to do it, but I started trying to protect credit cards like taking his name off credit cards, because he had gone and withdrawn $4000 from our checking account and that was money that I had cashed in stock. I had cashed in stock to pay off the end of paying off for mortgage on our house. We had a 15-year mortgage and we’re just paying it off, and then we had a trip plan.
Howard Iken: You were paying off your entire mortgage from your account?
Ms. Williams: Right. Entire mortgage and we had actually planned a trip to the beach with my family in Louisiana, and we were going to pay for that. It was a $4000 condo for the week to have with my family, and the money that I had in the bank to pay for the vacation, he had withdrawn and opened up his own account.
Howard Iken: Okay, and at that time you guys were living in the same house?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: Was he working at that time?
Ms. Williams: He was working full-time then yes.
Howard Iken: He was working full-time?
Ms. Williams: Yes. Full-time. He had been working full-time for almost a year.
Howard Iken: Was he earning a living basically?
Ms. Williams: Yes. He was earning a very good living, and he has a college education.
Howard Iken: Are we talking about like the kind of living a server in a restaurant would earn or someone in Walmart?
Ms. Williams: No. $70,000 a year.
Howard Iken: He was earning good money.
Ms. Williams: 60 to $70,000 full-time work.
Howard Iken: What was he doing with his money?
Ms. Williams: Well, when we were married our money was together. We had it together going towards … We were saving. We have college fund setup for both of our children, the household bills, but then after when he filed, then our monies became separate.
Howard Iken: Let me ask you this. Up to this time, did you have any knowledge of the family court system or the alimony laws in Florida, anything?
Ms. Williams: I had absolutely no idea about any of the laws.
Howard Iken: Have you ever had a judge decide things about you personally, really important things?
Ms. Williams: Never. I never have, and I always confused about alimony. I didn’t understand what alimony was. Who got alimony and what they got alimony, and how one person, the person that earns the most money would have to pay another person just for the fact that they were married to them. I do understand there are cases, absolute cases where women or men have been stay-at-home mothers or fathers and they don’t have an education to fall back on, and they do need a alimony to get back in the workforce. If they’re handicapped and they can’t work, they do need support, but a person that has a college degree, that has a job, a stable job, that has a house that is paid for …
Howard Iken: You’re talking about your spouse?
Ms. Williams: Yes I am. To me, there’s no need there for alimony. This is 2015. We’re not living in the 1950s where women couldn’t even own property, and now and the tables are turned and a person who can be independent, does not need alimony. What the alimony payment does is it just creates animosity towards the 2 spouses, the 2 parents.
Howard Iken: Let me ask you this. You mentioned he threatened you with alimony?
Ms. Williams: Yes. Alimony, child support, attorney’s fees, exclusive use and possession of the home.
Howard Iken: What do you think the purpose of those threats was for? What do you think he was trying to achieve?
Ms. Williams: He wanted revenge. He believed that I did something that I didn’t.
Howard Iken: It’s all about revenge.
Ms. Williams: It was about revenge. Even if I … There are people that do have affairs all the time. Even if I would have had an affair, that’s not the way that you treat the mother of your children. You still have to do what’s right and do what’s fair.
Howard Iken: Were the children impacted?
Ms. Williams: They were very much impacted. They still recall events that happened early on, and they are affected now.
Howard Iken: Do you think they’ll ever get over?
Ms. Williams: I hope so. There’s a lot of information about. My younger son was 2 whenever this started. He is 6 now. There’s a lot of … We’re starting to see a lot of information that children that age are impacted more than an older child.
Howard Iken: All right, so we’re going to fast forward just a bit, so he filed a case, divorce case?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: Was that a surprise to you when you had learned about it?
Ms. Williams: It was absolutely was. I was at work and I had told my coworkers early in the day, I was at the pharmacy, and I had told my coworkers earlier in the day what was going on. Just because he kept saying that he was going to serve me with divorce papers and I just wanted to … I finally told everyone I was keeping everything private, because I was hoping that it was all going to just subside and we were going to work it out.
Howard Iken: He kept threatening you and you were just seeing what would happen?
Ms. Williams: Yes. They came to the pharmacy about 5:00 in the evening.
Howard Iken: Okay.
Ms. Williams: The processor to serve me papers and …
Howard Iken: Was that a shock?
