A judge in a Connecticut divorce case has ordered a feuding husband and wife to provide the passwords to their individual Facebook accounts to each others’ attorney.  The couple is engaged in a child custody battle, and according to the husband’s attorney, the wife’s Facebook account may contain messages or other information that reflect poorly on her parenting. The wife initially disclosed her password in a deposition; however, immediately afterward, she instructed a friend to change it.  The husband then sought an injunction which would order the wife not to change her Facebook account in any way.

The judge ruled in the husband’s favor, although he did order a mutual exchange of password information for both parties’ Facebook accounts, as well as online dating accounts.

It’s well known that Facebook has become a popular evidence gathering tool in all types of litigation.  That evidence, however, is usually gathered by viewing a party’s Facebook page online through an account set up either by the lawyer or the client – not by gaining access to the account itself.  Some critics of the ruling consider it to be an intrusion on an individual’s privacy, given the fact that it allows both parties unfettered access to, perhaps, years of social networking information.

Courts have had a difficult time bending old discovery and evidence rules around the ever-changing advances in technology since the internet age began.  Social networking as an evidence gathering tool presents yet another complex and still relatively unknown issue for attorneys, parties, and courts in the discovery process.  Rulings such as this one are likely to be appealed, and hopefully, with time, courts will be able to develop a more uniform set of rules regarding access to and the use of information gathered through websites like Facebook.

However, as a matter of common sense, one should always use caution when using Facebook or any other social networking site – especially when involved in a contentious divorce.

Story via Forbes.com.

Legislators in Mexico City have come up with a unique solution to help citizens avoid the “torturous process of divorce” (as one assemblyman put it): marriage licenses that could expire in a minimum of two years, depending on the preferences of the bride and groom.  This would, according to the drafters of the legislation, allow couples to simply decline to renew their marriage contract if the connubial bliss has faded.

While a limited-term marriage license might help some couples avoid divorce litigation, it seems unlikely that the process of breaking up would be any simpler for couples with children or assets/debts that need to be divided – especially given the fact that in many divorces, ending the marriage is the only thing that warring couples agree on.

Story via ABC News.

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released Marital Events of Americans: 2009, which takes a look at marriage, divorce and widowhood in all 50 states.  According to the report, the average rate of divorce across the U.S. is 9.2 per 1000 men aged15 and over, and 9.7 per 1000 woman aged 15 and over.  The report reveals that Southern states have the highest rates of divorce for both men and women, while Northeastern states have the lowest.  New Jersey has the lowest rates of divorce in the nation for both men and woman, at 6.1% and 6% respectively.

The states with the highest rates of divorce?  For men, Oklahoma has the highest rate of divorce at 12.8%, followed closely by Alabama at 12.7%, and Alaska at 12.5%.  For women, Alaska boasts a whopping 16.2% divorce rate.  Oklahoma comes in second at 14.1%, followed by – you guessed it – Alabama at 13.9%.

So how did our state fare?  Slightly above average, with a 10% rate for men and a 10.6% rate for women.  Idaho’s divorce rates are relatively low, at 7.7% for men, and 9.7% for women.  Oregon’s rates aren’t much different than ours at 10.4% for men, and 11.4% for women.

Check out these charts for an overview of divorce rates for men and woman across the U.S.

Story via NJ.com.

A Colorado man was recently convicted on burglary and criminal mischief charges after subjecting his now-ex-wife to a campaign of harassment that included stuffing raw chicken into the air vents of her house, and pouring bleach on her piano.  Ronald Smith apparently began harassing his wife when she filed for divorce in 2009, and continued for at least a year.  Probably due to the fraternity prank-like nature of some of his acts, this story is being reported by some news outlets as “weird news” involving a “bitter” or “kooky” ex.

However, Smith’s bad deeds, in addition to destruction of property, include posting a note on his ex-wife’s back door which claimed that she was dead; peering into the windows of her home while she sleeping; and sending her text messages in which he threatened to ruin her life.  It’s safe to assume that for Smith’s ex-wife, her “bitter” ex-husband’s harassment was nothing less than terrifying.

According to one report, Smith faces up to 18 years in jail.  Here’s hoping that whatever his sentence is, his ex-wife will be able to begin living her life free from the threats and harassment that followed her decision to divorce.

Story via Huffington Post, New York Daily News, and WABC-TV.


Getting divorced is never easy, but for certain  soon-to-be-former-couples in Holland, it could be a bit more luxurious.  Entrepreneur Jim Halfens offers carefully selected Dutch couples the opportunity to book a 3 day stay at a luxury hotel, during which time the parties will meet with various professionals to try to work out a final resolution of their divorce.  According to at least one Dutch family law attorney, the $3,500 price tag for the “Divorce Hotel” is a bargain compared to the cost of a divorce.

