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“My wife says I never listen to her…or something like that.”

— Glenn Davis

Sometimes a divorce client of mine will tell me her husband is “not emotionally available.” I always nod my head like I understand, but to tell you the truth I have no idea what those words mean.

I know what emotion is. I know the difference between Spock and McCoy on Start Trek. Spock is a Vulcan ruled by logic with no emotions at all. McCoy is the ship doctor who is caring and compassionate. Captain Kirk embodies the best of both.

I know what it means to be available or not. But put those words together and I, like most males, am dumbfounded. We have a hard time getting our brains around the concept. I kid my wife sometimes that women should come with a translation book.

I happened to mention this at the old boy’s club, which in my case is the gym where I play racketball. All the guys there agreed they had been told they were emotionally unavailable by a woman at some point in their lives, but no one knew what it meant.

Except David. David is in sales and marketing and has taken a lot of seminars. Therefore he is wise in the ways of the world. To our surprise, David said, “Oh, I know what it means.” A hush fell over the court as we listened intently.

“Every morning when I wake up I say the same thing to my wife. I go through a litany. I have it memorized. It goes like this.”

“Oh, darling, you are so beautiful. You are the most beautiful woman in the world. I am so lucky you married me. You look so good today. I’m not sure I’m going to let you go to work. Someone might try to steal you away from me.”

I blinked. I blinked again. “That’s it? That’s all there is to it?”

“Try it,” he said. “I guarantee you will never be called emotionally unavailable again.”

We used to only have fault grounds for divorce like adultery, desertion and cruelty. Maryland and Virginia have added no fault grounds based on a period of physical separation. DC has done away with fault grounds and gone all the way to no fault grounds.

Maryland has the longest waiting period for a no fault divorce. It is one year if you both agree and two years if one of you does not agree.

Virginia is six months if there are no children and a full agreement, otherwise one year.

D.C. is six months if you both agree, and one year if one of you disagrees.

Here is a chart showing the waiting requirements in all the states. Interestingly, there is no correlation between waiting period and number of divorces. DC still has the lowest divorce rate at 1.7 per thousand people.

It all started over dinner at the Isla Del Sol yachting club in St. Petersburg, Florida, according to John Barry at TampaBay.Com. Bob Luzenberg was having dinner with his second wife. Marlene Forand was their waiter. Bob came back a few nights later without the wife, said he was soon to be divorced. He told her he was an inventor with patents. Marlene was a licensed practical nurse, but she said if he could make something, she could market it. Bob Luzenberg and Marlene Forand got married in 1984.

Their businesses together prospered, but their marriage did not. Their divorce started in 1995. They’re still fighting over the money in court. They’ve run through 10 judges and 16 lawyers and their courthouse files fill 13 volumes.

The Florida divorce judge ordered Bob to pay Marlene a lump sum of $240,000, permanent alimony of $6,000 a month, medical insurance of $500 a month, 29 percent of Bob’s interest in a company called World Drink USA, and half of Bob’s interest in seven other companies, half interest in all of Bob’s patents, and all of Marlene’s attorney’s fees.

But Bob moved to Alabama, and when Marlene finally got him to pay over $200,000 in 2003, she netted only $80,000 after attorney fees. She has now fired her attorneys and is representing herself.

As Marlene has discovered the hard way, getting a judgment is not the same as getting the cash. You become a judgment creditor and can use the tools of the court to collect your judgment like attachment of assets and garnishment of wages. But if your spouse is unemployed or without assets, he is said to be judgment proof and you can’t collect. I wish I had a nickel for every noncollectable judgment in my file cabinet.

We sometimes say the legal fees in a divorce are as much as a new car. But whether you buy a Volkswagon or a Mercedes depends on whether you and your spouse can cooperate or have to fight about who gets what.

As if that weren’t bad enough, along comes a troubled economy.

Slumping real estate prices are adding a new complication to dividing marital assets. The house is usually the largest asset in the divorce. Not so long ago, even couples in short marriages that bought a house together, could sell and divide hundreds of thousands of dollars in the affluent neighborhoods where we practice law.

Now, a sale can take months and people are delaying the sale of the marital residence for better times. Sometimes, they enter into joint ventures in their settlement agreements to own and manage the property after the divorce.

By Jill H. Breslau

Janice and Margaret were in a committed same-sex relationship for 18 years. When they decided to end it, they were unable to come to an agreement about “their” daughter, Maya.

Both had been equally involved in her care as moms. But their status as parents was far from equal in the eyes of the law. Maya had been adopted from a country which does not permit same-sex couples to adopt but does allow single women to adopt. Therefore only Janice had legally adopted Maya.

