Category: Divorce

National Divorce Day

National Divorce Day arrives at every new year, and after the stress of 2020, this year is not likely to be different. But is there a way to avoid the surge in new year divorce filings?

National Divorce Day

New Year, New You

National Divorce Day is the first working Monday of the New Year when legal firms see a surge in consultation requests from people seeking a divorce and separation.

Lawyers typically see the number of inquiries double around this time and then in late January it tails off. Over the last two or three years people even inquire a little bit earlier between Christmas and New Year.

Legal statistics have shown that marital dissolution filings can jump as much as 27-30 percent during the first month of the year. In 2019, searches for divorce peaked between January 6-12 according to Google. This year, that Monday is January 4.

It’s thought the surge is due to a breakdown in relationships nearing the festive period, with couples halting divorce proceedings until after Christmas and New Year so as not to spoil the fun.

Relationships can also break down in January because of New Year’s resolutions or stress over the holiday period. Clients can wait until after the holiday season to start divorce proceedings, and these folks have been contemplating divorce for months, if not years.

Many of them have actually held out until the holidays were over to leave so as to spare their children from connecting Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years divorce.

Florida Divorce

I’ve written about the rise in new years divorce filings, and many times the holiday season can highlight problems. What should you do? Whatever the reason for your problems, there are a few things that anyone looking into divorce for the first time needs to know to help them through the process.

Prioritize

Line up your priorities for life after the divorce. Is it finding a home? Is it retiring? Getting a job? Managing your special-needs child? Consider writing down your most important goals.

Consult

Even if you aren’t certain you need to hire an attorney, or filing for divorce at all, it is a good idea to meet with an expert in Florida’s divorce and family laws. Who better than someone certified by Florida as an expert in marital and family law? We offer free consultations, but even when there is a charge, it is well worth the fee to get accurate information.

Alternatives

Litigation is something to avoid. It’s time-consuming, contentious and expensive. The majority of divorces end up settling. There are many forms of alternative dispute resolution out there, including collaborative divorce, mediation, and informal settlement conferences.

2021 National Divorce Day

The events of 2020 have led many to believe that there are more reasons than ever to really take stock before making one of the most consequential decisions of your life. COVID-19 has been a game-changer in many ways for all of us, not the least of which has been in relationships.

If there was already stress and strain in the marriage, the pandemic has been like gas on the fire, magnifying all the nooks and crannies of pain and resentment between partners. If things were fine before COVID-19 hit, they might not be so great nine or 10 months in. Many of us are stressed and edgy.

The fallout from 2020 will leave a large wake of destruction and loss. It’s never a good idea to make any decision—let alone perhaps the most major decision of your life—when you’re on rocky terrain. So, there are some important and obvious reasons why this January might be the worst year ever to take the divorce leap.

Some helpful advice from Newsweek:

Consider whether you need a temporary or permanent break

Just about everyone in a long-term relationship has thought on occasion about what life would be like if they were free, single, and didn’t have to answer to anyone. It seems we humans often want what we don’t have. But, having worked with enough divorcing folks, I’ve heard plenty say, “If I had known how hard divorce would be (or how lonely I would be), I would’ve stayed in my marriage.”

 Evaluate the kind of hit your finances could take

Between 2007 and 2009, 18 percent of my private practice population was homeless as a result of getting a divorce at the exactly the wrong financial time. These homeless people included what we’d normally call “successful” people: an attorney, an accountant and a social worker.

Hard times compounded by the divorce, they ended up with nowhere to live and not enough money to rent a place. With 2020 having decimated businesses and many economies around the world, it’s important to think long and hard about how you’ll get basic needs met if the bottom falls out.

The Newsweek article is here.

 

Divorce and Cheating in Cabo

Cheating may be involved in the divorce between Dancing with the Stars‘ Gleb Savchenko and his estranged wife, Elena Samodanova after Samodanova was spotted kissing another man while vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Cheating Divorce

Dirty Dancing

The So You Think You Can Dance choreographer, 36, submitted documents to a Los Angeles courthouse on Tuesday, December 22, seeking a dissolution of marriage with minor children.

Samodanova also filed a request for mediation regarding child custody, visitation and child support. The estranged pair share two young daughters.

Court documents obtained state that “the court orders both parties to participate in mediation to discuss custody and/or visitation” and help form “a mutually agreeable parenting plan.” A hearing is scheduled for March 2021.

Samodanova and Savchenko announced that they were going their separate ways after 14-years of marriage. At the time, Dancing With the Stars fans wondered whether Savchenko had become more than friends with season 29 partner Chrishell Stause.

Both denied the rumors.

Florida Divorce and Cheating

I have written about divorce and cheating before. Adultery can be the cause of a divorce, but can it impact the outcome? There is still a statutory basis for infidelity to be an issue in your divorce proceedings, but not in the way most people think.

