Written by Beverly Willett
Kraft, the purveyor of the cousin of mayonnaise, just announced a contest entitled “Not For Every Relationship.” Entrants must submit 60-second videos answering the question “How Has Miracle Whip Affected Your Relationship?” The $25,000 grand prize winner can use the proceeds for a marriage – or a divorce.
While Kraft’s challenge is presumably all in good fun, with the divorce rate between 40-50% should we joke about such things, let alone award prize money to fund divorce? Could a dispute over a sandwich spread really cause a split? Would divorce laws even permit it?
You’ve probably heard the terms irretrievable breakdown, irretrievably broken, and irreconcilable differences. Those are fancy legal names for what is better known as no-fault divorce.
Some states have attempted to define these divorce terms with more legalese; others have cloaked them in seeming further mystery by providing no definition whatsoever. Either way, it all boils down to essentially the same thing: If you want out of a marriage, it’s yours for the asking. No explanation required. You spell “potatoe,” I spell “potato.” Either party can call the whole thing off. Indeed, neither I nor any other lawyer I know is aware of any successful challenge to a no-fault divorce lawsuit.
Several months ago, I attended a continuing legal education seminar at a local bar association meeting. The topic was New York’s new no-fault divorce law. One of the panelists, a matrimonial attorney, explained that in order to obtain a divorce in New York one spouse need only assert a “subjective” belief that the marriage had broken down irretrievably for six months. The other spouse could not defend against the assertion, he said, for two reasons. First, the statute does not contain any allowable defense, and the legislative history demonstrates that the legislature so intended. Second, the very nature of a subjective statute means that it’s all in the mind of the beholder. In other words, how can you contest someone’s opinion?
As an aside, I wonder why we need lawyers or judges at all when it comes to no-fault divorce. Granted they can serve a useful function in financial and custody disputes but, as for the divorce itself, why not a simple form with a box to check? “My marriage is irretrievably broken.” Raise your right hand before the same clerk who collects your fee, say “I divorce you” once, and the deed is done. It’s not like anybody can really challenge you.
I’m not in favor of this option, obviously, but it does highlight the charade our divorce system has become.
Over the years, one justification given for no-fault divorce is the alleged institutionalized perjury rampant in the fault-based system of divorce where certain spouses fabricated charges and chose one spouse to be the fall guy. This sham of lying has been replaced with what legislators, lawyers and judges claim is an improvement – a law where basically no reason or any reason at all for the dissolution of a marriage will suffice. Where any value attributable to marriage has been completely stripped out of our laws. And that’s called progress.
He believes in global warming, and I’m with Sarah Palin. Won’t that do?
This whole toilet seat business is the final straw. Check?
My dog has just never taken to her. Affirmative?
Our fights over mayonnaise have irretrievably broken our relationship. Now that legal standards for dissolving marriages have been chucked, who’s to quibble? After all, the subjective perception of the plaintiff controls. Indeed, even pleading reasons could make things messy and confusing. The prevailing wisdom in New York – the last state to adopt no-fault — is that pleadings should merely state that the marriage has irretrievably broken down for at least six months and leave it at that.
Many people wouldn’t think of disposing of their marriages for the flimsy reasons discussed above. But what about their spouses? Twenty years down the road when boredom sets in or looks erode or other grass starts to look greener? We know that the heat of anger, too, can produce irrational behavior. So what protection do abandoned spouses and children have when a mom or dad walks out for no good reason or none at all? Right now the only protection that exists is reliance on the clear thinking and moral decency of the person we married. And with the divorce rate being what it is, we know that option hasn’t worked out too well for many.
While I think we need to take the reasons we enter into our marriages as seriously as we take the reasons for our exits, it’s certainly our prerogative to design our wish lists any way we’d like before tying the knot. Once you’ve made your free choice, however, it’s no longer all about you. The person standing next to you in the courtroom deserves consideration and so do the living, breathing by-products of your union waiting back home beside their suitcases wondering whose weekend it is.
Put aside any pre-conceived notions you may have about our current divorce system for a moment. Do you nevertheless believe there ought to be some meaningful and minimal standard for the ending of a marriage, before unlimited get out of jail free cards are handed out at random? Should the law require some pause before hasty decisions are made and render assistance to couples who have the potential to reconcile? How would you feel if you were abruptly divorced, with your property and children divided without your consent, without any legal option to object and no opportunity to try and preserve your family?