Although “alimony” is still commonly perceived to be a man’s burden, more and more women are providing financial support to their exes during or after a divorce. A recent survey of the members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers indicates that 47% of American divorce lawyers have seen an increase in the number of women ordered to pay alimony to their husbands. 56% of those lawyers have also seen a greater number of woman who pay child support.

The reason for the uptick? The greater economic and career opportunities available to women. As more women become the higher earners in their families, more women end up bearing the greater financial burdens of a divorce.  And, they’re not any happier about their new-found financial obligations than men are.  “We see women who are every bit as angry as their male counterparts, maybe more so, when they are confronted with the concept of paying spousal support to a man,” says Alton Abramowitz, president-elect of the AAML.

As women continue to make strides in the professional world, we can expect to continue to see an increase in the number of women who out-earn their male counterparts. As that trend continues, we can also expect see more women paying child support and alimony.

Curious about how courts in Washington approach spousal support? Check out our previous articles which discuss the law of “maintenance” in Washington, here and here.

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For the last ten years, artist Mercedes Gertz has been turning painful artifacts – wedding photos from doomed marriages – into stunning works of art.  Using a scanner, Gertz and her collaborator, Nancy Louise Jones, transform unwanted bridal portraits into mandalas – circular diagrams that originated in Hindu and Buddhist spiritual artworks. Karl Jung once deemed  mandalas “a representation of the unconscious self.”

Gertz herself was divorced 11 years ago, but could not bring herself to discard the photos of her wedding. In talking with friends who were also divorced, Gertz discovered that she was not alone.  As Gertz puts it:

None of us ever had the guts to get rid of our wedding pictures. We were raised to see our wedding day as the most important day of our lives—to fantasize that for one day we were princesses chosen by a wonderful prince, and that we would live happily ever after.

In addition to finding solace in her friends, Gertz also began studying Jung, and his philosophies helped her change her perspective on the end of her marriage.  They also inspired her to create the mandalas.  Gertz began to collect her friends’ unwanted photos, and with Jones, constructed the mandalas by cutting the bride, or part of her dress, out of the photos, and then arranging the images in circular patterns.

The results are beautiful and occasionally disconcerting.

Says Gertz of her project:

My intention is to create a space where [the bride] can exist with out the need for a groom or someone outside of themselves for completion. In this way they embody both the archetype and its consequences. Marriage and divorce are seen in the light of false expectations. Art has that power of deconstructing and constructing an idea by giving it a body and a shape.

Like the “Museum of Broken Relationships“, which I wrote about in February, Gertz’s mission is aimed at transforming the singular pain of a marriage’s end into something both collective and transformative, not only for the subject but also for the observer. Check out more of Gertz’s work on her personal website, and one the Frank Pictures Gallery site.

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Unlike in the U.S., where “no fault” divorces are now standard in every state, family courts in England still require a finding of spousal misconduct before a divorce will be granted.  Along with adultery or abandonment, an aggrieved spouse may cite “unreasonable behavior” as the grounds for divorce.  According to some lawyers there, this often means that divorcing parties have to exaggerate the daily annoyances of marriage in order to meet the requirement.

An article published in the New York Times last week highlights some of the more ridiculous accusations made in English divorce cases.  They run the gamut from failing to share the remote control to insisting that a pet tarantula sleep in the marital bedroom.

Vanessa Lloyd Platt, an English family law attorney interviewed by the Times, calls the phenomenon “insane” and argues that such accusations should have no place in divorce litigation. She recalls the difficulty she had maintaining a straight face while championing her client’s complaint that her husband wore her clothes and was “stretching out all of her best outfits.”

Ms. Lloyd Platt is not alone in her criticisms. The Times notes that an English family law judge recently argued that there is “no need” for the requirement, which represents “the social values of a bygone age.”  Naturally, the judge’s critique was set forth in a ruling on a divorce in which the husband alleged that the wife repeatedly threw away the husband’s cold cuts (the wife countered said allegation by citing the husband’s failure to appreciate her disdain for “intensely farmed meats”).  Ms. Platt, and other prominent family law attorneys and judges, are now campaigning for reform.

