According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were in excess of 787,000 divorces in the United States in their last report. If you’re planning on filing for divorce in 2020, or have other family law issues forcing you into family court, here are some recent trends you should know about.
How We Changed
When a Massachusetts woman, Elizabeth Luxford, found out her husband James already had a wife, she went straight to court, and then got the first-ever American divorce in December 1639. Her husband James was sentenced to forfeit all of his assets, pay a fine, and faced stocks and pillory.
In the colonies during the 17th century, there was on average one divorce a year. Over time, petitions for divorce grew, with 229 in the Massachusetts Bay colony alone between 1692 and 1785.
The Puritans rejected Anglican and Catholic views of marriage as a sacrament, and defined marriage as a civil matter. If a marriage partner violated the marriage agreement, the injured party could escape the chains of matrimony with a divorce.
Since torture was eliminated in family law, there have been some other noticeable trends in divorces and separations.
With more two-income families, there has been a recent trend toward increasingly shared time-sharing schedules. In Florida, every year there are always rumblings in Tallahassee to mandate equal time-sharing in all cases, but no bills have been signed into law yet.
Florida has had a long-standing public policy which states that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.
There is also no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child, or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule, when creating or modifying a parenting plan for the child.
Today, neither parent has a leg up in a custody dispute, which has led to more resolutions that include substantial and even equal parenting time for each party. But while many people want equal time-sharing, a 50/50 time-sharing schedule simply is not practical in many cases.
After a separation or divorce, it is common for parents to live apart, nesting is rare, and some former couples can live more than a few hours apart from each other with traffic. It could be impossible for them to get a child to school and home again every day.
Divorce over 50: The gray divorce
A gray divorce” is a recent term referring to later-in-life divorces where both parties are over age 50. There are unique challenges — legally, financially, and emotionally — for those who divorce when they’re older.
In a gray divorce there may be less time to recover from financial hits such as dividing up the assets, debts and especially retirement benefits. That’s what makes investment management especially critical as the parties face the uncertainties of getting older.
Often, people must retire sooner than they may want to due to health issues or layoffs, which adds to the complexity of older divorces. We are also living longer, and the marital assets must provide for a longer time.
Health care funding also becomes a big issue in older divorces because there is often a time gap between the divorce and when individuals are eligible for Medicare. Medical costs can become a larger portion of the overall budget later in life.
Estate planning issues also come into play. For example, there are new medical directives and powers of attorney which may need to be drafted, new beneficiaries on life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts need to be considered.
The need for trusts and the establishment of other estate planning strategies may change when a couple is no longer together, so those issues need to be addressed too.
A growing trend everywhere in the United States, and especially in Florida, is the trend towards alternative dispute resolution. This includes mediation, arbitration and collaborative family law.
The alternative dispute resolution process, such as mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law, are designed to help couples discuss their issues and come to an agreement that is beneficial to everyone, without having to go through a long costly court battle.
The prospect of saving time, money, and minimizing the level of stress involved is perhaps the biggest incentive for people to pursue alternative dispute resolution.
Unlike mediation, arbitration is where a neutral third person or panel considers the facts and arguments presented by the parties and renders a decision. An arbitration can be binding or non-binding. The primary advantage of binding arbitration in non-child family law cases is the conclusiveness which attaches to an arbitration award, which can avoid the expense and delay of litigation.
Modifications of Custody, Alimony, and Support
You might think when a final divorce decree is entered, the case is done. But there is a trend involving more post-judgment filings in family court. In Florida, asking to change something in the final decree or agreement is known as a “modification.” Actions for modifications are supplemental to the original divorce or family law case.
Modifications include cases where parents try to change the time-sharing schedule, argue that alimony should be increased or decreased or terminated because of a substantial change in circumstances.
I recently spoke at the Florida Bar Family Law Section and American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyer’s co-sponsored Certification Review Course in Orlando about modifications. This year’s ‘Cert Review’ course attracted over 1,800 family law attorneys and judges from around the state of Florida.
Is Facebook to blame for the increase in modifications? Some say social media may be a reason for the increase in modifications because it’s a lot easier to see how your former spouse or significant other is doing.
Anyone with a Facebook or Instagram account can spy on the lives of their Ex to see if they are driving around in fancy new cars, eating in expensive restaurants, or if they are involved in a supportive relationship.
The New Jersey article is here.