Category Archives: Divorce

Adultery and Divorce: A Closer Look at the Impact

Onliine AffairThe media loves an ugly divorce. You rarely hear about the 95% of divorce cases that settle out of court or resolve through mediation or the collaborative divorce process. Instead, most people focus on the remaining 5% of cases that involve a full-blown court trial and possibly nasty allegations.

Based on what you’ve read or heard, you may assume adultery is the leading cause of divorce. But most divorcing spouses actually cite “irreconcilable differences,” which is just is a fancy way of saying that a couple can’t get along anymore, and there’s no reasonable chance of getting back together.

No-fault Versus Fault Divorce

“Irreconcilable differences” (also referred to as “irremediable breakdown”) is the only ground available for a “no-fault” divorce – that is, a blameless divorce, one where neither spouse claims that the other’s misconduct (such as adultery) caused the split. Not surprisingly, no-fault divorces tend to be cheaper, less contentious and less emotionally draining for the parties and their children, which probably accounts for much of their popularity.

Today, all states allow no-fault divorces or a divorce based on separation, and in several states, no-fault is the only option. Some no-fault states, such as California, go so far as to prohibit divorcing spouses from testifying or inquiring about adultery (unless a judge finds that it’s relevant to a limited issue in the case.)

See the Divorce Basics section on DivorceNet.com to learn more about the grounds for divorce in your state.

Some states still allow “fault” divorces, which are based on marital misconduct, such as adultery, addiction or abandonment. In most cases, fault doesn’t actually play much of a role in the divorce proceeding itself. But in some states, adultery may affect a judge’s decisions about alimony and/or property division, particularly where the cheating spouse wasted marital funds on an affair (for example, buying gifts or paying for vacations). In these cases, a judge can order the cheating spouse to pay more spousal support or reimburse the “innocent” one for wasted funds.

To learn more about what role adultery may play in a divorce in your state, see the Adultery and Divorce section on DivorceNet.com.

Adultery in the News

Although adultery doesn’t typically play a major role in the legal outcomes of most divorces in the U.S., it makes for flashy headlines. Consider all the media attention the website www.AshleyMadison.com has garnered lately. AshleyMadison (tagline: “Life is Short. Have an Affair.”) is a dating site for married people. The company describes itself as “the most famous name in infidelity and married dating” with over 23,010,000 members.

In The United States of Adultery, Huffington Post revealed the top cities for unfaithful spouses (based on AshleyMadison.com’s membership data). The top ten locations (with an added description of applicable grounds for divorce) are:

  1. Washington, D.C.  (No-fault only)
  2. Houston Texas (No-fault and fault grounds)
  3. Miami, Florida (No-fault only)
  4. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (No-fault and fault grounds)
  5. Los Angeles, California (No-fault only)
  6. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (No-fault and fault grounds)
  7. Phoenix, Arizona (No-fault only – unless couple entered into a covenant marriage.)
  8. New York, New York (No-fault and fault grounds)
  9. Chicago, Illinois (No-fault and fault grounds)
  10. Boston, Massachusetts (No-fault and fault grounds)

Obviously, these rankings aren’t really reliable since the information is based strictly on AshleyMadison’s membership and doesn’t capture the percentage of cheaters who find partners the “old-fashioned” ways, but Huffpo thought it was newsworthy and had no issue relying on AshleyMadison as a source.

Aside from reports about a recent alienation of affection lawsuit filed against AshleyMadison, I wasn’t able to find much negative press about the company. It’s interesting to consider what the website’s popularity among members and the media means. Have we become more accustomed to (and accepting of) adultery? Huffpo reports (from sources Gallup and USA Today) that 54% of Americans say they know someone who has an unfaithful spouse, and 37% of currently married adults say they would not get divorced if their spouse had an affair.

Does the nationwide shift to no-fault divorce also reflect today’s attitudes about adultery? Much of the shift is due to states’ desires to avoid wasting limited court resources on largely irrelevant issues, like whether one spouse cheated. But it may also reflect the fact that fewer divorcing spouses want to publicly hash out the details of what went wrong in their marriage and pay hefty attorneys’ fees proving or negating something like an affair. Whatever the reason, overall, it seems the no-fault model for divorce is proving to be the best option for those involved.