The government considered changing the law back in 1996, but dropped reform efforts due to concerns that a “no fault” standard would make divorce too easy.  One advocate for change says these concerns are misplaced, as a “no fault” system simply takes some of the vitriol out of divorce litigation.  However, a government spokeswoman informed the Times that there are currently no plans to reform English divorce laws.

Ellanora Fulk of Tacoma, Washington was browsing her ‘suggested friends’ on Facebook when she came across one suggestion that struck her as odd.  She clicked on Terri Wyatt O’Neill’s page, and began perusing her photos – only to discover a photo of Ms. O’Neill and someone Ms. Fulk knew very well indeed: her estranged husband, Alan Fulk.

And this was no ordinary photo; Mr. Fulk and Ms. O’Neill are pictured sipping champagne and standing next to a wedding cake.

Although the Fulks had been separated and estranged for several years, they were never officially divorced.  This technically makes Fulk (who’d changed his name to ‘Alan O’Neill’) a bigamist, and he was charged accordingly.  He faces up to one year in jail.

Source: Mashable.

March is the Most Popular Month for Divorce

At least according to, the popular online legal information site, which reports that searches for terms like “divorce” and “child custody,” are at their highest in the third month of the year.  Researchers for Findlaw also analyzed divorce cases commenced between 2008 and 2011 in courts across the nation.  They discovered that new divorce filings begin to increase in January of a given year, with the peak occurring in March.

The news release has prompted quite a bit of press, with a number of commentators speculating on why exactly March is the most popular month for divorce.  The consensus seems to be that a mixture of emotional and practical factors prompt unhappy marrieds to wait until March to file for divorce, such as the desire to stay together through the holidays for the sake of children or the tax benefits available to a married couple at the end of the year.

In addition, factors such as the financial and personal stresses of the recent holidays,  higher rates of infidelity during the holiday months, or just the simple New Year’s realization that one cannot spend yet another year in an unhappy marriage, may also explain the high number of new divorce filings in March.

So, for better or for worse,  it appears that we can now add “filing for divorce” to the list of March milestones like March Madness, St. Patrick’s Day, and the First Day of Spring. Makes you wonder whether March is giving April some competition for “cruelest month.”

See more commentary on this subject here and here.

Cynthia Shackelford suspected something was up with her husband when his late nights at the office became more frequent and charges at fancy restaurants started appearing on his credit card bill.  So, she hired a private investigator, who confirmed her heart wrenching suspicions: her husband of 33 years was having an affair with a woman named Anne Lundquist.

Shackelford and her husband, Allan, have separated and are now in the process of divorcing.  But Shackelford wanted more than a divorce from her cheating husband – she wanted to send a message to would-be adulterers: “you don’t go after married men and break up families.”

So, under a centuries-old common law doctrine known as “alienation of affection,” Shackelford sued Lundquist for intentionally seducing her husband and ending her marriage.  And, last week a jury ordered Lundquist to pay $9 million in compensatory and punitive damages.  In an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America, Shackelford said she was shocked at the amount of the jury’s award.  Lundquist (who did not appear at the trial and says she will appeal) called the verdict “hysterical.”

Like the common law action for breach of a promise to marry, the alienation of affection doctrine dates back to the era when marriage was viewed as a property transaction, with the wife herself considered the property of the husband.  Thus, if another man swooped in and “stole” the wife by seduction, the aggrieved husband had a right to compensation.  In modern times, states that still recognize the doctrine allow either spouse to sue.

The vast majority of U.S. states have abolished the doctrine – including Washington State, which did away with it by way of a 1980 Supreme Court decision in the case of Wyman v. WallaceIn that opinion, the court endorsed the appellate court’s decision to bar a man from suing the man who had an affair with his wife.

In the Wyman opinion, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals’ five stated reasons for eliminating the doctrine, which were that:

(1) The underlying assumption of preserving marital harmony is erroneous; (2) The judicial process is not sufficiently capable of policing the often vicious out-of-court settlements; (3) The opportunity for blackmail is great since the mere bringing of an action could ruin a defendant’s reputation; (4) There are no helpful standards for assessing damages; and (5) The successful plaintiff succeeds in compelling what appears to be a forced sale of the spouse’s affections.