Ms. Williams: It was real. I had a out of body experience. My coworkers were crying. We were all crying. We were in disbelief that this could happen to my family.
Howard Iken: What did you do after you received the papers?
Ms. Williams: Well, I immediately the next, the following day I contacted a few attorneys and I got a couple consultations, and I tried to just hire an attorney and find out what my rights were and find out what was possible.
Howard Iken: What were your rights? What did you find out?
Ms. Williams: I felt like I really didn’t have any rights. Basically, he was the petitioner. He was suing me for basically everything, and just the fact that I might not even, not my see my kids 50% of the time was very alarming.
Howard Iken: At that time, did you find out you might be at a disadvantage because you were the one earning most of the money in the household?
Ms. Williams: Yes, I did. I was surprised.
Howard Iken: What were you told? What sort of thing?
Ms. Williams: I was told that I could be ordered to pay alimony, child support, attorney’s fees. Basically everything that he petitioned for.
Howard Iken: Everything he was threatening you?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: You were told that could actually happen?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: How did that make you feel?
Ms. Williams: I felt very violated. I felt very … I just felt like there was no justice that it’s … I felt like it’s a legal system and not a justice system.
Howard Iken: Were you given any sort of impression that court is a 2-way street? It can go either way.
Ms. Williams: No. I really didn’t feel like that even from the beginning.
Howard Iken: Why? Why would you say you have that feeling?
Ms. Williams: I didn’t understand how he could even possibly request alimony from me and be granted alimony when he had a full-time job.
Howard Iken: You were served with papers, a case started, and I would imagine your life changed at that point.
Ms. Williams: It did.
Howard Iken: How were you able to function in the next month or 2 after that?
Ms. Williams: That was really tough. My faith and my family, especially my children at the forefront, my friends, I had a very good support system and that’s how I got through the next 4 years.
Howard Iken: Did you guys live in the same house at first?
Ms. Williams: We did for several months.
Howard Iken: Did the finances radically change in the household after that?
Ms. Williams: Oh, they changed because we didn’t have a house smell. The finances were minimal as far as running the household, the utilities, etc. They were very minimal, and our finances became separate.
Howard Iken: Were you still working with the same amount?
Ms. Williams: Yes. It was very difficult to work. I even had to take a leave of absence for a few weeks just with the emotional stress. It was tough at work.
Howard Iken: Would you say after all that happened, did you have any feeling you were still in control of your own life?
Ms. Williams: No. I felt like I had no control over my life. I had no control over.
Howard Iken: Who was in control?
Ms. Williams: I felt like my ex was in control, his lawyer was in control, and I was just helpless.
Howard Iken: How about the legal system?
Ms. Williams: I felt like the legal system was against me. That I was being punished just because I earned a better living, that I made more money than him, although we both had the same opportunity when we went to college for our career what we chose to do.
Howard Iken: Each had a college degree?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I wanted to be a pharmacist because I wanted to help people. I didn’t … I never thought that I would make more money than my spouse. I married later on in life, and I had already started establishing a retirement plan before we met and had a house before we met.
Howard Iken: All of these feelings about being out of control and having your life run for you, did you discuss this with your attorney at that time?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I did.
Howard Iken: Did that reassure you that things were different?
Ms. Williams: Well, I really didn’t get any reassurance, because it’s always you don’t know what’s going to happen. This could happen or that could happen. We don’t know. It’s all dependent upon the judge, what the judge decides.
Howard Iken: Did you know anything about the judge?
Ms. Williams: I did not know.
Howard Iken: Did you learn at that point about the process that you look into it?
Ms. Williams: I did. I tried to learn, read everything I could. I tried to find out what my options were, and I never dreamed that it could turn out the way that it did.
Howard Iken: What was the results of your research? Did that give you any insight?
Ms. Williams: Well, based on case law that it happened, I knew that it was possible that I could pay alimony, and because we were married over 13 years, we were in the gray area and there were case laws where spouses have had to pay alimony for life. That’s what they were seeking was alimony for life.
Howard Iken: Did you feel like you made a mistake during your life at that point in trusting?
Ms. Williams: I did. I felt like I had been very naive and very trusting. Never thinking that I would ever get divorced, let alone what could happen to me within the legal system.
Howard Iken: How long did your case actually last?
