There is a large demographic getting a lot of air time right now—those over 50 who are choosing to get divorced. Oftentimes, these couples have been married for many years, and now their youngest is about to go to college or move out of the house. Many of the couples in these “gray divorces” have successful and flourishing adult children, who escaped being in the midst of a contentious divorce or custody battle while they were growing up, only to find themselves in the middle of their parent’s divorce now.
There is often a misconception that many divorcing parties want to milk their spouse dry, leaving them to be a homeless bum in a cardboard box on the street. The overwhelming majority of divorcing parties that I’ve encountered do not fall into this category; many are scared and just want to know that, at the end of the day, they’ll get what they need. For those who DO want to milk their spouse dry, the law may not be in their favor.
“Home is where the heart is” is a lovely, flowery, figurative expression that surely makes sense and resonates. However, on a very fundamental level, home is made of bricks and mortar. It is the basic foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where we can cohabitate and be physically protected from the external elements. Nearly all emphasize strong family connections, and many exhibit multi-generational homes with pooled resources and shared responsibilities, spanning two to three living generations under one roof or within close proximity.
In New York, there are enclaves of different traditional communities, including a strong Indian, Jewish, Muslim, Chinese and other Asian presence. There is also an amalgam of different religions, as people often have some sort of religious outline to their traditional backgrounds. Family law attorneys and mediators must be sensitive in their approach when handling divorce for those with specific cultural or religious guidelines. During the initial intake stages, it is important to check the client’s temperature to learn their tolerance level.
“Till death do us part” may more aptly be phrased “I will follow you into the grave!” I’ve had a number of clients come to me that live in loveless, self-absorbed, and contentious marriages but manage to exist, having developed a certain understanding of their relationship, such as living in separate bedrooms. Many of these people feel contempt, anger, or apathy towards their spouse. For example, their spouse may be extremely stingy; wastefully dissipate money on addictions; abusive, or duplicitous and cheating on or stealing from them.
The agreement is finally signed. The ink is drying. The divorcing parties want to let out a big sigh that it’s finally over. But is it?
Last month, I wrote that there is no such thing as a gentleman’s agreement, but what about when you have a signed and duly acknowledged agreement?
Good lawyering is, among other things, the art of utilizing words in the most poignant and effective manner. Words, sentences, and terms are carefully calibrated; their misuse can have a deleterious effect. Every word present can count. Every word missing can count. Details matter!
Often when couples first begin talking about divorce, they come up with their own agreement: “I’ll take this, and you’ll take that…I’ll be responsible for this, and you’ll be responsible for that.” Sometimes, they recruit a mutual friend to play makeshift mediator, and then somewhat live under the terms of the agreement they contrive. However, this agreement is unenforceable, as it is usually either a gentleman’s agreement or one written, but not signed, notarized, and acknowledged in the manner required by the courts to deem an agreement enforceable.
I wrote an article for the New York Women’s Bar Association. Clients and colleagues may find parts of it, which I have parsed out, useful, as it highlights trends relating to relocation issues in divorce.
The judge who gave the discourse classified the recent trends and broke them down into primary factors and driving forces in the decisions rendered. It appears that Manhattan and the Bronx (both within the First Department of NYS Court jurisdiction) give heavy weight to the following factors:
Quite often during a divorce when the wife wants sole custody of the children, she will go so far as to completely mitigate what the father does. Sometimes, women who exert this behavior are stuck in their situation—mired in bitterness and the feeling that somehow they’ve been wronged. To her, the husband does nothing. When I ask more detailed questions and parse out the facts, I’ll find out that he does things like make the kids’ breakfast every morning and take them to school. That’s not called doing nothing!
Each time my clients fill out a client intake form, they are asked what their bottom line is and what they are willing to negotiate on. Typically, in the beginning, the client wants everything but the kitchen sink. Over time, however, the way that bottom line ends up morphing is astounding, especially as the urgency to get relief from the situation envelopes the client.