Adultery may impact the division of property. Florida is an equitable distribution state, and it is presumed that property should be evenly divided. This presumption may be overcome by proof that one spouse intentionally wasted marital assets.

This waste is sometimes known as dissipation. Paying for expensive jewelry, foreign trips, rent, car payments, and dinners for girlfriends and boyfriends is considered wasting marital assets. The court has the power to reduce an adulterer’s equitable distribution to credit the marital estate for waste.

Florida law specifically provides that a court may consider the adultery of either spouse in determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be awarded. However, courts have struggled to reconcile the “fault” of adultery with the concept of “no fault” divorce. The result is a mix of weak opinions.

Chapter 61 discusses the “the moral fitness of the parents” as one of the factors the court considers in determining the best interests of a child.

So, if one parent can prove that the other parent’s adultery had, or is reasonably likely to have, an adverse impact on the child, the judge can consider adultery in evaluating what’s in the best interest of the child. However, it would be extremely unusual for an issue to be decided on those grounds.

They danced the famous Merengue

In photos published by Page Six, Samodanova wears a black swimsuit and red cover up as she shares a kiss on the beach with a man identified as none other than Dancing with the Stars’ Vlad Kvartin!

“It is very convenient that hours after Elena was caught out kissing another man on a beach in Cabo that she has now decided to announce that she has filed for divorce.”

My relationship with Chrishell was and remains platonic. Our friendship during our season on DWTS was not the reason for our split. Elena and I have had longstanding issues in our marriage. This has been an ongoing situation between Elena and I paired with poor timing.

Amid the pair’s messy split, an insider reported that Savchenko’s first priority was providing for his children. “Gleb is such a hands-on dad and very protective of his kids,” the source said. “He is trying to handle everything in the best way possible to not give Elena any sort of leeway for the sake of their children.”

Earlier this month, the Celebs on the Farm star joined Stause and her new boyfriend on a romantic couple’s trip to Mexico. Savchenko was accompanied by new girlfriend Cassie Scerbo.

As they showed off their budding romance on social media, a source revealed that the duo “really enjoy each other’s company” and “are just starting to get to know each other.”

In a very moving social media post, sure to touch everyone’s hearts, Samodanova sadly remarked:

“I don’t know if Prince Charming exists anymore. It’s a fairy tale which I do not really believe anymore.”

The People article is here.

 

Divorce and Theft

If you thought someone might be hesitant to sue for damages for the theft or conversion of their adult film and magazine collection, you’d be wrong. One person made a federal case out of it. A U.S. District Court now has to decide the value of one Michigan man’s destroyed pornography collection following his own divorce.

Divorce and Theft

Law Hub

David Werking lived at his parent’s Grand Haven, Michigan home for ten months starting in October 2016 after a divorce before moving to Muncie, Indiana.

He moved out of his parent’s home in 2017, leaving some of his possessions in the basement. Those possessions included a trove of pornography and an array of sex toys which David values at nearly $30,000.

In November, he asked his parents to return his property, and they did so — in part. The pornography and sex toys were not among the possessions returned to David. Instead, David’s parents told him that “the items were destroyed.”

On New Year’s Day 2018, his father wrote in an email:

“I do not possess your pornography. It is gone. It has been either destroyed or disposed of. I may well have missed a few items that are now in your possession, but at this point, if you don’t have it, it is gone. Ditto for your sex toys and smutty magazines.”

The next month, Werking reported the case to the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, and a sheriff’s deputy spoke with David’s mother, who acknowledged the couple had disposed of his pornography, the suit says.

David sued his parents in federal court, claiming that the value of his pornography collect was $25,557.89. To prevail on his claim, he must establish that the Defendants converted his property for their own use.

If David wins, the statute allows allows him to recover triple damages against his parents.

Florida Divorce and Theft

Although David’s case involves his third party claim for treble damages, and is un-related to his divorce, the issue of dissipation and civil theft claims arise frequently in divorce.

I’ve written before about various aspects of property division, the non-pornographic kind. In Florida, courts distribute the marital assets, such as collectibles, jewelry, and unique art, between parties under the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution.

Some of the factors to justify an unequal distribution of the property include whether one of the parties intentionally dissipated, wasted, depleted, or destroyed any of the marital assets after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition.

Misconduct, for purposes of dissipation, does not mean mismanagement or simple squandering of marital assets in a manner of which the other spouse disapproves. There has to be evidence of intentional dissipation or destruction.

Michigan Mishugas

As the federal judge remarked:

Getting to the heart of the coconut now, the legal issue before the Court is whether the parents converted their son’s pornography “to their own use” by destroying it.

The parent’s emails to their son, made clear that they were motivated to destroy the pornography “from a belief in its deleterious effects.” The father could not have been clearer on this point; he told his son that he was motivated to destroy the pornography out of concern for David’s mental and emotional health.

