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The Weird Side of Divorce

Hit the Road, Jack

Saying adieu to a spouse is never easy — just ask any New Yorker who had to divvy up assets before the state legislature finally approved no-fault divorce—the ability to split without assigning blame—earlier this summer.

MainStreet wanted to know what other strange divorce laws were still on the books in the U.S., so we tapped lawyers from a number of states to find out. Keep on reading for the weirdest divorce laws in the country, with real tales of love gone awry.

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Wedding Or Not

While we’d never condone tying the knot on a dare, apparently this happens in Delaware enough to merit the option to check off “because of a jest or dare” when a couple applies to dissolve its nuptials.

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Prepare for the Worst

Laura Giles, an attorney in Connecticut who contributes to the Huffington Post, says the “clean-up work of divorce is where it really hurts people. With the downturn in the economy, people are in really bad shape when they’re getting divorced.”

While many who can’t afford exorbitant legal fees try to represent themselves, those intentions can be very misguided, Giles says.

One husband Giles fought came to court “completely unprepared,” she says. “He didn’t know proper court procedure, when to show up, and was completely annoying this judge.” Surprisingly, the judge died mid-trial, but the man who was trying to avoid a divorce ultimately “got himself divorced by not knowing what he was doing.”

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A Back-Handed Gift


Couples divorcing in the Lone Star state shouldn't not rely on an award of alimony to aid in their post-divorce support, or maintenance, as it’s referred to in the Texas Family Code. “We don’t utter the ‘a’ word in Texas,” says Pamela George, professor of Family Law at South Texas College of Law.

To receive maintenance from a Texas divorce court, the spouse seeking it must fall into one of two categories.  Under the first, the recipient spouse must have been a victim of family violence two years before the filing the divorce or during it's pendency, and the offending spouse must have been either convicted of or received deferred adjudication for this violence.

To fall within the second category, the recipient spouse must have been married for ten years and lack the skills or resources to become self-sufficient, be menatlly or physically disabled, or care for a mentally or physically disabled child. Additionally, the recipient spouse must lack property and funds that would meet their minimum reasonable needs -- and this includes any property awarded in the divorce. “And here’s the kicker,” George says, “realistically, almost no one qualifies!”In the rare instance that a spouse does qualify, the legislature can be less than generous. Maintenance is limited so that the most a recipient spouse may be awarded is $2,500 per month, or 20% of the other spouse’s average monthly gross income, whichever is lower. So, not exactly the best parting gift.

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Pet Prenups

John Harding, a family law specialist in Pleasanton, Calif., has drafted countless prenuptial agreements that were literally for the dogs. “Pets can be a very passionate issue,” he says. “They displace children in a lot of these relationships, so the couple carries the same emotions toward the pet that they would toward the child. What strikes me is that they seem to be more accommodating to a pet.”

Some couples go even further, creating a visitation schedule. “They might spend two weeks with the non-custodial owner during the summer,” Harding says, “but it just always surprised me that people would take the time to develop a schedule with their dog.”

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They Object

In Rhode Island, simply objecting to a marriage is legal grounds to prevent it from happening. Although the century-old statute doesn’t specify what a “lawful objection” is, the law is still on the books and enough to scare prospective newlyweds from ticking off any wedding guests.

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Dirty Deeds

Drug addiction seems like reasonable cause to file parting papers, but it’s the “gross and confirmed habits” related to a spouse’s two-year-old problem that can be grounds for marriage dissolution in the state of Illinois, according to Marie Fahnert, a Chicago-based lawyer. Further grounds: “Attempting the life of the other by poison or other means showing malice.”

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No Fault of Their Own

Before the no-fault law was passed in New York, divorce court was a scary place. “A variety of grounds had to be proven,” recalls Alan Stein, an attorney based in Plainview, N.Y., “so for adultery, you needed to have a witness, or even a private investigator, while some couples would have to go into court and lie that they had requested ‘relations’ and their spouse had declined them every time for a year.”

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The Disappearing Wife

Stein recalls representing a husband in Roslyn, N.Y., whose wife had been missing for months. A male neighbor the couple had known for a while had offered to help them with a wayward nephew the couple was raising, but soon the neighbor and the wife disappeared together.

Facing two foreclosures and the disappearance of his wife, the husband filed for divorce on his own. He published the summons in Newsday to give her a chance to contest it, but, as Stein explains, “If you don’t answer the summons, somebody can get the divorce and take most of the assets on default.” The wife never reappeared and the husband got his divorce.

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Going for Broke

Heath Berger, an attorney who handles consumer bankruptcies in Woodbury, N.Y., thought he’d seen it all when he took on a client’s case years ago—that is, until “her ex-husband tried to run a fast one, filed a bankruptcy, claimed his homestead exemption, and had his brother buy the house,” he says. “Every time we go to court and win, he files a bankruptcy,” Berger says. “He’s filed a ton of them and does it every five years.”

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A Landmark Investment

Divorce is a sticky subject, so we wanted to end this slideshow with something positive (well, sort of).

Thirty-two years ago, Janet Sullivan walked into lawyer Patricia Herzog’s office and told her she was filing for divorce. Sullivan, who’d helped put her husband through medical school by working as an accountant, felt she’d made a “joint investment in time and money” in her husband’s career. However, the state of California felt differently. Sullivan’s case wound its way through California’s lower courts and its Supreme Court, eventually leading to the passage of California’s landmark Sullivan Law. Thanks to Herzog’s efforts, today hardworking spouses who support their loved ones through college are entitled to reimbursement from the court.

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