Ms. Williams: It lasted 3 years and 7 months.
Howard Iken: How much money was spent by both sides?
Ms. Williams: I was ordered to pay his attorney’s fees including the penalties I had to pay for early withdrawal of my retirement. I paid $72,000 of his attorney’s fees and I paid about $30,000 on my own attorney’s fees, so over a $100,000.
Howard Iken: Why the mismatch in attorney fees?
Ms. Williams: I don’t understand that. I never could under … I still to this date don’t understand why I was ordered to pay all of the attorney’s fees that it didn’t come off the top of our assets. It basically came out of my half of the assets.
Howard Iken: Was he working during the case?
Ms. Williams: Yes. The entire time he was working, full-time. He’s still working full-time.
Howard Iken: You paid for all the attorney fees?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: Were you told why exactly?
Ms. Williams: Simply because I made more money.
Howard Iken: Is that something financially that’s impacting you right now?
Ms. Williams: Yes. It is. I’m still paying off debt. It’s been … I’ve had debt for 3 years, and it will take me probably another year to fully pay off all my debt from the divorce. I’m still driving my car that’s 13 years old. I can’t afford to get another car right now.
Howard Iken: What kind of life is your former spouse living? Do you have any insight into that?
Ms. Williams: He is living in our former home that was paid off.
Howard Iken: He has no mortgage?
Ms. Williams: He has had no mortgage.
Howard Iken: No rent.
Ms. Williams: No rent. He bought a brand new car. He paid it off in 2 years. He has absolutely no credit card debt, no loans. No other debt at all.
Howard Iken: Are you working the same hours you used to work?
Ms. Williams: I’m working a few hours less just because they changed our hours where we close at 9:00 instead of 10:00, so just a few hours a week less based on that.
Howard Iken: How are the kids right now?
Ms. Williams: The kids are good. They’re very resilient. They’re just a joy, they really are. They’re very loving but it’s just very difficult. When my 10-year-old son writes a poem for school for Authors Day, that everyone reads, the teachers read, the other kids and their parents read, and he says, “I just wish my mom and dad wouldn’t fight.” That says it all right there.
Howard Iken: You guys pretty much went through something that a lot of other people go through, but your position was flip-flopped, I would say.
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: You were in the position a lot of men find themselves.
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: Are you aware, or I’m sorry, I know that you’re aware of the process for what is called Alimony Reform in Florida?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: That’s gone on for years at this point.
Ms. Williams: Yes. I actually attended the seminar that they had in Orlando 3 years ago.
Howard Iken: Were you for that law or against it?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I’m very much for Alimony Reform in the state of Florida.
Howard Iken: What do you think Alimony Reform actually is?
Ms. Williams: It’s changing our current laws that have been in place since the 1950s. The alimony law has been intended to benefit women or men that were stay-at-home mothers or fathers to get back in the workforce, to get an education, and to help them get back on their feet for maybe a few years or however long it takes. There are exceptions for people who are disabled, can’t work for whatever reason. There may be exceptions for permanent alimony, but for a spouse who has a full-time job and a degree and that is in the workforce and that makes a decent living, there’s not a need for alimony. There’s a lot of abuse with the current alimony laws, and it’s at the total discretion of the judge the amounts and the duration.
Howard Iken: Now, some people might listen to this interview and make the observation, “Gee, that’s just sour grapes, she is paying alimony. If she were receiving alimony, she would think the laws are just fine.” How would you respond to someone who said that?
Ms. Williams: I met advocate for Alimony Reform because I want to help other people. If I could save 1 person from the pain that I’ve been through the past 4 years, it would all be worth it. The Alimony Reform Bill if it’s get passed into law, it’s not going to help me. My judgment has already been settled. I will pay alimony for 4 more years. It’s not going to help me. I want to help other people, in particularly I want to help the children that are being affected by the alimony laws and the animosity that it creates between parents.
Howard Iken: Well, I’d like to talk about that in a moment. Would you, if you had the power do away with alimony totally, permanently in the state of Florida?
Ms. Williams: I would, but I do feel like there are exceptions for people that have been married 30 years and there’s a person that’s disabled and there are a few exceptions, but for the most part I do not think alimony is warranted.
Howard Iken: You would preserve the alimony system in some cases?
Ms. Williams: In some cases yes.