The federal court found that David pleaded a plausible claim for relief against his parents on his statutory conversion claim because he has alleged that his parents were motivated to destroy the pornography because of his deleterious effects on his mental and emotional health.

Only the issue of how much he can recover in damages remain to be resolved. That will involve a valuation of David’s pornography collection and sex toys.

For reasons obscure, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney does not want to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the value of David’s adult film, magazine and sex toy collection. The court ordered both parties to file written submissions on the issue of damages.

The U.S. District Court opinion is here.

Divorce and Crime

Divorce and crime are in the news after the estranged wife of former San Diego congressman, Duncan Hunter, filed for divorce after more than a year of separation amid a corruption prosecution that netted them both felony convictions.

Divorce and Crime

Trouble in America’s Finest City

Margaret Hunter is seeking a divorce because of “irreconcilable differences,” and requests joint legal custody of their two daughters according to court records filed in San Diego Superior Court. She seeks physical custody of their daughters and reasonable visitation with their father. She also asked the court to award her spousal support and attorney’s fees and costs.

The divorce filings do not include any details about the “irreconcilable differences” that ended the marriage. An attorney for Margaret said she had no comment. A spokesman for Duncan did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Duncan Hunter has been living with his mother and father, Former Rep. Duncan Lee Hunter. The divorce records say Margaret and their daughters have lived in La Mesa since the couple separated in August 2019.

Duncan Hunter served as a U.S. Representative from 2013 to 2020 and succeeded his father, Republican Duncan Lee Hunter, a member of Congress from 1981 to 2009.

In 2017, the Department of Justice began a criminal investigation into Hunter and his campaign manager and wife Margaret Jankowski, for alleged campaign finance violations. The couple was indicted in federal court in August 2018 for allegedly using more than $250,000 in his campaign funds for personal purposes.

Margaret had been Duncan’s campaign manager. Both initially pleaded not guilty then separately changed their pleas last year, with each admitting to one felony count of conspiring to illegally convert campaign money to personal use.

Florida Property Division and Dissipation

I have written about equitable distribution in Florida before. In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities.

When distributing the marital assets between spouses, a family court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.

One of the factors to consider is the “intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital assets after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition.

As a general rule, when misconduct during the divorce results in the dissipation of a marital asset, the misconduct may serve as a basis for assigning dissipated assets to the spending spouse when calculating equitable distribution.

The question is whether a spouse used marital funds for his or her own benefit and for a purpose unrelated to the marriage at a time when the marriage is undergoing an irreconcilable breakdown.

Thrown Under the Bus

In a Fox News interview, the congressman firmly put the blame for his campaign shenanigans where it belongs . . . on his wife:

“I’m saying when I went to Iraq in 2003 the first time, I gave her power of attorney and she handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued on when I got to Congress since I’m gone five days and home for two. She was also the campaign manager. So, whatever she did, that will be looked at, too, I’m sure. But I didn’t do it.”

Duncan told a Fox News reporter shortly after the indictment that he had given his wife power of attorney when he was deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps in 2003, and she handled his finances after that.

The indictment and other court records prosecutors filed in Duncan Hunter’s case before he pleaded guilty last year suggested Duncan carried on extramarital affairs with at least five women — three lobbyists, a staff member and a congressional aid — and used his campaign money to pay for weekend getaways and other outings with them, starting in 2009.

Margaret cooperated with prosecutors during their investigation, and they agreed to seek a lighter sentence. She was sentenced in August to three years of probation and eight months of house arrest, which she began serving immediately.

Duncan was sentenced in March to 11 months in prison, which he is scheduled to begin serving Jan. 4. His lawyer said he will do his time at the Federal Correctional Institute La Tuna in Anthony, Texas. Duncan resigned from his seat representing the 50th District in Congress in January.

The San Diego Tribune article is here.

When Divorce Court Rules on Your Religion

When a divorce court rules on your religion of choice, Constitutional issues are reborn. This happens frequently when couples agree to raise their children in a certain religion. In a recent appellate case, after the parents chose Christianity as their religion of choice, an Arizona family judge had to decide whether Mormons were Christian.

Divorce Religion

A Monumental Judgment

A Mother and Father married in November 1999 and had two children. In December 2017, the Mother petitioned for divorce and filed with the divorce decree a parenting plan signed by both parents. The Parenting Plan stated:

Each parent may take the minor children to a church or place of worship of his or her choice during the time that the minor children is/are in his or her care. Both parents agree that the minor children may be instructed in the Christian faith.

About a year after the divorce, the Father joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the children occasionally joined him at meetings. After the Mother learned the children were accompanying their Father to a Mormon Church, she moved to enforce the Parenting Plan, claiming the Mormon Church is not Christian under the Parenting Plan.

The family judge held two hearings on the enforcement petition. During the second hearing, the Mother called a youth ministry leader from her church to testify that Father’s Church is not Christian.