After the break-up of the couple, Margaret wanted to maintain her relationship with Maya; but Janice resisted. After a trial, the court found that Margaret was entitled to visitation as a parent in fact, if not in law, and that it would be in the best interest of the child to permit visitation.

Court of Appeals

But the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed. Under Maryland law, said the court, there is no such thing as a “de facto parent”. Margaret was just a third party seeking visitation against a legal parent who did not want it. A legal parent possesses the constitutional rights to govern the care, custody and control of his or her child. A putative de facto parent who seeks visitation rights over the objection of a legal parent is a third party, and, as is required of other third parties w ho seek visitation rights, must demonstrate exceptional circumstances as a prerequisite to a court’s consideration of the best interests of the child. The court would only grant visitation to Margaret if Janice was unfit, or if sufficient “exceptional circumstances” existed that would justify awarding visitation.

If you think that all of this could be avoided simply by having both partners adopt the child, even that is not clear. Whether same-sex couples may adopt in Maryland remains unsettled. Once again we are struck by the difference in the real world and the legal world. This decision seems to be very technically and legally reasoned. But it lacks the feelings of real world experience of children and alternative families. The opinion cites the law correctly but what about the child’s best interest in losing access to one of her moms?

The Dissent

“One thing is clear: the Maryland legislature is silent when it comes to the question of visitation with children when a non-traditional family is involved,” said the dissenting judge.

He points to Wisconsin as having a test he finds appropriate:

  1. the biological or adoptive parent must have consented to, and fostered, the petitioner’s formation of a parent-like relationship;
  2. the petitioner and the child must have lived together in the same household;
  3. the petitioner must have assumed the obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child’s care, education, and development, including contributing to the child’s support, without expectation of financial compensation (a petitioner’s contribution to a child’s support need not be monetary); and
  4. the petitioner must have been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded, dependent relationship parental in nature.

The dissent said, “A party who has demonstrated that he or she is a child’s de facto parent should be entitled to visitation rights if such a result is in the best interest of the child.”

Janice M. v. Margaret K., No. 122, Sept. Term, 2006 (Maryland Court of Appeals, May 19, 2008)

Stephanie Becker writes on MSNBC’s Allday Blog.

“For motivation I turn to my favorite skinny-me photo snapped 13 years ago. I was on the divorce diet plan. When my marriage failed, I spent the first week eating big tubs of gooey rice pudding. But once out of the comfort-food phase I just couldn’t get up the energy to chew. So I didn’t eat for three months. I lost 195 pounds of flab and 175 pounds belonged to my ex.”

The Divorce Diet really works. Who else has lost weight on it? Leave a comment.

Divorce is difficult and costly. Avoid it if possible.

Sometimes you have no choice. It takes two people to get married, but only one to get divorced. If your spouse wants a divorce, then you can slow it down, but you cannot prevent it altogether. Someone determined to get a divorce is allowed by law to get one even if one of the parties does not want a divorce. Or maybe you just made a mistake in marrying the person you did, and you need to correct it and get on with your life.

If you do have a choice in the matter, then the first question you have to ask yourself is do you really want a divorce. The answer may not be clear to you right now. The decision to stay in your marriage or leave it is a significant one. It frequently takes time, sometimes years, to make this decision. So it is alright to stay in the inquiry stage for a while. Here are some of the things you need to think about before you decide to get a divorce.

Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. Although you may not get along with your spouse, you may dislike being alone even more. Eating by yourself, watching television alone and sleeping by yourself can be difficult.

If you have been away from the singles scene for awhile during your marriage, you may find it to be an uncomfortable situation. You are older now. You may have children to deal with.

Two may be able to live as cheaply as one when they are married. But in a divorce you are trying to pay for two separate households with the same money that previously supported one. This usually means there is not enough blanket to cover the cot. Sacrifices must be made and your standard of living might go down.

Divorces involving custody fights over children are the worst of all. The stakes are the highest they can be. The children are right in the middle of conflict between their parents. Children usually bounce back from divorce with time. But that does not mean the bounce does not hurt. Children experience regret, blame, depression, anxiety, guilt and anger during a divorce. Their lives will change forever. The family is breaking up. The family home may be sold. Visitation and child support have to be established.

The decision to obtain a divorce is a difficult one. There are more decisions to make as you move through the process. Some will be hard to make. While these decisions are important, you will survive your divorce and move on with your life.

If you don’t have fault grounds for divorce in Maryland, there are two no-fault grounds — one year voluntary separation and two years involuntary separation. One defense to a complaint based on one year voluntary separation is that the separation is not voluntary. This means it will take two years to get divorced instead of one. I call this the I Love You Defense. You say that you still love your spouse and want the marriage to continue. At the same time, you let the other side know that you will relunctantly agree to a divorce within one year if the price is right. In order for this to work you must show that you have made some attempts at reconciliation.