Halfens says the goal of the service is to offer some couples a chance at a quick, amicable resolution of their divorce.  Only couples who are committed to a resolving their disputes without a protected legal battle qualify for a stay in the Divorce Hotel – and so far only seven couples have made reservations.

Story via PRI’s The World.

The Case of the Frigid Frenchman

A French man identified only as “Jean-Luis B.”, was recently ordered to pay his ex-wife 10,000.00 euros (nearly $14,000.00 US) for his failings as a husband.

The specifics of Jean Luis’s matrimonial deficiencies?  According to his ex-wife, a failure to… ahem… perform… for some 21 years of marriage.  Unimpressed with Jean-Luis’ claims of tiredness and health problems, a judge found that Jean-Luis had violated a provision of France’s civil code which requires married couples to agree to a “shared communal life”.  In awarding monetary damages to the ex-wife, the judge noted, “ By getting married, couples agree to sharing their life and this clearly implies they will have sex with each other.”

Clearly, the French take amore very seriously.

Story via The Telegraph.

A jilted groom in Malaysia is suing the woman he was to marry for calling off their engagement just six hours before the wedding.  The groom, 31 year old Masran Abdul Rahman, says that he and his family were humiliated and distressed by his betrothed’s decision to cancel the nuptials, and were forced to call off a reception to which over 1000 guests had been invited.  The proper compensation for said humiliation, according to Rahman? $360,000.00.

This “odd news” item got us wondering – could a jilted fiance in this state bring such a law suit?  Interestingly, the answer – to some extent – appears to be yes.

In a 1977  “breach of promise to marry” case, the Washington Supreme Court declined to abolish a cause of action for damages allegedly caused by a broken engagement. In that case, L.L. Stanard, a single mother of two, was engaged to marry Raymond Bolin. During their relationship and engagement, Raymond assured L.L. “that he was worth in excess of $ 2 million, was planning to retire in 2 years, and that the two of them would then travel.  [Raymond] also promised [L.L.] that she would never have to work again and that he would see to the support of her two teen-age boys. He also promised to see that [L.L.'s] mother would never be in need.”

Wedding plans were made; dresses were purchased, a church and reception hall were reserved. L.L. sold her house because she and Raymond had signed a purchase agreement for another residence.  However, about one month before the wedding was to occur, Raymond called off the engagement. L.L. sued Raymond for breaching his promise to marry her. She asked for compensation for “pain, impairment to health, humiliation, and embarrassment” as well as for “loss of expected financial security” – namely, the wealth and status that she expected to attain by becoming Raymond’s wife.

The doctrine of “breach of promise to marry” originated in 17th century English common law.  At that time, marriage was essentially a property transaction between two families.  The Supreme Court noted that the doctrine has been subject to much criticism by legal scholars who contend that the doctrine is inappropriate in modern times where “most persons marry for reasons of mutual love and affection.”  However, the court declined to wholly abolish the doctrine, and said:

When two persons agree to marry, they should realize that certain actions will be taken during the engagement period in reliance on the mutual promises to marry. Rings will be purchased, wedding dresses and other formal attire will be ordered or reserved, and honeymoon plans with their attendant expenses will be made. Wedding plans, such as the rental of a church, the engagement of a minister, the printing of wedding invitations, and so on, will commence. It is also likely that the parties will make plans for their future residence, such as purchasing a house, buying furniture, and the like. Further, at the time the parties decide to marry, they should realize that their plans and visions of future happiness will be communicated to friends and relatives and that wedding gifts soon will be arriving. When the plans to marry are abruptly ended, it is certainly foreseeable that the party who was unaware that the future marriage would not take place will have expended some sums of money and will suffer some forms of mental anguish, loss to reputation, and injury to health. We do not feel these injuries should go unanswered merely because the breach-of-promise-to-marry action may be subject to abuses; rather, an attempt should be made to eradicate the abuses from the action.

Stanard v. Bolin, 88 Wn.2d 614 at 619.

The court, however, acknowledged that “marriages today generally are not considered property transactions, but are… ‘the result of that complex experience called being in love.’”  Thus, the court ruled that a jilted fiance may no longer pursue damages for loss of expected financial and social position.

Since the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Stanard, it appears that only one other such case has reached the appellate courts.  That case, a 2006 appeal of a trial court’s dismissal of a man’s breach of promise to marry action, was unpublished (meaning that the case cannot be cited as legal precedent), and did not discuss the doctrine in any detail.  The lack of modern case law leads us to believe that, while it is possible to sue an ex-fiance, most people choose to mend their broken hearts without going to court.