After taking the matter under advisement, the judge decided that the Parenting Plan directs that “the Children shall only be instructed in the Christian faith” and that Father’s Church was not “Christian” within the meaning of the Parenting Plan.

The family court judge decided the Father could not take the children to the Father’s Church’s services, that he had violated the Parenting Plan, and awarded the Mother attorney’s fees.

The Father appealed.

Florida Divorce and Religion

I’ve written about the intersection of religion and divorce – especially as it relates to vaccinations. Religion, religious beliefs, and religious practices are not statutory factors Florida courts consider when determining parental responsibility.

Nor is religion an area in which a parent may be granted ultimate responsibility over a child. Instead, the weight religion plays in custody disputes grew over time in various cases.

One of the earliest Florida case in which religion was a factor in deciding parental responsibility restricted one parent from exposing the children to that parent’s religion.

The Mother was a member of The Way International, and the Father introduced evidence that The Way made the Mother an unfit parent. He alleged The Way psychologically brainwashed her, that she had become obsessed, and was neglecting the children. The trial judge awarded custody to the Mother provided that she sever all connections, meetings, tapes, visits, communications, or financial support with The Way, and not subject the children to any of its dogmas.

The Mother appealed the restrictions as a violation of her free exercise of religion. The appellate court agreed, and held the restrictions were unconstitutionally overbroad and expressly restricted the Mother’s free exercise of her religious beliefs and practices.

Following that, and other decisions, Florida courts will not stop a parent from practicing their religion or from influencing the religious training of their child inconsistent with that of the other parent.

When the matter involves the religious training and beliefs of the child, the court generally does not make a decision in favor of a specific religion over the objection of the other parent. The court should also avoid interference with the right of a parent to practice their own religion and avoid imposing an obligation to enforce the religious beliefs of the other parent.

Road to a Constitutional Victory

On appeal, the first thing the appellate court found was that the trial judge’s ruling was based on the wrong interpretation of the Parenting Plan. The religious-education section of the Parenting Plan unambiguously stated that:

“[e]ach parent may take the minor children to a church or place of worship of his or her choice during the time that the minor children is/are in his or her care.”

This language, it was held, permitted the Father to take the children to any “place of worship,” be it “Christian” or “non-Christian.” Nothing in the clause explicitly limits or narrows this authority. The family judge was found to have erred to the extent that it found the Parenting Plan did not permit Father to take the children to a church or place of worship of his choice.

But, the appellate court also held that even if the clause expressly constrained the Father’s right the court would have vacated the holding because the court violated the First Amendment of the Constitution when it ruled that a Mormon Church is not Christian.

The appellate court ruled that the divorce judge had to abstain from handling Mother’s claim once it became clear the dispute concerned an ecclesiastical matter.

The Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, “preclude civil courts from inquiring into ecclesiastical matters.”

Here, the family court dove right into an ecclesiastical matter by addressing whether the Mormon Church is part of the Christian faith. That very question has long been a matter of theological debate in the United States. A secular court must avoid ruling on such issues to prevent the appearance that government favors one religious view over another.

Although the judge was interpreting the Parenting Plan, the court did not resolve it through neutral principles of law but instead engaged in the exact type of inquiry into church doctrine or belief that the First Amendment prohibits.

For example, at an evidentiary hearing, the trial judge allowed in testimony from a minister to claim that Mormon Church was not part of the Christian faith, and admitted a chart comparing the tenets of the Mormon Church with Christian beliefs. The court’s order specifically found “that Mormonism does not fall within the confines of the Christian faith.”

In reversing, the appellate court ruled that courts are not the appropriate forum to assess whether someone who self-identifies as “Christian” qualifies to use that term. If the trial court’s order could stand, the “harm of such a governmental intrusion into religious affairs would be irreparable.”

A parenting plan’s religious-education provision can be enforced without violating First Amendment principles if the dispute does not require a court to wade into matters of religious debate or dogma.

The Arizona opinion is here.

Kelly Clarkson and Divorce Fraud

Kelly Clarkson’s divorce from husband Brandon Blackstock, who was also her manager, is heating up after she filed a fraud claim against Blackstock’s management company with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office.

Kelly Clarkson Divorce Fraud

Never Again

If you thought Kelly Clarkson and Brandon Blackstock’s divorce couldn’t get any messier, well, you were wrong. Though Clarkson has declined to share many details about why they’re divorcing a lot has been made public throughout a series of court documents.

In September, when the couple filed for divorce, Blackstock’s father Narvel sued his son’s ex-wife for $1.4 million, stating that she owed his company, Starstruck Management Group, for unpaid management fees.

Clarkson made the recent filing in October, in which she called her oral agreement with Starstruck Management Group a “fraudulent and subterfuge device” and accused Blackstock and his father, Narvel Blackstock, of being unlicensed talent agents in California.

Clarkson’s filing not only attempts to void her agreement with Starstruck and the Blackstocks, but it also seeks the money she paid for their services from 2007–20, arguing that Clarkson paid “unconscionable fees” for “illegal services.”

