Tag: Separation

Photographs as Predictors of Divorce

With the divorce month of January ending, many are wondering if there are signs a divorce is imminent. Well, new research may show that old photographs could be predictors of divorce and even indicate that a person is five times more likely to divorce than others.

Divorce Photograph

Don’t Forget to Smile!

A 2009 study published in the Motivation and Emotion journal found that the smile intensity in old photos can provide as a predictor of one’s likelihood of divorce later in life.

For one test, the researchers recruited more than 300 psychology alumni and around 350 general alumni, rating smile intensity in the participants’ college yearbook photos from 1 to 10. Researchers found that none of the people who fell within the top 10 percent of smile strength had gotten a divorce. But in the bottom 10 percent, one in four had experienced a divorce.

“Divorce can not only be predicted by photographs taken in early adulthood, but in childhood as well,” the researchers wrote in their study.

For a second test, the researchers recruited more than 50 individuals over the age of 55 and asked them to provide up to eight photos of themselves between the ages of 5 and 22. According to the study, only 11 percent of those who were analyzed to be big smilers had been divorced, compared to 31 percent of those who frowned in their old photographs.

Florida No Fault Divorce

The official term for divorce in Florida is “dissolution of marriage”, and you don’t need fault as a ground for divorce. Florida abolished fault as a ground for divorce. So, whether your husband or wife are frowning in that old photograph you have in your wallet, you don’t need to allege that as grounds for divorce.

I’ve written about divorce issues before. The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce, like your spouse’s terrible smile. Instead, you just need to state under oath that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Before the no-fault divorce era, people who wanted to get divorce either had to reach agreement in advance with the other spouse that the marriage was over, or throw mud at each other and prove wrongdoing like adultery or ruining a perfectly good photograph.

No-fault laws were the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. 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. 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.

Say Cheese!

Overall, people who frown in old photos are five times more likely to get a divorce than people who smile, according to the study. Matthew Hertenstein, PhD, the lead author of the study and a psychologist at DePauw University, told LiveScience that the results of this study fit into a larger pattern of research that has found that many personality characteristics can be determined by small displays of behavior.

Smiling in photos, for example, has been correlated with a number of personality traits, including a generally happier disposition, per LiveScience.

As the study notes, people with higher levels of positive emotionality are more likely to “take advantage of opportunities, are more open to social relationships, are more capable of ‘undoing’ sporadic negative emotions, and appraise ambiguous events more positively.”

The researchers noted that their study only shows correlation not causation, so they can’t definitively say why people who frown in old photos are more likely to get divorced. But according to the study, there could be a number of reasons—all likely related to a less positive emotional disposition. “People high in positive emotionality may be more likely to seek out environments more conducive to happy marriages and may even seek out partners who are higher in positive emotionality themselves,” the researchers noted in their study.

Don’t look at your partner’s old photos and think you can decide the entire future of your marriage, however. The study researchers and other experts say smiling in childhood photographs is not always a surefire sign that a person will be a good partner.

“People who are narcissistic and a little bit hypomanic can be generally very happy. They’re life-of-the-party people. But they’re more focused on themselves and not so good at hearing others. In one-on-one relationships, they can be difficult partners. It’s all about them and their way.”

The Best Life article is here.

Dividing the Iron Throne: Divorce and Streaming Services

With the start of the final season of Game of Thrones, everyone wants to “borrow” passwords to HBO. Who will take the Iron Throne is almost as tough a question as how a divorce court handles streaming services like HBO, Netflix, Hulu and others.

Game of Groans

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, when Aimee Custis and Kian McKellar broke up after four years, the couple divvied up their books, photography equipment and cookware.

Left undivided was their Netflix, Hulu and Pandora accounts. They didn’t discuss separating the subscriptions when one of them moved out of their shared Washington, D.C., apartment. They just continued paying their respective bills—hers, Hulu, and his, Netflix and Pandora.

Two-and-a-half years later, they still share those services. In the so-called sharing economy, even when love is no longer mutual, bills for entertainment and communication often are.

Streaming music and video services that permit multiple users, plus the proliferation of family cellphone plans in recent years that are cheaper than individual accounts, have created ties that bind long after a breakup or even divorce.