Go to www.divorcenet.com for more information on family law and divorce.

Domestic Goddess Puts the Spotlight on Domestic Violence

Nigella Lawson, a British celebrity chef and author of several bestselling books, is known to many as a “domestic goddess.” Last week, the public discovered that Lawson is also a victim of  domestic violence. Widely-circulated photos showed Lawson’s husband, Charles Saatchi, grabbing her by the throat during an argument at a London restaurant. In the pictures, Lawson looks distraught and fearful and is shown breaking down in tears. Lawson hasn’t filed charges against her husband, but it’s reported that she and her children have since left the family home.

Yesterday, Saatchi voluntarily accepted what is known as a “caution” or official warning from the London police about the incident – it’s unclear if they are going to pursue the matter any further. Publicly, however, Saatchi has denied any violence against his wife and claims that he and Lawson were involved in nothing more than a “playful tiff.” But the photos clearly document behavior that would be labeled as domestic violence here in the states.

What is Domestic Violence?

Several California family law statutes provide a good example of what typically constitutes domestic violence, and although domestic violence laws vary somewhat from state to state, they prohibit the same general categories of behavior.

In California, domestic violence is “abuse” or “threats of abuse” when the person being abused and the abuser are or have been in an intimate relationship (married or domestic partners, dating or used to date, live or lived together, have a child together, or are closely related by blood or marriage).

In California, “abuse” includes the following:

  • physically hurting (or trying to hurt) someone intentionally or recklessly
  • sexual assault
  • making someone reasonably afraid that they or someone else are about to be seriously hurt
  • harassing, stalking, threatening, or hitting someone
  • disturbing someone’s peace, or
  • destroying someone’s personal property.

It’s important to remember that physical abuse is not just hitting. Abuse can be kicking, shoving, pushing, choking, throwing things, scaring someone, or keeping someone from freely coming and going and can also include emotional, verbal or psychological abuse.

How Prevalent is Domestic Violence?

As Lawson’s situation makes clear, domestic violence crosses all social classes. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. 85% of domestic violence victims are women.

Most victims of domestic violence never report the incident(s) of abuse to the police. Sadly, if it wasn’t for the paparazzi photographer that snapped the pictures, Saatchi’s abuse of Lawson probably would have remained a secret.

How to Get Help

Unfortunately, domestic violence is a common ground for divorce, and a divorce proceeding can escalate already present domestic abuse or be the catalyst for violence. Thus, many experienced family law attorneys are familiar with local domestic violence laws. If you have questions about filing a domestic violence case against your spouse or partner, you may want to contact a family law attorney for help.

If you can’t afford an attorney, check with your local bar association, as they may provide pro bono (free) legal representation for lower-income victims of domestic violence. Most states offer domestic violence services and many counties and cities have local shelters where victims can go for help.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline website contains useful information about victim services. Click on the “Get Help in Your Area” link under the “Get Help” tab to find resources and domestic violence services in your state. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

If you or your children are in immediate danger, you should call the police and get to a safe place.

 

Rupert Murdoch Files For No-Fault Divorce

Rupert Murdoch

Today, Rupert Murdoch, the 82-year-old CEO of News Corp. and one of the wealthiest men in America, filed for a “no-fault” divorce from his third wife, Wendi Deng (44), after 14 years of marriage. The divorce papers were filed in New York State Supreme Court and cited only an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.”

Yale-educated Deng was working for News Corp. subsidiary Star TV in Hong Kong when she met Murdoch in 1997. The couple married in 1999, just a few weeks after the ink dried on his divorce from second wife, Anna Torv Murdoch. In that well-publicized divorce, Torv received a $1.7 billion settlement – believed to be the largest divorce settlement in history.

While the divorce from Deng could prove to be, well, costly, it doesn’t appear that it will necessarily get ugly based on the following.

Murdoch and Deng Appear Civil

Murdoch seems to have a soft spot for Deng. He’s given her well-deserved props for her professional accomplishments, including her work in film production and for her quick reflexes at a 2011 British parliamentary hearing on allegations of News Corp.’s phone hacking. When a protestor threw a shaving cream-flavored pie in Murdoch’s face, Deng, a former competitive volleyball player, sprang into action and gave the protestor a serious smack. The exchange, which was caught on film, went viral and was dubbed “the slap heard around the world.” Murdoch later thanked Deng for coming to his defense.