The petition, set to be ruled on in February, could also dismiss a separate lawsuit that Starstruck filed against Clarkson in September. That suit claimed Clarkson already owes an additional $1.4 million in commissions from The Kelly Clarkson Show and The Voice along with millions of dollars from future payments.

“Starstruck developed Clarkson into a mega superstar,” that filing claimed. Clarkson’s filing, meanwhile, argues she should not have to make those payments either.

If successful, Clarkson could see up to tens of millions of dollars back in her pocket come February, given her touring and TV success over the past 13 years..

Florida Divorce Fraud

I’ve written about various aspects of divorce fraud involving property. In Florida, courts distribute the marital assets, such as bank accounts, between parties under the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution.

Some of the factors to justify an unequal distribution of the property include things like the financial situation the parties, the length of the marriage, whether someone has interrupted their career or an educational opportunity, or how much one spouse contributed to the other’s career or education.

Another important factor is whether one of the parties intentionally dissipated, wasted, depleted, or destroyed any of the marital assets after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition.

Dissipation of marital assets, such as taking money from a joint bank account, happens a lot. In those cases, the misconduct may serve as a basis for assigning the dissipated asset to the spending spouse when calculating equitable distribution.

Misconduct, for purposes of dissipation, does not mean mismanagement or simple squandering of marital assets in a manner of which the other spouse disapproves. There has to be evidence of intentional dissipation or destruction.

The Trouble with Love is

Clarkson has filed a Petition to Determine Controversy with the Labor Commissioner’s Office claiming that Starstruck and the Blackstocks had violated Section 1700 of the California Labor Code.

That is also known as the Talent Agencies Act, a controversial California regulation that requires any individual who is acting as an agent in the state to be licensed. The difference being that a manager handles talent’s day-to-day operations while they are on the job while an agent is tasked with booking those jobs.

Agents are also required to provide a surety bond of $50,000, which Clarkson claims Starstruck failed to do while operating as an agent. They also failed to obtain her written approval to act as an agent, failed to work in a manner that served her best interests.

What they did do, claims Clarkson, is demand “unconscionable fees” and give “false information,” make “false representations,” and conceal “material information from [Clarkson] concerning certain matters relating to [Starstruck’s] … violation of the Labor Code.”

Clarkson and her attorney Edwin McPherson argue in the filing that:

“based on the wrongful acts and conduct of [Starstruck Management and the Blackstocks] … all agreements between the parties, should be declared void and unenforceable, no monies should be paid by [Clarkson] to [Starstruck Management and the Blackstocks], and all monies previously paid by [Clarkson] to [Starstruck Management and the Blackstocks] should be disgorged forthwith.”

The Yahoo article is here.

 

Coronavirus and the World Divorce Crisis

The BBC reports on the seldom talked about impact of the coronavirus pandemic around the world: the divorce crisis. Divorce filings, applications and break-ups are skyrocketing across the UK and around the world.

Pox and Pax

Pox Britannica

Leading British law firms reported a 122% increase in inquiries between July and October, compared with the same period last year. Charity Citizen’s Advice reported a spike in searches for online advice on ending a relationship.

Here at home in the US, a major legal contract-creation site recently announced a 34% rise in sales of its basic divorce agreement, with newlyweds who’d got married in the previous five months making up 20% of sales.

There’s been a similar pattern in China, which had one of the world’s strictest lockdowns at the start of the pandemic. The same is true in Sweden, which, until recently, largely relied on voluntary guidelines to try and slow the spread of Covid-19.

It’s old news that the pandemic is affecting many of our core relationships. But lawyers, therapists and academics are starting to get a clearer understanding of the multiple factors feeding into the Covid-19 break-up boom – and why it looks set to continue into 2021.

Some describe the pandemic as “the perfect storm” for couples, with lockdowns and social distancing causing them to spend increased amounts of time together. This has, in many cases, acted as a catalyst for break-ups that may already have been on the cards, especially if previous separate routines had served to mask problems.

What’s been different is the significant increase in the number of women initiating divorces, with 76% of new cases coming from female clients, compared with 60% a year ago. This trend ties in with the findings of numerous studies of working parents’ lives during Covid-19, which suggest that a disproportionate share of housework and childcare is still falling on women, even in heterosexual couples where the male partner also works from home.

Florida Divorce

I’ve written about no-fault divorces before. Historically in Florida, in order to obtain a divorce one had to prove the existence of legal grounds such as adultery.

This often required additional expenses on behalf of the aggrieved party, only serving to make the divorce process more expensive and cumbersome than it already was.

In the years leading up to the enactment of “no-fault” divorce, courts often granted divorces on bases that were easier to prove, the most common being “mental cruelty.”

Over time, the “no-fault” movement expanded to other states, although interestingly it only reached the typically progressive state of New York in 2010. Whether or not it is intimacy or communication, you do not need to list a reason for a divorce other than an irretrievable break in the marriage.