Howard Iken: How about the legal system? You certainly got an education on that, and I believe you said you had no experience with the legal system or the court system. What’s your personal assessment of how effective that was in your situation?
Ms. Williams: In my situation, I feel like it was not effective at all. I lost a lot of faith in our system. I believe it’s a legal system and not a justice system. It’s not justice for all. It’s justice for some.
Howard Iken: How about the court system itself? How would you redesign that? How would you go about suggesting a fix to that system?
Ms. Williams: There needs to be limitations. Even in my case being drawn out so long, that’s how the attorney’s fees skyrocketed just being dragged out, one hearing, one mediation, one delay after another into 4 years created over a $100,000 in legal fees. That’s money that could go to my children, their education, their future. It’s money that’s wasted, and there should be some type of limitations. Even a criminal has more rights than a person who is going through the legal system for a divorce.
Howard Iken: I’ve got a throw out a disclaimer here, so people are aware. Our firm actually represented you for part of your case, right?
Ms. Williams: That’s correct.
Howard Iken: We’re not going to pull any punches here, and there are lot of criticisms of the legal industry, lawyers in particular, so with that said, let me just ask you. Do you think the attorneys who participate in family law cases are earnest at heart in solving problems? Do you think they’re universally earnest at heart?
Ms. Williams: I think that some are and some aren’t. Unfortunately, I worked against one that was not, did not have the best interest of families at heart. My lawyer did, I …
Howard Iken: Do you think that was just because that other attorney was against you?
Ms. Williams: No. I just think that’s how he makes a living and that’s what’s corrupted our system.
Howard Iken: Have you become aware since this personal experience at other people situations?
Ms. Williams: I am very aware, and I want to educate anyone that I can, especially if they’ve never had any dealings with the court system, in particularly divorce and what can happen.
Howard Iken: Have you become part of any of the advocacy organizations or have you gotten involved?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I’m a member of the Family Law Reform Group, and right now, what’s on our agenda right now is the Alimony Reform Bill. We’ve been working on this for a few years now, and we’re coming very close to get something passed. We’ve been working with the Family Law section of the Florida Bar, and we’re trying to come up with some type of resolution that will benefit both parties including the children.
Howard Iken: Originally the Florida Bar Family Law section they were against the Family Law Reform, so what’s happened since then? You mentioned that they somehow work with that, with the reform organization.
Ms. Williams: Yes. That’s true. They’re trying to come up with some resolution and there are a lot of really good attorneys out there. They’re advocates for families and a lot of them are members of the Family Law Reform Group, just like myself. There are lot of attorneys that are members, and we’re just trying to look at the best interest of families. Alimony should be based, there should be duration and limitations to the amounts.
Howard Iken: Do you think family law for attorneys is a big industry?
Ms. Williams: It’s a multi-billion dollar industry.
Howard Iken: Have you come to the opinion that alimony cases and child support cases are one of the drivers of that industry?
Ms. Williams: Yes. Most definitely. The abuse in the alimony system right now is skyrocketed and it’s way out of control.
Howard Iken: How about the courts? Do you think they have a hand in that?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I do.
Howard Iken: How so?
Ms. Williams: The judges have all the power to, they rule in case and they have no guidelines right now. It just depends the amounts, the durations of alimony. It could be anything. There could be alimony for life, based on former case law.
Howard Iken: Do you think that’s ever justified, alimony for life?
Ms. Williams: I don’t think it’s ever justified, alimony for life. It should at least end when a person retires.
Howard Iken: Have you spoken with a lot of other people who are in situations like yours?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I have. I attended the summit that the Family Law Reform Group had a few years back in Orlando, and there were around 350 people there that were permanent alimony payers.
Howard Iken: Men or women?
Ms. Williams: Majority were men, but they were women, and I heard a lot of testimonies. I heard a lot of really sad stories.
Howard Iken: Did that particular meeting listening to all those people, did that reinforce the ideas you have right now about the alimony system and the legal system in general?
Ms. Williams: Yes, it did enforce it. It reinforced what I already knew, but I saw first-hand other people what they went through. I thought that my case was the worst case in history, but there were other people with sad stories, and I can’t even imagine if I was ordered to pay alimony for life to a person just because I was married to them and the marriage didn’t work out.
