Megan McArdle has some thoughts on the role of changing divorce law among a broader shift of social mores and expectations on marriage, cohabitation, and childbearing in and out of wedlock.
Note, however, that reformers might take an interest in reconsidering the no-fault revolution from many motives other than a simple wish to discourage the rate of divorce across the board. (Contrary to some imaginings, critics of no-fault are a diverse crew, including social scientists, economists, lawyers and judges writing from secular, liberal, and classical-liberal as well as religious-conservative standpoints.) Some see no-fault as deficient in fairness in deciding between the claims of offending and innocent spouses. Some worry that it results in a first-mover advantage in favor of whichever spouse initiates the unraveling of a marriage (by removing assets, for example) and that such an advantage might have destructive effects if not corrected for in some way. And while (as McArdle argues) an expectation of marriage as being a hassle to leave might discourage entry into the institution, it is also possible that an expectation of it as being easily dissolved and lacking in real security might discourage entry by other persons.
“No-fault,” incidentally, may not be the most accurate term for the new system (“unilateral” would be more precise, sometimes combined with “relatively speedy”). While fault as such in contested cases may be kicked out the front door, it very often comes back in through the window in the form of arguments about parental fitness, appropriate asset division and other issues that are still open for argument in court.
“A British woman attempted to sue her former lawyers for professional negligence, claiming that, alongside a number of other allegations, they failed to advise that finalizing divorce proceedings would inevitably cause her marriage to end.” [Independent, U.K.]
“The new law, which went into effect March 1, 2012, was hailed as the most dramatic reform in family law in decades and as a model nationwide, with alimony based on need. Unanimously approved by the Massachusetts Legislature, it curbs lifetime payments and sets specific time limits on alimony for marriages of 20 years or less.” So is it working? Bizarre cases and seemingly unreasonable spousal burdens persist: “the law, while a clear improvement, hasn’t been the hoped-for panacea.” [Bella English, Boston Globe]
Modern-day debtors’ prison, or a problem of his own making? “Those behind the state’s alimony reform movement say it should be easier for individuals to show that they can’t afford to pay court-ordered alimony and harder to jail a former spouse for failing to do so.” [ABA Journal]
A Cincinnati couple has gone through 17 years of contentious litigation. “Their divorce case file had more than 1,400 entries in it. Many had to do with a back-and-forth custody dispute over their children, now ages 17 and 20.” Both husband and wife are law professors. [Cincinnati Enquirer via Daily Mail]
Growing out of the press-hacking scandal that has stirred so much outrage: “one of the key hackers mentioned in the report has admitted that 80 per cent of his client list was taken up by law firms, wealthy individuals and insurance firms while only 20 per cent of clients were from the media. … the most common industry employing criminal private detectives is understood to be law firms, including some of those involved in high-end matrimonial proceedings and litigators investigating fraud on behalf of private clients.” [Independent]
At the Tampa Bay Times, Leonora LaPeter Anton relates the gruesome details of one high-conflict, protracted divorce — not a celebrity or a very-high-net-worth case, just a couple with some resources that can’t stop wrangling in court. The system may be labeled “no-fault,” but no one would imagine from this case that it lives up to that billing.
Michigan: “Lawyer Offers Free Valentine’s Day Divorce” [Newser, Walter Bentley site, Legal News]
“California Divorce Lawyer Is Charged in Plot to Bug Cars of Her Clients’ Spouses” [ABA Journal] “The indictment doesn’t mention allegations that have surfaced in civil suits claiming the spouses of Nolan’s clients were set up for drunken driving arrests by the private eye, Christopher Butler, the Contra Costa Times says.”
Does same-sex marriage have any effect on wider social measures of family intactness? As the institution becomes more familiar — yesterday the GOP-run New Hampshire legislature declined 116-211 to repeal that state’s law — experience continues to suggest that there isn’t really a measurable effect: U.S. states such as Massachusetts and Iowa that recognize same-sex marriage boast some of the nation’s lowest rates of divorce and unwed childbearing, but that was also true before their law changed. I explain in a new post at Cato geared toward the current debate in Maryland.
…break and enter into the house of your client’s husband to retrieve her possessions [Albuquerque lawyer Raymond Van Arnam, fined, sentenced to weekend jail time and ordered to pay restitution, but not deprived of his law license, on charges of misdemeanor criminal trespass and misdemeanor larceny; Above the Law]
Brian Sullivan in the ABA Journal recounts the Northern California saga (earlier) of fake winery events, honeytrap Match.com paramours and other ploys by which detectives hired by angry spouses would try to entrap hubbies into DUI arrests, with police connivance.
Because the best way to show that it’s Not About the Money is to ask for $200 million [TMZ]