Pax Britannica

For other couples, the increase in mental health problems linked to the pandemic is playing a role in break-ups. Some relationship experts believe that even strong couples who weren’t facing problems before the pandemic, and avoided major shifts in household health or dynamics may also be susceptible to break-ups.

This is because the pandemic has taken away well-established routines that offered comfort, stability and rhythm. Without these, this leaves partners with limited opportunities to “seek other forms of support or stimulation” beyond their relationship, which can put them under strain.

“More people are finding themselves trapped in a situation where they are struggling to cope with what is going on for them as well as what is going on between them. Like a pressure cooker that does not let any pressure out, the lid can eventually pop and the relationship breaks down.”

The pandemic is likely to be one of the first major life challenges young couples face together, which might partly explain the rise in divorce applications from newlyweds in some countries, including the US and Canada.

Newlyweds and couples relatively early on in their relationship might not have been tested in the way the marriages of 30-years have been over the years with different trials and tribulations. The stripped-back lifestyle that the crisis has created is the opposite of many new couples’ visions of “wedded bliss about how perfect life is going to be”.

Additionally, relationship experts say the financial impact of Covid-19 is also likely to be playing a major role in break-ups, as people find themselves unemployed, furloughed or taking home lower pay checks.

The number of divorces has tended to increase without exception during economic downturns at least since the Second World War. Given that we are now experiencing a severe crisis especially economically, we expect that the end result will be an increase in marital instability.

Decreased income increases the potential for strain on the relationship due to conflicts on how to prioritize different types of consumption, and psychological strain increases that in turn, resulting in reduced relationship quality due to worries of how to make ends meet.

The pandemic has disproportionately hit those who were already working in insecure employment in low-income industries such as hospitality, leisure, retail and tourism – sectors in which women, young people and ethnic minorities are overrepresented.

Interestingly, some believe that improved economic fortunes could actually trigger divorces, because some spouses currently experiencing marital problems may be putting off splitting up for practical reasons.

This new wave of break-ups might also include partners who are currently staying together because they are nervous about being alone, beginning to date again in an era of social distancing or, conversely, worried about the logistics of starting divorce proceedings while still cohabiting during lockdowns. They don’t want to have to say, ‘I want a divorce’ and then have to spend 24 hours a day with them.

Psychotherapists argue that the pandemic is also prompting more existential re-evaluations of what, and whom, people want in their lives. This is clear from evidence showing that people are looking to move house and have a different lifestyle, such as moving to the country with less time spent commuting.

Such re-evaluation is also taking place in marriages, with couples reassessing their life choices and their emotional needs. The pressures of the pandemic have reminded us all that life might be short and we are tasked to assess how, and with whom, we are spending our precious time.

The BBC article is here.

 

Divorce Fraud in Minnesota

Divorce fraud may be the reason a Minnesota judge rejected a proposed marital settlement agreement between Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death, and his estranged wife.

Divorce Fraud Minnesota

Fraud and Loathing in Minneapolis

Washington County Judge Juanita Freeman issued the order in late October declining the agreement, writing that a transfer of “substantially all” of one’s assets to the other in an uncontested marriage dissolution is a badge of fraud.

The Chauvin’s agreement apparently sought to transfer the majority of Derek Chauvin’s assets to Kellie Chauvin. The order said the couple’s agreement would transfer all the equity in their homes, funds in their bank and investment accounts, and all of Derek Chauvin’s pension and retirement accounts “except for the nonmarital portion of two specific accounts” to Kellie Chauvin.

State law encourages divorces to be settled without additional court involvement, but:

The court has a duty to ensure that marriage dissolution agreements are fair and equitable and says judges can deny an uncontested agreement between a couple if the transfer features badges of fraud.

She did not accuse them of fraud or provide any other details or motives for her decision. She did write the Chauvins’ can submit a revised agreement to be considered by the court, adding it must indicate which portion of Derek Chauvin’s pension and retirement accounts are nonmarital and “include a balance sheet specifically indicating the total dollar value of the debts and assets that are assigned to each party”.

Florida Agreements and Fraud

I’ve written about the Chauvin divorce before, and also about enforcing marital settlement agreements. Most family law cases are resolved by agreement, not by trial. A Marital Settlement Agreement is the method to resolving all of the issues, and is the final product of the negotiations.

A marital settlement agreement puts in writing all the aspects of the divorcing parties’ settlement. Topics covered in the Marital Settlement Agreement include the parenting plan and timesharing schedule, the division of the parties’ assets and liabilities.

A marital settlement agreement, entered into by the parties and ratified by a final judgment, is a contract subject to the laws of contract. In Florida, parenting plans and matters relating to the children must be approved by the family law judge. In addition, the judge is obligated to make sure child support is consistent with Florida’s child support guidelines.