Florida Divorce and Streaming Services

I’ve written about property division before. Property division, or equitable distribution as it is called in Florida, is governed by statute and case law.

Generally, courts set apart to each spouse their non-marital assets and debts, and then distribute the marital assets and debts between the parties.

Marital assets and liabilities include, in part, assets acquired and liabilities incurred during the marriage, individually by either spouse or jointly by them.

Streaming services, such as HBO, Netflix and Hulu however are not marital assets per se. They are merely expenses, much like your cell phone plan. Cell phone plans typically require a contract for two years and you can face fees if you break your contract early.

There are not many options: break the plan and pay the fees and penalty or coming to an agreement with your spouse about who pays for what during the remainder of the contract.

No Battle for Winterfell?

Do you have to leave your Netflix and HBO access with your soon to be ex? No always. Interestingly, not everyone going through divorce and separation get dropped from the account.

Sometimes people do not realize that their password is shared and their spouse is still watching. But other times people purposefully keep their spouse or ex on the account because sentimentality intrudes.

A consultant in his 30s says he was puzzled by his parents’ decision to pay for his brother’s ex-girlfriend’s cellphone plan long after their breakup. The $30-per-month cost was minimal, they told him, and their memories of her were fond.

The Wall Street Journal article is here (subscription required).

The Engagement Ring

If the luck of the Irish holds, your engagement diamond may be yours forever. Diamonds, given to you after someone asks the question: “will you marry me?” with a “yes” to follow, are a contract. This is why so many of them end up in court property division cases.

The Engagement Ring Tradition

Until the 1930s, a woman jilted by her fiancé could sue for financial compensation for “damage” to her reputation under what was known as the “Breach of Promise to Marry” action.

As courts began to abolish such actions, diamond ring sales rose in response to a need for a symbol of financial commitment from the groom.

I’ve written about engagement rings before. Florida abolished the appropriately termed “heart balm statutes”. Heart balm statutes were laws allowing couples to sue each other to recover money for the alienation of affections and breaches of contract to marry.

As one court poetically noted:

[A] gift given by a man to a woman on condition that she embark on the sea of matrimony with him is no different from a gift based on the condition that the donee sail on any other sea. If, after receiving the provisional gift, the donee refuses to leave the harbor – if the anchor of contractual performance sticks in the sands of irresolution and procrastination – the gift must be restored to the donor. A fortiori would this be true when the donee not only refuses to sail with the donor, but, on the contrary, walks up the gangplank of another ship arm in arm with the donor’s rival?

Engagement Rings in Court

After an engagement ring is given, and if the couple doesn’t marry, in New York the law deems a broken engagement as no one’s fault. Accordingly, the ring should be given back to the giver, with few exceptions. Most states have adopted that approach.

This is true in Florida. Lawsuits to recover an engagement ring by disappointed donors usually are resolved by courts looking to see if the engagement was terminated by the donee or by mutual consent of the parties.

The rationale is that rings are given on the implied condition that a marriage ensue.

Once a marriage proposal is extended and accepted — once the promise is made — no matter what day of the year, that ring is no longer considered a gift. It’s a contract to enter into marriage.

Most states embraced the no-fault rule after the 1997 case of Heiman v. Parrish. There, the Kansas Supreme Court decided that no matter who broke the engagement, the ring should be given back to the giver if the parties don’t marry.

“Ordinarily, the ring should be returned to the donor, regardless of fault,” the court found.

But Montana hasn’t followed the rule. Montana classifies the ring as an unconditional gift. The recipient keeps it. California and Texas take a middle-of-the road approach: the recipient of the ring is expected to return it, unless the giver called off the engagement.

The general rule in Florida is that an engagement ring given before the marriage, becomes a non-marital gift if the marriage is completed. If so, the ring becomes the non-marital property of the Wife.

If the engagement ring is viewed by the court as a non-marital asset, it is not subject to equitable distribution in divorce proceedings, and the spouse keeps it as their own.

The New York Times article is here.


Friends or Spouses?

Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux announced that they are going to file for divorce after two and a half years of marriage. However, some news outlets report they can’t locate the Friends’ star’s marriage license to see if they were even married. What would happen if you find out you were not married?

