I recently visited with a friend who is my age. He has been retired for ten years. I asked if he missed practicing law? He responded: “Not at all”. He went on to say that he occasionally does some legal work, but he wouldn’t want a steady diet of it. That being true, he has little to worry about. He handles about one case or transaction a year. Sometimes the legal work is something as simple as preparing a will.
The one thing he doesn’t miss is representing a client who simply wants their day in court based on the principle of it all. So what do you do when the marriage turns sour and both parties initially came into the marital relationship with vast financial and land holdings of their own? Legally they each protected their own stuff. After all, inherited family land needs to stay in the family of origin. I’m not going to argue with that. For one thing, I don’t have a frame of reference.
The General and I didn’t have two dimes to rub together when we got married. Despite the fact that murder may have been contemplated or at least momentarily considered (Whose to say? But if looks could kill, we might both be at risk), we’ve never undergone the stress associated with dividing things up and going our separate ways. Sometimes folks in the midst of divorce proceedings opt not to play nice. Can you imagine that?
A friend once told me: “If there is anything worse that a wife, it is an ex-wife”. How do you argue with that? Somehow the latter part of that concept seems to make sense to me. Of course, I’m not sure it serves my friend well to still be saying that his ex-wife is Satan? You’d think after a quarter of a century, the memory of the experience would have faded a little.
You may own the cattle on a thousand hills and have an exclusive right to say: “Those are my cows!” Legally, nobody has a beef with that. The original owner of the cattle is within his or her rights to claim exclusive ownership of their herd. But the issue gets really complicated when the herd expands. Legally, the exclusivity of the cow being yours is not true of the cow’s calves born after you said: “I do”. Both the husband and the wife conjointly own the calves born to the heifer belonging to either the husband or wife. And therein lies the problem.
What do you do if both claim the heirloom set of china that previously belonged to one of the grandmothers? The soon-to-be ex-husband says: “Those dishes belonged to my grandmother. They are staying in my family!” The soon-to-be ex-wife says: “No! Those were not your grandmother’s dishes. The china belonged to my grandmother. The only way you’ll get them is over my dead body and I’m a better shot than you are!”
According to my attorney friend, what begins as an amicable divorce proceeding has the potential to turn on a dime or I guess for that matter, over a set of dishes. When that happens the “for better or worse” makes a mad dash toward the “worse” side of the equation. If both sides of the dispute have financial resources, they’ll spend their last dime if need be before they willfully opt to relinquish their claim to “x”, “y” or “z”.
Can you imagine a divorce proceeding like that making its way to the highest court in the land? Like I said, “If money isn’t a consideration, the top court in the State or even the Nation may eventually settle the case.” I’ve heard it said that: “All is fair in love and war”. A marriage gone wrong can cast out love and become a battleground based on the principle.
If you happen to have a cash cow, you can have your attorney represent your interests in court. He or she has an ethical and professional responsibility to do so. At least that’s true as long as the attorney is getting paid for their services. When both sides are responding from a sense of righteous indignation, the ensuing war of the roses may go on for a very long time.
You may have seen the War Of The Roses. It was kind of a dark comedy that hit the movie theatres in 1989. You couldn’t have chronicled a more graphic example of what I’m talking about. As the story begins, Oliver and Barbara Rose represent a typical young couple in love. The husband has his law degree from Harvard and they conjointly skimp and save for a bright and prosperous future together. By the time they are in the money, they are no longer young. Sadly, they also are no longer in love.
Actually, at one point Oliver appeared to be having a heart attack. He thought he was dying, but his doctors subsequently determined during his hospitalization that the problem wasn’t heart related and wasn’t life threatening. The thing that Barbara found surprising is the realization that she was actually disappointed that Oliver didn’t die. I’m sure that was a bitter pill to swallow for both of them. Consequently, she tosses him out of the house and divorce proceedings begin. He finds a loophole in the law and he moves back in while divorce proceedings continue. Needless to say, it was no longer heaven on earth and so the battle for stuff ensues.
From the film’s review: “Among the film’s funnier images is one of Oliver holed up in his bedroom surrounded by dozens of the beloved Staffordshire figurines he thinks Barbara might try to break, once the orgy of antique-bashing and general house-wrecking is under way”.
I think my attorney friend is right. Life is too short to legally sort things out with folks who have the resources to demand their day in court and the wherewithal to accept only the answer they want.
All My Best!
Apple Computer, Inc.
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