Something is rotten in the state of Minnesota

Calling the judge’s ruling “rare,” local divorce attorneys in Minnesota said it adds to suspicions that Derek and Kellie Chauvin are trying to protect their assets.

This is just speculation, but it’s possible that the [agreement] was intentionally drafted to get assets out of Chauvin’s name in anticipation of a civil judgment against him from the estate of George Floyd. That may be what the court is getting at when it references ‘badges of fraud.

Other sources report that court documents highlight varied sources of incomes between the couple with Chauvin, 46, making between $52,000 and $72,000 per year as an officer. He worked as an off-duty security guard on the weekends at El Nuevo Rodeo dance club, Cub Foods, Midtown Global Marker, and EME Antro Bar.

However, Freeman wrote that under the agreement, Kellie Chauvin would have received all the equity in their two homes, all the money in their bank and investment accounts and all the money from Derek Chauvin’s pension and retirement accounts.

Funds from two of Derek Chauvin’s accounts that were earned before the couple’s 2010 marriage would have been exempt. Chauvin was a Minneapolis officer from 2001 until his firing this year. It’s unknown if the monetary amounts were listed in the agreement due to the heavy redaction. Chauvin has not begun drawing his pension, so that amount is not yet public information.

Several tax-related felony charges filed in Washington County this summer against the couple allege that they failed to claim $464,433 in joint income dating back to 2014. Derek Chauvin earned $52,000 to $72,000 annually between 2014 and 2019 as an officer. He also earned nearly $96,000 working security at businesses while off duty.

Divorces of convenience aren’t unheard of. They’re sometimes filed to protect assets when someone enters assisted living or is dealing with health problems that could result in exorbitant bills. Judges are compelled by law to ensure that divorces are equitable, but state law also encourages settlement agreements without additional court involvement.

It may be unusual that a judge would reject a stipulated agreement. Judges are happy to know that litigants have avoided any more administration of this case and a trial, which is really time-consuming.

The Chauvins could submit a revised agreement. If no revised agreement is reached and approved, the case could be tried in court. Theoretically, Judge Freeman could also divide the assets as she deems fit and is empowered to do through state law.

The Star Tribune article is here.

 

Fault and Extreme Cruelty in Divorce

The South Dakota Supreme Court weighs in on when a divorce can be issued on fault based grounds of extreme cruelty. A father in a divorce case was awarded custody of his children, attorneys’ fees and sanctions the hard way.

Divorce Extreme Cruelty

Bad Marriages in the Badlands

Rachel Evens and Tim Evens were married in 2005 and have four children. Tim owned and operated a carpet cleaning business, known as Tim Evens Carpet Care. Rachel began working for Tim’s carpet cleaning business and Tim gave her a 90% ownership interest.

Then things went bad.

Rachel obtained a domestic violence injunction based on allegations that Tim physically and sexually assaulted her. She removed the children from their schools in Rapid City and took them to Montana. But after an evidentiary, the court found her testimony was not credible and denied the injunction.

When Tim traveled 750 miles to get the children, Rachel prevented Tim’s departure by taking the keys to his vehicle and physically engaging him by pushing and pulling him inside of her house and in front of the children.

Rachel was represented by four different attorneys, each of whom quickly moved to withdraw

Rachel physically and mentally abused Tim, loudly accusing Tim of extramarital affairs at a restaurant, causing patrons to take notice. After dinner, Rachel told Tim she was going out to find a man to satisfy her, only to return later to taunt him by advising him she had succeeded in her effort.

Rachel falsely accused Tim of raping her, failing to pay taxes and hunting without a license, all of which the court determined were unsupported by the evidence

Tim commenced a divorce alleging irreconcilable differences or, in the alternative, extreme cruelty. Tim also requested primary physical custody of the children, equitable division of the parties’ assets, and child support

Florida Fault and Extreme Cruelty

I’ve written about no fault divorce before. No-fault laws are the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. In Florida no fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.

Unlike South Dakota, Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. Gone are the days when you had to prove adultery, desertion or extreme cruelty.

The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Additionally, the mental incapacity of one of the parties, where the party was adjudged incapacitated for the prior three year, is another avenue.

Supreme Court of the Black Hills

The Supreme Court of South Dakota found that the family judge had made detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law as part of its decision to grant Tim’s request for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty.

Specifically, the court found that Rachel had physically abused Tim, including hitting, slapping, and kneeing him, as well as spitting in his face. The court also found Rachel had mentally abused Tim by calling him several names, including “stupid, dumb” and a “prick of a man.”

Rachel also told Tim that she was going to find someone else to satisfy her while also accusing him of having extramarital affairs and leveling unsupported allegations that he had committed serious criminal misconduct.

The court credited testimony from several witnesses who relayed derogatory comments Rachel made about Tim to her family, the parties’ children, and their friends.