If Valid, the Prenuptial Agreement Will Control the Outcome

It’s been reported that the couple signed a prenuptial agreement before their marriage. With Murdoch’s wealth – his net worth is estimated to be roughly $11.2 billion – it would be shocking if they hadn’t.

If Deng doesn’t fight the prenup, or if she does contest it and the prenup is found to be valid, it will likely control both alimony and the division of any property. New York laws tend to favor the enforcement of premarital agreements, and Murdoch’s legal team probably wrote a reasonable, iron-clad prenup that will hold up in court.

The couple does have two daughters together though, so child support may still be an issue. Generally, couples cannot contract around child support and custody laws in a prenup. Courts don’t typically enforce prenuptial provisions that attempt to predetermine child support or custody. Instead, judges have the final say on child-related issues at the time of divorce.

Murdoch Cited Only No-Fault Grounds For the Divorce

Finally, Murdoch filed for a “no-fault” divorce, which is based on an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” for more than six months. This means that he‘s not blaming his wife for the divorce; he’s simply stating that he and Deng have grown apart to the point where the marriage isn’t salvageable.

With a no-fault divorce in New York, neither spouse needs to point the finger at the other with specific allegations of bad conduct, so there’s no need to air out any dirty laundry in court. In all likelihood, Murdoch and Deng will negotiate a private and confidential divorce settlement in a fancy New York lawyer’s office, without setting foot in a public courthouse.

To learn more about prenuptial agreements, see Prenuptial Agreements – An Overview, and Prenuptial Agreements, by Katherine Stoner and Shae Irving, J.D.

To learn more about no-fault divorce in New York, see New York Grounds for Divorce

 

Q&A: My Ex Married A Millionaire, Can I Stop Paying Alimony?

$$$Probably, but you might not be able to stop paying right away. If you and your former spouse have an agreement or court order that says alimony ends automatically when your ex remarries, you can stop paying after the wedding. If not, you’ll have to look to your state’s laws for the answer.

In some states, like Missouri, spousal support ends automatically when your ex-spouse remarries. But if you’re in a state that doesn’t follow this rule, such as Michigan or Ohio, you’ll have to continue paying support until you get a new court order that says you can stop – even if your ex marries someone with beaucoup bucks.

Before you race back to court, you might want to try and work it out with your former spouse. If your ex agrees to end support, memorialize the agreement in a writing signed by both of you. You may want to hire an attorney to draft the agreement on your behalf. An experienced family law attorney will know which legal terms need to go into the contract to make it enforceable. Next, you must take your agreement to court so a judge can turn it into an order, which puts an official end to your alimony payments.

If your ex won’t agree, you’ll have to file a motion to modify or terminate support. As long as there is no agreement or court order that prohibits you from requesting an adjustment, a court can modify alimony if there’s a “material or substantial change in circumstances.” Remarriage is typically considered a substantial change in circumstances that proves alimony isn’t necessary anymore. Although laws vary from state to state, courts generally terminate alimony when a supported ex remarries, even if the new spouse isn’t über rich.

What if your ex lives with a wealthy new partner, but they have no plans to marry? In many states, cohabitation (meaning living in a marriage-like relationship) is a material change in circumstances that justifies cutting off support. A cohabiting couple’s combined incomes and shared expenses usually reduce or eliminate the need for alimony. If you can prove your ex has shacked up with someone like Oprah Winfrey or Donald Trump (eeew), you have a good shot at getting off the alimony hook.

To learn more about spousal support in your state, including how courts set the amount, check out Divorcenet.com’s center on alimony.

 

 

Managing the Emotional Challenges of Divorce: Good Therapy Can Help

Anyone who’s been through a divorce–or been the sounding board for a friend who’s going through it–knows that there’s a lot of emotional stress involved. The word “crazy” comes up a lot–for example, in the new romantic comedy about divorce, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and the popular book Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life. It’s especially hard if the divorce is high-conflict, but even if it’s relatively peaceful, people in the midst of divorce often find themselves depressed, angry, and having trouble functioning.

