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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Law on Marriage and Divorce

by Saint Mark (bio)

In studying for the bar, I'm learning some interesting and useful laws, specifically about marriage and divorce. Now, this is the moment where any lawyer would write a disclaimer how "what I am writing is not legal advice and should not be taken as such, nor should it be relied upon." Also, a lawyer might say that "if you have questions about marriage or divorce seek independent counsel." Well...I guess I just said it, too.

Anyway, after protecting my legal backside, I thought it would be useful for all non-lawyers to have a peek into what constitutes grounds for divorce in a majority of states. This doesn't apply everywhere since each state has their own laws.

Grounds for Fault Divorce:
(There is "no fault" divorce, and grounds for that which must be satisfied as well. Don't think because it says "no fault" that you don't need a legally valid reason to destroy your marriage. Even the law doesn't take marriage that lightly)

a) Adultery: Self-explanatory.

Take away - As Robert DeNiro's character says on Meet the Parents, "keep the snake in the cage" and you'll rectify more than half the problems marriages face.

b) Desertion: walking out on your spouse. An unjustified (meaning, not because of abuse or military deployment, for example) departure from the marital home for a specified period of time (e.g. one year). If you or your spouse leaves for the required amount of time and has no intention of returning, then the deserted spouse can file and receive a divorce on valid desertion grounds.

Take away - Don't run to your parents' house if things get hard. Talk it out, work it out, and don't runaway to mommy and daddy unless there is abuse (see below). We're commanded to "cleave" to one another as spouses, and abandoning our spouse, or as the law calls it, "deserting" them in a vulnerable moment when raw, underbelly feelings are being exposed and expressed is not helpful or healthy to the marriage. It's one of the worst emotional withdrawals a spouse can make. In the eyes of the law, it is valid grounds to dissolve the marriage. If that's not serious, I don't know what is.

c) Cruelty: It can be physical or mental. In fact, multiple episodes of physical abuse are not necessary to qualify for a fault divorce. One single episode of physical violence is grounds. On the other hand, mental cruelty requires a course of conduct, i.e. a pattern of behavior. For example, being mean and evil to one's spouse; the existence of a persistent pattern of name calling; a spouse being degrading or derogatory; embarrassing one's spouse in front of others; and/or neglect of one's personal hygiene (doesn’t bathe or clean themselves). The physical abuse element is a given red flag, but the mental abuse prong of cruelty should give us all pause. Especially those who like to correct their spouse at parties ("Oh, you're wrong again, honey." or "Why can't you do anything right?"), go for days without bathing ("The sweat from my run will wash off my stink." or "There's no one to impress. Why should I shower?"), or just aren't able to turn the other cheek ("Next time she gets hurt I won't be nice, either."). In fact, one course of conduct that is grounds for mental cruelty is refusing to be sexually intimate with one's spouse. Now, this, I'm sure, doesn't apply to only one night or a couple of sporadic nights of "headaches." What it does mean is straight up refusing to be sexually intimate for a lengthy period of time. How long? Check your local state's statute.

Take away - Don't be cruel, and that means please shower, please be nice, please be intimate, please be thoughtful, and please praise your spouse. The law sees it as cruel. Shouldn't we?

d) Voluntary drug addiction or habitual drunkenness: This does not include a drug addiction that is legally considered involuntary, like an addiction to pain pills that stems from receiving post-surgical medication. This is becoming addicted to marijuana or crack or ripple by one's own conscious, voluntary choice. A marriage couple cannot become of "one heart and one mind," even a Zion unto themselves, when there is a drug (legal or illegal) that stands between them. Making the choice of a "heaven on earth" in one's home cannot be made when one's ability to choose is jeopardized.

Take away - Cut out the drugs. Drugs have no place in a home or in a marriage. The whisperings of inspiration that come from God cannot be heard when one is listening to the chorus of Satan, which is what drugs are. God wants you to have a happy, healthy marriage. Satan, conversely, does not. Don't take my word for it. This is the law and provides legal grounds for dissolving your marriage covenant.

e) Insanity: The person you married has gone away, psychologically. Time period required for satisfying this ground is pretty long (e.g. two-to-three years). Some states will only invoke this ground if the spouse is institutionalized. Usually, the insanity ground must be corroborated by psychiatric testimony. Although you can walk away from the marriage and be legally single, you still will have a continuing obligation to financially support to your ex-spouse!

Take away - Although you might think your spouse is a crazy, irrational something-or-other sometimes, it takes a sustained amount of insane conduct to satisfy this ground. So, don't just dismiss your spouse as a "crazy person" whom you cannot communicate with. Work with them, listen to them and find out how crazy you also sound to them. Somewhere in the middle, a sane, rational solution can be found. If the law doesn't think they are crazy (unless they are), then maybe you shouldn't think they are either.
Why share this? Sometimes I feel, like you, that marriage is extremely challenging. No, I don't have a perfect marriage and no, I am not a perfect husband. Far from both. And even though society might tell us that walking away from marriage when it is hard is the "right" thing to do, society and the world are wrong. The right thing to do is to save our marriages, not destroy them. In order to save what is most precious, i.e. our marriages and families, a look at the law for some insight on how we can treat each other a little more civily and a little more Christ-like may be the answer we have been looking for our entire marriage.

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