Decades ago, years before I was a lawyer, I met a very distant relation by the name of Anita in Santa Monica, California. Anita lived in a kind of weird “human potential” community near the beach. I think we can safely call it a cult.
But this cult had one really clever idea. Their “marriages” were done on three year renewable contracts, so no divorce proceedings were needed. I am not sure that the marriages were legal, but the real point is that the contract spared hassle and expenses for the parties. I thought then and believe now it was a brilliant idea.
While religious doctrines and governments encourage marriage, well over half of all marriages end in divorce, wounding children emotionally for life, causing financial and psychological havoc for the parties, and enabling lawyers to pay their bills.
Divorces are often vicious arguments over sex and money, and cause parties to think emotionally rather than logically. This results in simply prolonging the battle and helping the lawyers pay more bills.
The best way to get divorced is to negotiate with your spouse, work out a draft settlement agreement and try your hardest to avoid fighting over things. The less there is to fight over, the less money you’ll be spending in divorce lawyers, hopefully.
If there are issues that cannot be worked out, anything can happen, whether fair or unfair, sensible or irrational or otherwise, because judges are human, fallible, and subject to emotions and biases and can easily make mistakes.
Custody disputes in theory are supposed to be decided on only one factor. What is in the best interest of the child?
I have seen judges appoint very qualified experts, advise them on custody issues, and then totally and dangerously (for the child) completely ignore the report.
One disturbing case involved a mother who refused to read the labels on prescription bottles, deliberately exposed the child to lead paint and hassled the father over visits.
Despite an opinion otherwise by the G. A. L., this unqualified mother got custody, though a few years later she changed her mind.
The worst aftermath of a divorce is often financial. Instead of being responsible for one household, the parties are now responsible for two households, and the burden usually falls on the husband.
Men wind up living in cars, living in their parents’ basement, and frequently face a downhill spiral leading to substance abuse and other issues from the financial difficulties and frequent mother’s alienation of the children’s affections from the father, which the courts rarely act upon.
If the parties cannot agree on a division of marital property, judges have statutory guidelines (in Massachusetts G. L. Ch. 208 Section 34) to follow.
Most of the guidelines center around:
1. Which party has contributed more to the marriage?
2. How have the parties behaved during the marriage?
3. What is each spouse’s prospects for future earnings and career advancement?
4. What was the length of the marriage?
They can take into account the health, education, current occupation, age and related factors in making their decision.
Many more sophisticated parties will do things to avoid these issues in the beginning. They may hire an investigator to check the background of the prospective bridegroom or bride, to rule out a criminal or other questionable past, or to ensure the motives of the prospective spouse are not monetary.
There are, as is now well known, private investigators who will tempt a prospective spouse with a “pickup” by an attractive prospect to test the fidelity of the future (or present) bride or bridegroom.
These measures, though controversial, can help avoid a bit of heartache in the future.
Another cost saving and aggravation saving measure is the pre-nuptial agreement. This requires full disclosure of assets by each party and a carefully designed schedule of how the marital assets will be divided and alimony paid if the marriage breaks up, and the figures usually change depending on how long the marriage lasts.
While it is not exactly a romantic concept, and seems to reduce the marriage to a business deal, the reality is that when the marriage fails, money, not love, is litigated.
Do you always need a lawyer in a divorce?
The more you have at stake, and the less you can agree to, the more you need a lawyer.
Can you do it yourself?
If you cannot find a lawyer you can work with or can afford, the answer is often yes. For example, the Plymouth probate and family court has a website prompted in part by the author’s lobbying that provides a library of forms and information that helps unrepresented litigants handle divorce themselves.
In any event, if you are planning either a marriage or a divorce, do your research. You can save enormous amounts of money, time and aggravation with advance planning.
Attorney David Grossack has been litigating in divorce court for over 30 years. In 1999, he received national recognition including being named lawyer of the year by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly for suing the judges of Massachusetts for discrimination against men. His videos “Grossack on divorce” appear free on youtube.com.
Attorney Grossack sees clients in Newton and Hull. Call him at 617-965-9300 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.