This behavior, the court found, had continued throughout the marriage with more frequent, escalating incidents over time. As a result, the court found that “Rachel’s conduct toward Tim during this marriage has caused Tim great pain, anxiety, stress, grievous mental and physical suffering and constitutes extreme cruelty.

The circuit court’s comprehensive custody analysis includes over 300 findings directed to determining the children’s best interests. These findings are supported by the record, and we conclude that the court did not abuse its discretion by granting primary custody to Tim.

The South Dakota Supreme Court opinion is here.

 

Is No Fault Divorce Unconstitutional if You’re Religious?

An Orthodox Christian Husband, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Lebanon, is claiming that Maryland’s no-fault divorce law is unconstitutional. The Husband is deeply religious, and claims his constitutional rights will be violated if the court grants his Wife a civil divorce outside the Church.

Religious Divorce

The Cedars of Maryland

In 2009, Husband and Wife were married in Tripoli, Lebanon, at an Orthodox Christian church. Husband is an Orthodox Christian, and Wife is a Catholic. The couple had met a year earlier in Beirut, where Wife, a citizen of Lebanon, worked as an opera singer.

Husband, a dual citizen of Lebanon and the United States, has resided in the United States for over 30 years, but often travels to Lebanon to vacation and visit family members. Soon after their marriage, the parties moved to Montgomery County, Maryland where Husband operates a medical practice.

On August 4, 2016, Wife moved herself and her children out of the couple’s home in Montgomery County. On that same day, Wife filed for a limited divorce in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County

The Husband did not want a divorce. He regularly demonstrated combative and belligerent behavior, refused to comply with court orders imposing sanctions on him and did not consistently pay the legal fees awarded to Wife.

I will repeat it, I will say it now, and say it until I die: there will not be a divorce, [she] is married to me until I die. So, she has to kill me to get the divorce.

The court found that Husband was “not credible” and that he “used his resources to disrupt and delay the divorce trial, filing multiple appeals on dubious grounds, failing to cooperate with discovery, and hiring and then firing counsel.

The Husband asked for summary judgment, arguing that only Lebanese courts have jurisdiction over the divorce and that the court’s dissolution of the marriage would infringe on his free exercise of religion as an Orthodox Christian.

He also argued that Maryland’s no-fault divorce statute violated his constitutional right to marry; that the divorce would infringe on his children’s fundamental rights; and that the dissolution of his marriage would impair the obligations under his marriage contract, in violation of the Contracts Clause of the United States Constitution.

The trial court denied the Husband’s motion and he appealed.

Florida No Fault Divorce

I’ve written about no fault divorce before. No-fault laws are the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. In Florida no fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.

Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. Gone are the days when you had to prove adultery, desertion or unreasonable behavior.

The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Additionally, the mental incapacity of one of the parties, where the party was adjudged incapacitated for the prior three year, is another avenue.

In addition, and what the Husband overlooked in the Maryland case, is the big requirement for divorce: to obtain a dissolution of marriage, one of the parties to the marriage must reside 6 months in the state before the filing of the petition.

Believe it or not, the residency requirement can be a major impediment to divorcing for many people. Almost all states require you to be a resident before you can file for divorce. However, the amount of time you have to reside there can vary from state to state.

Divorce and the Constitution

The Husband argued that the family court lacked jurisdiction over the divorce because the parties were married in an Orthodox Christian ceremony in Lebanon and only Lebanese courts have jurisdiction to dissolve the marriage.

He contended that a Maryland court has no power to dissolve a marriage, celebrated in Lebanon, between two persons who are now residents of Maryland. The Maryland appellate court wasted no time in dismiss his argument as without merit, finding that, like Florida:

[A]n essential element of the judicial power to grant a divorce, or jurisdiction,’” is that one spouse be domiciled within the state at the time the complaint was filed.

The big question for the court then, as to jurisdiction, is not whether they were married in Lebanon but whether the Husband or Wife were a Maryland resident.

The Husband also argued granting a “no-fault” divorce was in violation of the United States Constitution. He claimed his marriage contract does not permit no-fault divorces and that the court impermissibly expanded the terms of the parties’ marriage contract by granting the divorce on the grounds of twelve-month separation,

The court found that, although marriage is a civil contract for some purposes “marriage is not a contract within the meaning of the Constitution’s prohibition and courts have regularly held that marriage is not a contract that is constitutionally protected from interference and can be modified by laws divorce laws.

The Husband also argued the divorce infringed on his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. Because the Orthodox faith does not permit divorces absent fault, a no-fault divorce would unconstitutionally force him to commit a mortal sin according to his religion.

The Supreme Court has long held that legislatures may enact general laws that regulate marriage, even if the application of the law interferes with some religious practices.

Because a trial court granting a divorce merely dissolves a civil contract between the spouses, courts universally hold that no-fault divorce statutes do not infringe on the right to the free exercise of religion, even if a spouse’s religious beliefs prohibit no-fault divorces.

The opinion is here.