Nightmares can occur even during waking hours. In fact, these nightmares are worse than the ones encountered in sleep. Waking nightmares are reality and you can’t shake them off with a splash of cold water and a hot cup of coffee.
This is what happened to Terry Power and his ex-wife Michelle Fournier as detailed in the Tampa Bay Times yesterday. The nasty divorce took five years to resolve and more than $400,000 to resolve. It was indeed a nightmare for both sides although the Times could only relate the story from one side since the wife didn’t want to speak to the reporter.
It might be tempting to dismiss this as an aberration, a once in a lifetime nightmare that most divorcing couples could never experience. That may be true but the truth is it can happen and happen to any one of us. I’m sure Terry and Michelle didn’t set out to spend nearly half a million dollars when they first filed for divorce in 2008. Yet, a combination of emotion, money issues, pride, and an unwillingness to compromise led the situation to the 9th circle of hell.
Let’s take a moment and look at what happened, given what the Times’ stories (they published an earlier, detailed piece in 2013) revealed. First, Terry wanted to save money and so decided to represent himself. By the time he contacted the Times he was so frustrated and angry he did not serve himself well by acting as his own attorney. The newspaper wrote, “He had stopped making his $5,700 mortgage payment, allowing the Mediterranean Revival home where Murielle lived inside a gated community in Clearwater to fall into foreclosure. His business was failing and he owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was about to file for bankruptcy. He was on his second lawyer and ironically, since Murielle had no money, he had to pay for her lawyer too. As far as he was concerned, it was like paying someone to rob him.
He looked angrily down the hallway toward his reed-thin wife, huddled with her snowy-haired attorney, O. Stephen Thacker. Terry believed Thacker was egging Murielle on, telling her she could get more money. The more Murielle fought, Terry reasoned, the more Thacker was paid.
“She’s completely oblivious,” he sneered. “She’s not sophisticated enough to understand she’s being taken advantage of.”
You can almost feel the resentment and bitterness Terry was experiencing. Any decent divorce lawyer will tell you that is not a good mind-set with which to begin negotiating any kind of settlement. What the reporter witnessed at the divorce hearing left her in shock. Yet, the case intrigued her. It was both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. An average Pinellas County couple seeking a divorce. But the motions and responses to those motions left little room for compromise and only heightened the acrimony and bitterness, all the while driving up the cost of the divorce. Both parties swinging for the fences with no runs scored and very few hits except to their tranquility and financial well-being.
Why am I writing about this and why did the Times choose to publish these stories? It’s a cautionary tale for all of us. Divorce doesn’t have to turn into a nightmare. A good divorce lawyer can navigate this and avoid the pitfalls that drove this couple into a hellish nightmare that lasted far too long.