In short, Washington courts now see such an action as promoting an outdated and unrealistic view of marriage, while also being a potential weapon for abuse of the legal process.

Only seven states continue to recognize the alienation of affection doctrine: in addition to North Carolina, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah all permit a wronged spouse to sue their personal home-wrecker.

Source: ABC News.

Think Before You Text…

Or email, or update your Facebook status, or tweet – because the use of evidence from smart phones and social networking sites in family law matters is on the rise.  The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a prestigious national association of family law attorneys, released the results of a survey which indicates that 92% of the AAML’s members have seen an increase in the use of evidence from iPhones, Droids, and other smart phones in family law matters in the last three years.  Overall, 94% of AAML members said that they have seen an increase in the use of text messages in particular.

In an interview with Reuters, Ken Altshuler, president of the AMML, notes that the immediacy of text messaging causes some people to fire off angry messages to their ex without thinking about the possible consequences.  As a result,  “spontaneous venting” via text message can be useful evidence of  a family law litigant’s “thoughts, intentions, and actions.” And, because text messages aren’t as easy to reproduce as an email or other written communication, many people wrongly assume that their ex won’t be able to present a nasty text to the court later.

According to the AAML’ s members, other popular types of smart phone evidence and internet include e-mails, internet search histories, and Facebook pages.

Evidence from smart phones and social networking sites is most definitely becoming a popular tool in family law cases – and not without controversy.  Back in November, I wrote about a Connecticut case in which estranged spouses were ordered to swap their respective Facebook passwords so that their attorneys could search for evidence relevant to a nasty custody dispute. There’s a story in the news this week about an Ohio man who was found in contempt of court and ordered to post an apology to his wife on his Facebook page after he wrote a long rant about his contentious divorce on the site.

While some of these cases do raise credible concerns about privacy and free speech rights, the average family law litigant should still heed their inherent warning: be careful what you say on the internet, and in texts and emails, if you’re involved in a litigation with your ex.  Today’s technology makes it all too easy for a slip of the electronic tongue to come back to haunt you.

Stories via Yahoo! News, the AAML, and WBTV.

Systemic Bias or Selective Fact Finding?

Last week the Seattle Weekly ran a cover story detailing a supposed “systemic bias” against men in King County’s family court system.

In a rebuttal article – currently posted on Slog, the blog for Seattle’s other weekly, The Stranger – Rao & Pierce managing partner Christopher Rao takes issue with the article’s conclusions, arguing that decisions in family court are not based on gender stereotypes, but rather:

The truth is that wining in Family Court depends mainly on avoiding dubious he-said, she-said hysteria, and instead presenting a reasonable proposal to the court, backed by solid evidence from reliable sources.

You can read the entire article here.

According to the Telegraph, a ninety-nine year old Italian man has set a new record: world’s oldest divorce petitioner.  The man, identified only as “Antonio C.”, discovered letters indicating that his ninety-six year old wife “Rosa C.” had carried on an affair during the 1940s.  The devastated man confronted his wife, who admitted that she had indeed been unfaithful some 70-odd years ago. Antonio has since filed for divorce.

The couple, who briefly separated approximately ten years ago, have five children, twelve grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.  Antonio now has the distinction of being the world’s oldest known divorce petitioner, surpassing a 98 year old couple who divorced in England in 2009.


…a very public divorce plea.

An as yet unidentified individual in Reading, England has chosen a very public medium for her one-item Christmas list.  Says the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper:

With just 12 days to go until Christmas ‘Jude’ decided to spread her own festive message by stringing up a banner alongside the M4 motorway proclaiming: ‘For Xmas Dan, Jude wants a divorce.’

Thousands of motorists blinked in amazement as they passed the huge white bedsheet, daubed with black and red paint, on the busy B-road on the outskirts of Reading, Berks.

Here’s hoping that “Dan” hasn’t already done his Christmas shopping… because this year’s gift may be a bit more expensive than he expected.

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