Howard Iken: You don’t think right now you’re the worst case in history …
Ms. Williams: No, I don’t.
Howard Iken: after hearing all of that?
Ms. Williams: I don’t.
Howard Iken: Would you say your case is one of the milder ones or about average?
Ms. Williams: I would say it’s about average to pretty bad, and although there’s a lot of wasting of assets, the most precious asset of course is the children, my children, and I do have them 50% custody which is not enough for me, because I would love to have them a 100% custody.
Howard Iken: You recognize that both parents might say the same thing?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: How did the alimony issue affect? How angry or how adversarial your case had become?
Ms. Williams: That was a big issue. That was … I would say may be the only issue, because the child support is based on guidelines. It’s fair. It’s reasonable and it is based on income, and most people don’t have any problem. I have no problem paying for anything that’s related to my children. I also pay all of their health care bills, and I pay their health care insurance and 62% of their health care bills. I have absolutely no problem paying anything for my children, but paying my former spouse money, and he is in a better financial position than I am, does not make any sense and it …
Howard Iken: You believe right now he is in a better financial than you?
Ms. Williams: Absolutely yes.
Howard Iken: Do you think that’s fair?
Ms. Williams: No. I do not think it’s fair at all.
Howard Iken: Do you believe that Alimony Reform or at least change the laws in Florida will happen?
Ms. Williams: I do. I think it will happen in 2016. I’m very confident that it will.
Howard Iken: Your case is over at this point.
Ms. Williams: That’s correct.
Howard Iken: Why are you here talking about this today? What do you hope will happen from your involvement?
Ms. Williams: It’s the Alimony Reform Bill. If it gets passed into law, it’s not going to affect me. My case has already been settled. I just hope that I can help other people. I can educate people so they’re aware of what the law is and what’s possible, what could happen to them that they never dreamed could happen to them, to their family, and most of all the children.
Howard Iken: If you were able to go back in time, would you have acted different in your household, in your family?
Ms. Williams: Absolutely.
Howard Iken: How so?
Ms. Williams: I would have protected assets. I would have signed a prenup when we got married if I had any idea what the future would hold.
Howard Iken: Would that by definition have affected and lessened your family life?
Ms. Williams: I don’t think so. I think it would be security for both of us.
Howard Iken: Are you able to communicate with your former spouse at this point?
Ms. Williams: Yes. We do communicate. It is a hard pill to swallow sometime, but I have the best … We both have the children’s best interest at heart, and we have to co-parent. There’s absolutely no way around that. Basically, we’re stuck with each other. My younger son is 6, so we have many, many years that we have to co-parent, but I do think it will be a lot easier once the alimony is over.
Howard Iken: Do you currently talk with others right now that have the same interest in reform that you have?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I do.
Howard Iken: Is that through Facebook or do you have personal relationships with people now?
Ms. Williams: I have personal relationships and also through the website, through the Family Law Reform Group. I get a newsletter. We also contact the senators and representatives and the governor to try to help pass legislation.
Howard Iken: Are you currently trying to work through your local lawmakers?
Ms. Williams: Yes.
Howard Iken: What’s the reception you’ve gotten in that in your thoughts?
Ms. Williams: Very positive. Very positive. I think that we’ve come very far in educating our lawmakers and the public and to what can happen and what the current law is. Almost everyone knows someone who’s gone through divorce or has been through divorce and they’re starting to see the outcomes.
Howard Iken: Do you think if this law passes, it will solve all of the problems and cure the system?
Ms. Williams: I think it’s going to be baby steps. If we can get something passed, it’s not going to be a cure overnight, it’s going to take baby steps. It’s going to take years to get the laws changed to help everyone, but we have to start somewhere.
Howard Iken: Do you think some attorneys will still inject problems into the process?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I think that’s always going to happen. You’re always going to have a bad apple here and there, but for the most part, if the judge is ruling by guidelines and there is formula set, it will be fair for, more fair than it is now.
Howard Iken: You are for a set of actual rules that everyone can hang their head on, so to speak?
Ms. Williams: Guidelines with judicial discretion.
Howard Iken: Do you think that would actually make the process more civil between divorcing spouses because that’s hard to foresee, but what’s your opinion?
Ms. Williams: Absolutely. I think it will help spouses to be able to come together, to co-parent, so families can still be families, although they might be in 2 separate households. We have to get along for the children. We’re still a family even though we’re divided.
