by Jill H. Breslau

Separation and divorce are among the most stressful life transitions, and self care becomes crucial if you are going to handle the transition with clear focus and good judgment.

I encourage my divorce clients to take care of themselves.  Not just in the casual, “Okay, take care, bye” sense of it, but seriously.  So when a client says, “I’m in therapy,” or “I signed up for a membership at the gym,” I am delighted.  It is so helpful to have a safe place to talk and vent your feelings, and, of course, we know the importance of exercise, not only in promoting physical health but in generating those invaluable feelings of well-being.

As you might predict, I don’t always take my own advice.  But this year, I am.  I am headed out of town on a yoga retreat, which I hope will give me increased flexibility in all dimensions, mental as well as physical.  I want more creativity, more nimbleness of mind in coming up with potential win-win solutions.  I want more compassion when my clients and their spouses get into stuck places during divorce, and more patience with lawyers who only see divorce as a war, not as an opportunity to solve problems and build a different, but still respectful, relationship.

Mr. and Mrs. Courson were married for less than a year when Mrs. Courson decided to leave him.  But after talking to her father-in-law, who was a marriage counselor, she had a change of heart.  The father-in-law told the husband that the wife wanted to reconcile but the husband flatly refused.  A child was born during the separation but the husband showed no interest in either the child or the wife.

He filed for divorce on grounds of desertion and she countersued for desertion.  The husband then hired a private detective to follow the wife for $25 a week.  The detective was able to surprise the wife and a male companion in a parked car in a wooden area near Loch Raven Dam in the early hours of the morning.  The trial court granted the husband an absolute divorce based on adultery.

The wife appealed and the Maryland Court of Appeals asked what effect was to be given to the fact that the husband had abandoned the wife, and therefore the husband was guilty of an offense which the statute says is a cause for divorce by the wife?

“Recrimination”, the Court of Appeals said, “is generally defined as a rule or doctrine which precludes one spouse from obtaining a divorce from the other, where the spouse seeking a divorce has himself or herself been guilty of conduct which would entitle the opposite spouse to a divorce.”  Based on the wife’s defense of recrimination, the Court reversed the trial judge and vacated the divorce.  Courson v. Courson, 208 Md. 171; 117 A.2d 850 (1955).

Postlogue:  In 1983, the Legislature decreed that recrimination no longer be a bar to divorce at Family Law Section 7-103(b), and it has no application in no-fault divorces.  But it still may be a factor to be considered by the court in cases involving adultery.

Every once in a while, I get to use the word pettifogger in a letter. A pettifogger is someone who likes to bicker or quibble over trifles or unimportant matters.

I was responding to one of those lawyers who is dead right on the law, but dead wrong on being sensible.  In the middle of mediation his client has taken a small and unnecessary action that is permitted by law, but which will torpedo the good faith environment required for successful conflict resolution.

Now I am looking for a chance to use flibbertigibbet, which means a chattering or flighty, light headed person or gossip.