Friends Like Us

Irrespective of the status of their marriage license, according to news reports, the decision to divorce appears to have been mutual:

“We are two best friends who have decided to part ways as a couple, but look forward to continuing our cherished friendship.”

According to TMZ though: “We checked marriage records in L.A. County all the way back to 2010 and there is no record of a marriage license. There’s such a thing as a confidential marriage license, but we’re told they did NOT get one in L.A. County.”

Is Your Marriage Valid in Florida?

First off, common-law marriages have been abolished in Florida since 1968. In order to be validly married, you need a license. It may seem like a mere formality, but couples who want to be married must apply for a license.

There is a fee for getting a marriage license, and that fee is reduced for attending pre-marital counseling. The license is valid for 60 days. The officiant at the ceremony must certify that the marriage was solemnized.

The certified marriage license must be returned to the clerk or an issuing judge within 10 days, and the clerk or judge is required to keep a correct record of certified marriage licenses.

I have written about Florida marriages and divorces before. Florida courts have repeatedly warned people that they cannot depart from the requirement of the Florida Statutes to have a license, otherwise the courts would be re-creating common-law marriages.

In the event you do not obtain your marriage license, you cannot divorce. This means that certain rights can be lost. For example, you could not make claims for equitable distribution, and you could not ask a court for alimony. That can be a devastating result for many couples who unknowingly, are not married.

Central Perk

The report from TMZ sounds like ridiculously bad investigative journalism. Jennifer and Justin could have gotten a marriage license in any of the 57 other counties in California, or other states and even countries, and their marriage license would be valid.

But just because TMZ claims it spoke with some “Jen sources who have had regular contact with her for years, and they say there’s been talk for a long time they might not be legally married” does not prove or disprove anything.

According to the TMZ article:

“it’s certainly possible they’re legally married, but based on what we found, it’s possible they’re not.”

The TMZ article is here.


Ben Affleck: Should You Separate or Divorce?

Jennifer Garner filed for divorce from her husband, actor Ben Affleck, almost two years ago, but has yet to officially end her marriage despite a long-term separation.

Affleck has reportedly even been staying in a spare bedroom on the family’s Los Angeles compound. A few weeks back, Us Weekly reported that the couple would keep on with their divorce despite rumors of a possible reconciliation.

The next day, though, E! News claimed that the couple has a “fluid” relationship and that “nothing has really changed” for the couple who has “been working on their relationship for the past few years” and remain in a long-term separation.

Not obtaining an official divorce decree, and having a long-term separation, seems like a good idea, but there are risks. I’ve written about the risks when people separate for years before filing for, or dissolving, their marriages.

Control Over Assets

If you are in a long-term separation, you can be totally out-of-the-loop about your financial well-being. You don’t know what your spouse is earning, spending, investing, selling or buying. In Equitable Distribution states, like Florida, you may be on the hook for some of the debts accumulating during the long-term separation.

Hiding Assets

While you may see no immediate need to legally dissolve your marriage, a long-term separation allows a spouse to plan for a divorce. And, spouses usually plan to make sure that valuable, or difficult to trace, assets are gone when the time comes to disclose your assets and liabilities.


Florida has laws governing all aspects of the divorce process, especially as they relate to children. During a long-term separation, your spouse could be transferred to another city, state, or even another country. You should know that the laws relating to divorce and interstate custody are not the same in every state.

Alimony Laws are Changing

For the last several years, the Florida Legislature has tried unsuccessfully to change our alimony laws. The Florida House and the Florida Senate have already introduced bills this year that would dramatically change alimony in Florida. During a long-term separation, alimony laws can change.

The new bills require use of factors to calculate alimony; provide presumptions concerning alimony awards based on the duration of marriages; provide for imputating income in certain circumstances; provide requirements related to taxing and deducting alimony; and prohibit courts from changing the duration of alimony award.

Meeting Someone New

While meeting someone new may make you happier and more fulfilled, it may not help your settlement negotiations. When spouses enter new relationships, they might spend your share of marital assets on their new love interest: buying gifts, going to expensive restaurants, and taking fancy vacations.

Whatever the reasons Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have had for putting off their divorce, there are pitfalls of a long separation you should be aware of.

The Vanity Fair article is here.