Howard Iken: How are your kids right now after all of this?
Ms. Williams: They’re doing well. They’re adjusting. I think the future will tell a lot more how they’re affected.
Howard Iken: Are they aware of money?
Ms. Williams: Yes. They’re very aware of money.
Howard Iken: Have things shifted in your half of the parental household now, that I would imagine you’re in a different financial position?
Ms. Williams: Yes. I am and they’re aware of that.
Howard Iken: Do you think that’s something that they’ll recover from?
Ms. Williams: I think they’ll recover from that. I think they have. The basic necessities in life and what’s important … they know what’s important in life. They know that family is important and church.
Howard Iken: How about you? You think you’ll ever recover?
Ms. Williams: I do and it’s day by day. It’s hard to think about the future sometime. Right now, my main priority is my children, and I enjoy every moment I have with them. I know that they’ll grow up and then what will happen to me then I really don’t know. It’s one day at a time, and I know that the good Lord will take care of me and there’s a plan for me, and I just have to have faith and move on.
Howard Iken: Are you the same person now you were before everything happened?
Ms. Williams: I’m not the same person. I am …
Howard Iken: Who are you now compared to who you were before?
Ms. Williams: I feel like I am a better person. I’m a stronger person. I definitely have my priorities set, but I’ve lost some of the lust for life that I always had my whole life. It’s been taken away from me, and I’m trying to get it back slowly but it’s just something that you have to deal with when you’ve been through litigation for 4 years. I refer to it as the black hole. I finally got out of the black hole and it was a roller coaster of emotions, and what happened to me the final judgment, I feel was very unfair. I couldn’t understand what I did to deserve this. I was totally innocent.
Howard Iken: What was your, if you could remember that long ago, what do you think your feeling was about the legal system that was around you and that you lived in before this case?
Ms. Williams: Well, I always believed. My whole life I believed in my country and I believed in the legal system. I had no other reason to believe otherwise.
Howard Iken: Was that just part of being a citizen?
Ms. Williams: Yes. It was. Yes.
Howard Iken: How do you feel now about the legal system?
Ms. Williams: I hope I never have to go into court room again. Even for jury duty, I’m kind of reluctant because it’s going to bring back a lot of emotions, a lot of bad feelings that I had, and just what happened to me through the court system.
Howard Iken: Are you planning on getting married again in the future? Is that in the cards?
Ms. Williams: I have absolutely no intention of that, nowhere close to that, but never say never. I live one day at a time. I know God’s got a plan for me in the future. I don’t know what it holds, and if that works out, then great. If I meet someone who is a good man, a good honest man, then I can’t say that, no, I would not remarry, but I’m pretty sure I’d sign up prenup.
Howard Iken: How about your opinion of attorneys at this point? Has that been shaken over time?
Ms. Williams: Especially in the beginning, I didn’t think there was a honest attorney out there. From what I’ve been exposed to my attorney, my first attorney, the opposing attorney, I was just appalled at just the corruption that I saw until I did get my current attorney, Alberto Ayo, and I have … He restored my faith in lawyers and your firm has restored my faith in lawyers.
Howard Iken: Thank you.
Ms. Williams: I know there are really good lawyers out there that are … I’ve met lawyers through the Family Law Reform Group that are members and they spoke at the summit, and there are good, honest people. Good, honest lawyers out there that are fighting for the same cause that I am. They’re not all bad.
Howard Iken: We all like to look or at least I know I like to look for something positive out of any kind of adversity, out of any bad offence in my life. Is there any positive thing you can take from this experience moving forward?
Ms. Williams: The only thing that I could say is that your family, your children are the most important, precious asset that you have, and hold on to every single moment that you have with them, and your spouse is very important. I’m not down on marriage, not at all. Quite the contrary, I think marriage is sacred. I think that people should try to work things out and not jump into divorce. Get counseling. Appreciate each other and do things as a family, and I think we need to do a lot more work on keeping families together.
Howard Iken: Well, I appreciate you talking about a very personal situation, and perhaps you can help some other people and certainly educate them. Thank you very much.
Ms. Williams: Thank you for the opportunity.
Howard Iken: I wish you luck, and I hope you recover from this event and move forward and take care of your kids.
Ms. Williams: Thank you.