Tag Archive for: Divorce

by Michael F. Callahan

We practice family law mostly in the Washington, DC commuting area, which includes DC Superior Court and the County Circuit Courts of the nearby Maryland and Virginia suburbs.  Divorce jurisdiction depends on a party’s residence at the time the court case is filed.  And divorce usually involves at least one party moving from the marital residence (more about that later).   So often there are at least two choices for filing the case even without any planning regarding where to file.

You may have read or heard that the basic law of divorce — grounds, property distribution, spousal support, child custody and child support — is similar in each of the three local jurisdictions.  Why then think about shopping around for a divorce court?

There are clear differences between the jurisdictions in certain aspects of the law.  Because of one of these clear differences, the most important issues in your case might be decided differently in each of the three jurisdictions.  It might be decided much differently (and better for you) in say, Virginia, than it would be in Maryland or the District of Columbia.  Armed with this knowledge before you move, since you’re moving anyway, maybe you’d decide to move to an apartment in Arlington for a while instead of one in Bethesda.

Next time, I’ll discuss how and when to pick the court for your divorce and how to put your choice into action.  In coming weeks, we’ll discuss the various differences in the laws that can result in big differences in the outcome of a particular case.

It looks like Larry King is heading toward his 8th divorce (with 7 wives — he married the last one twice).

Who had more wives, Larry King or King Henry the Eighth?

Larry King.

King Henry the Eighth had six wives whose fate is memorialized in this rhyme:

DIVORCED, BEHEADED, DIED

DIVORCED, BEHEADED, SURVIVED.

Jacqueline Getty married Gordon Peter Getty Jr., heir to the Getty fortune, in 2000.  TMZ reports that she has filed for divorce in Los Angelas seeking $539,201 per month in alimony to maintain the lifestyle she had while married, which included, among other things:

— $300,000 to $500,000 per year for clothing
— $50,000 for Halloween parties
— expensive jewelry including 5 carat diamond earrings
— $40,000 for birthday parties
— trips to the private Getty compound in Hawaii 3-4 times a year
— trips on the Getty private jet (Boeing 737)
— a one million dollar bed

As for Gordon’s ability to pay, Jacqueline says he would go on several trips a year without a suitcase and buy a whole new wardrobe when he arrived.

Substance

When clients talk to me about divorce, their focus is usually on the substance, that is, the decisions that have to be made on issues like legal and physical custody of their children, child support, alimony, and how to divide their property.  It is, of course, critically important to make thoughtful and reasonable decisions on these topics.  If both parties can make them together, a judge won’t have to make them instead.  But what is the process for making these reasonable and thoughtful decisions?

Processes

  • Litigation. If you go to a lawyer, the idea may naturally be that you will litigate your divorce.  This means filing a complaint in court, going through all the procedures for discovery to find out what your spouse earns, spends, owns, and owes, and finally providing all that information to a judge, who makes the decisions.  However, there are other processes that people don’t always consider.
  • Mediation. Mediation is a process in which both parties sit down with a neutral mediator who facilitates their discussion.  If they reach an agreement, the mediator may draft an agreement for them, or they may ask one lawyer to draft the agreement and one to review it.  Then their agreement forms the basic guidelines that they will be governed by post-divorce.
  • Collaborative Law. Another process is collaborative law, in which both parties have lawyers and everyone agrees to engage in problem-solving, rather than in litigation.  They may also choose to have a financial neutral, who helps figure out the best financial options for the family, or psychologists who act as coaches to help them manage their emotions during a trying time, or a child specialist to assist them in making decisions for their children.

Values

These three processes, litigation, mediation, and collaboration, are all accepted by the legal system.  How do you choose?  Well, your choice will depend on several factors.  Your spouse’s willingness to engage in mediation or collaboration is fundamental, so if your spouse is determined to litigate, you can’t force another process.  Your finances may impact your decision.  But one element that influences your decision, often without being explicitly stated, is your own value system.  Are you naturally a fighter, and do you believe that divorce is a battle to be won?  Are you naturally a peacemaker, and do you believe in the possibility of cooperation and healing?  And if you are a little bit of both, what process will best help you build a foundation for your future?  Thinking about your values and hopes is important in divorce.  You can’t control how your spouse feels, but you can stay aware of the values that drive your own decisions and try to have a divorce that is consistent with who you are.

I couldn’t make up a better story than this news report at the Times of India.  Kevin Halstead, a 50 year old British bus driver, had a divorce that dragged on for two years.  When it was finally settled, he went out and got drunk with a group of his friends.

The next day, he decided he would use his last quid (about a buck fifty) to buy a lottery ticket.   On Sunday when he got up, he checked the morning paper and, you guessed it, he won.  His prize was 1.15 million pounds (that’s $1,773,990).

His wife Helen took the news well.  “We’ve been separated a long time. We are the best of friends. In fact, we get on better now than when we were married,” she said.  “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke. I wish him all the luck in the world – he deserves it.”

A few years ago one of our lawyers described our typical divorce case like this.  A couple marries, buys a house, divorces three years later, sells the house and each spouse walks away with $50,000.  If they weren’t married, they would be happy with this partnership and call it successful, instead of hating each other.

But in this market, housing prices have plummeted to values sometimes below the balance due on the mortgage.  Divorce negotiations have turned from how to split up the sales proceeds to who gets stuck with the house.

Even when one spouse agrees to take over the underwater house and the mortgage payments, the other spouse may have to keep their name on the mortgage which may make it difficult to buy another house.

On the way to work I listen to the Sports Junkies on the radio.  They reported this morning that Redskins Owner Dan Snyder had paid $600,000 for two alligator desks and two chairs.

I tried to contrast this with a television interview I saw last night with author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer.  Dyer says he has made the shift away from away from acquiring things.  He has stopped listening to his ego.  He gives away all the money he makes as a speaker because he doesn’t need it.  He has left his ambitiousness behind in pursuit of spiritual tranquility. Ironically, he said, he makes more money now than ever.

Dyer asked a question that made me think about my divorce clients struggling to divide income and assets through negotiation and litigation.  If I had two magic wands and one could give you whatever material possession you wanted and the other could give you peace of mind no matter what happens to you, which one would you choose?

by Jill H. Breslau

I never imagined that I’d be suggesting that a retreat is like a divorce, but it is, in more than one way.  It is a time when ordinary life, life as you know it, is suspended for a while, as you make decisions about how you would like things to be in the future.

The decisions you eventually make are not necessarily the same decisions you would make on Day 1.  I began my retreat, for example thinking about what was not working in my life and determined to root out whatever character flaws perpetuated my problems.  By the end of the retreat, my focus had shifted from pinning down my failures to owning my strengths—a welcome transformation.

If I had made a decision for my future based on my thoughts at the end of Day 1, I would have felt fearful, self-blaming, and full of disappointment.  In giving myself time to engage in the retreat process—not unlike a divorce process—I emerged in a clearer, more confident mood.

Yes, there are some decisions you have to make right now.  And there are emergency situations in which delay is not appropriate.  But generally, it helps if you can maintain the status quo to the greatest extent possible and give yourself time for the big decisions.  Then, as the process unfolds, you can move forward into your future, making choices with more clarity and confidence.