Many people dealing with the emotional challenges of divorce need some support during the “crazy time,” and a good therapist can make a big difference. Finding one, though, can be a challenge–most of us don’t know much about how therapists work or what the difference is between a good and a bad therapist. One excellent resource is GoodTherapy.org, which includes basic information about different types of therapy and how the process works, as well as blog posts and resources for finding a therapist who will be a good fit. Mental Health America is another good resource for information and referrals, including resources for low-cost therapy.

In addition to individual therapy, a relatively new field called “divorce therapy” provides help for divorcing couples who are parenting together–it’s not the same as couples counseling during a marriage, which has the goal of repairing the relationship, but instead focuses on supporting parents as they learn to work together and communicate more effectively for the good of their children.

Therapy may not be for everyone, but if you think it might be for you, don’t hesitate. Divorce is hard, but help is available. I’ll do a future post on therapy for kids during and after divorce.

Divorced Madoff Victim Wants His Money Back – From His Ex

A New York attorney, Steven Simkin, settled his divorce in 2006 by dividing property and assets equally with his wife, Laura Blank. At the time, the couple had a large sum invested in Bernie Madoff’s now-infamous Ponzi scheme. Mr. Simkin opted to leave his money there; his wife preferred cash, so he took $6.6 million in cash out of the Madoff account and paid it to her. She also got one of their houses and half of the rest of their assets.

The divorce had been final for more than two years when the Madoff fund collapsed, and Mr. Simkin immediately went to his wife and asked for a do-over on the distribution of assets. She refused. He took her to court, arguing the theory of “mutual mistake.” That theory says that when both parties to a contract are laboring under the same erroneous belief–for example, that the value of an item is much greater than it actually is–the contract can be cancelled. Mr. Simkin argues that because both he and his then-wife were mistaken in their belief that they had money in the Madoff account, their settlement agreement should be voided. Ms. Blank’s rejoinder is that there was no mistake and that the money was there at the time, as evidenced by Mr. Simkins’ ability to take out $6.6 million to pay her for her share. She says the only mistake was Mr. Simkins’ belief that the account would continue to have value in the future–a mistake made by many a divorcing spouse who retains certain assets based on a belief that they’ll continue to appreciate.

Does this seem like a simple question of Mr. Simkin regretting a bad decision? Apparently the courts don’t think so–the case is now pending in New York’s highest court, after a trial court held in favor of Ms. Blank and an appellate court overturned that ruling.

My favorite part is the claim of “extreme hardship” by Mr. Simkin, who earns at least $3 million annually as a partner at the law firm that is representing him in the divorce do-over case (for free).

Check back for updates when the New York high court rules on this interesting case.

Facebook and Divorce: A Match Made Somewhere

There are more than 500 million active users of Facebook worldwide, according to the site’s own statistics page. It stands to reason, then, that Facebook would have an ever-larger role in the everyday reality of its users. And in fact, when it comes to the not so everyday reality of divorce, the social networking site appears to be increasingly relevant.
For one thing, Facebook, like a high school reunion, can be the road to infidelity. What starts as an innocent reconnection with an old flame can turn into evenings of instant messaging, and the rest is history. But Facebook’s involvement in your divorce doesn’t end there–in more and more cases, Facebook pages and status updates are being used as evidence in the courtroom. The American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers estimates that over 80% of its members have used Facebook evidence in court.

Divorce Expo Coming to a City Near You?

Anyone going through a divorce knows that it affects every aspect of your life, and that you can find yourself in need of just about every kind of resource, from legal information to where to store the stuff that doesn’t fit into your new apartment. Where can you find all of that information in one place? Entrepeneur Tom Kaufman aims to provide it at The Next Chapter Expo by offering one-stop shopping and education at the first-ever expo for divorced and divorcing spouses, in Denver on May 14, 2011. Kaufman says that he intends the event to include a long list of resources, whether you need a makeover or a tax expert. The expo will cater to both opposite-sex and same-sex spouses and will include both educational sessions and exhibitor booths. Interesting idea and we’ll be watching to see how it goes.