Malaysian “runaway bride” story via The Guardian.

Henry Silverman is not your average mega-millionaire.  In addition to being a fabulously wealthy and prominent New York financier, he is also – at least according to three psychologists hired by his legal team – an innate genius.  Unfortunately, it looks like that is not going to prevent his soon-to-be-ex-wife from walking away with some portion of his massive wealth.

Nearly every major media outlet in New York is reporting on Silverman’s acrimonious divorce from his wife of 30 years, and his failed legal maneuver.   The story: Silverman recently filed a motion in which he asked a judge to  hear testimony from three psychologists, all of whom were expected to inform the court that Silverman is an innate genius with very unique business and financial talents.  Why?  To prevent his wife from getting a share of the riches that he accumulated during their 30 years of marriage.

You see, New York is not a community property state; instead New York divorce courts are guided by the law equitable distribution.  That law requires the court to look at each party’s contribution to the marriage when dividing assets between divorcing spouses.  It seems that Silverman’s “innate genius” evidence was intended to prove that his wife did not, and in fact could not, contribute to Silverman’s good fortunes.  This could have spared Silverman the pain of parting with some portion of his $450 million in assets.

Unfortunately for Silverman (and the much younger yoga instructor to whom he is currently betrothed), New York State Supreme Court Judge Laura Drager didn’t buy it.  Looks like Silverman is going to have to apply that genius to find a better argument.

Via the New York Times, New York Post, and Gotham Gazette.

Want to Avoid a Divorce?

Then you should cross massage therapist, bartender, and dancer off your list of potential mates – according to one study anyway.  Researchers at Radford University recently released a study which claims to identify the 15 occupations that make one most likely to get divorced.  According to the study massage therapist, bartender, and dancer come out as the top three professions most likely to lead to divorce.

Other jobs with high divorce rates include telemarketers, food & tobacco factory workers and folks who work in casinos.  The findings appear to be based primarily on statistical rates of divorce in each of these occupations, and there’s not much explanation of why these occupations supposedly make one more likely to divorce.   What could a ballerina and tobacco factory worker possibly have in common that makes them both more likely to divorce than someone in another profession?

Perhaps the same personalities who are drawn to these fields are also more likely to divorce.  Or maybe the stressful nature or demanding hours of some of these professions make it difficult to maintain a relationship.  Many of these jobs are low paying – could that be the common thread that links these very different professions to divorce?

Hard to say.  And of course, it seems like every week there’s a new study that claims to have found yet another factor that makes divorce more likely.  To cite just a few examples, residing in a so-called “red state“, having a daughter, or being a woman with an advanced degree have all been found in one study or another to have a correlation with divorce.  What this breadth of research really shows is that there is a myriad of reasons and factors that lead people to split up – and one’s job alone probably isn’t the only one.

Would You Buy Divorce Insurance?

More likely than not you’ve got at least one, if not two, three, or four forms of insurance.  Car insurance of some kind is required in every state – which means every responsible driver has it.  Homeowner’s insurance is required of anyone looking to get a mortgage.  Likewise, renter’s insurance protects those of us who rent our homes.  Health insurance helps cover the cost of medical treatment and prescription drugs – if you can get it through your employer or afford to pay for it yourself.  Doctor, lawyers, and other professionals are required to have liability insurance to protect them against malpractice claims.

Then there is the myriad of other supplemental insurance policies available to a consumer: life insurance, disability insurance, long-term care insurance… the list goes on.

Well, thanks to entrepreneur and divorcé John Logan, you can now add “divorce insurance” to your list of insurance options.  A story inTime Magazine has the details: having gone through a divorce himself, Logan knew first hand how financially disruptive (if not devastating) a divorce can be.  So, he developed and launched his own insurance company (cleverly named WedLock) which sells policies to married folks with a less than optimistic view of happily ever after.

Around $16.00 per month buys you about $1250.00 of coverage, with an added premium of $250.00 for every year that you stay married after your fourth anniversary. You have to be married for at least four years to collect any payout.

Ostensibly, your divorce insurance payout would help you meet at least some of the expenses of divorcing such as the cost of setting up a separate residence and paying an attorney – which expenses can and do add up fast in many divorces.

Critics remark that buying divorce insurance “implies from the beginning that divorce is already an option.”  There’s also a question as to whether such a policy is really worthwhile.  As the Time article explains, a policy holder who paid for ten units of insurance over ten years of marriage will have paid $19,188.00 and get back $27,500.00, a net gain of just over $8000.00. Certainly that’s not small change – but is it worth the psychological effect of placing a monthly bet on the stability of your marriage?

Would you buy divorce insurance?  If you’re already divorced, do you wish you’d had the option of divorce insurance?

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