Leave the Woodpile a Little Higher

by James J. Gross

One thing I learned in cub scouts and boy scouts was always leave the woodpile a little higher.  Sometimes we camped out at campsites that had a woodpile.  If you used some of the wood for your fire, you were supposed to replace it and add a little more than you took for the next camper.  By extrapolation, it also meant leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.

I thought of this as I was picking up my teenage sons’ clothes off the floor of their rooms, turning off the lights they left on, and putting their dishes in the dishwasher.  No matter which one of them I ask, it is always the other one that did it.  My comeback to them is going to be – leave the woodpile a little higher.

As I start work this morning, my thoughts turn to the clients I’m helping as they struggle through their divorces.  It occurs to me that each of us, as we pass through life, whether helping others through our work or raising kids, can leave the woodpile a little higher.


Getting Married on Valentine’s Day

by James J. Gross

Valentine’s Day is coming up.  Some couples pick that day to get married.  It may seem like a good idea.  But you may want to rethink it.

Economists at the University of Melbourne tracked a million couples.  They found that 11% of the people who got married on Valentine’s Day were divorced after five years and 21% were divorced after nine years.  This compared unfavorably to couples who were married on ordinary dates.

Other holidays and special number dates like January 2nd, 2003 (1/2/03) also resulted in higher divorce rates.

Pet Custody

by James J. Gross

You can get custody of minor children in a divorce but not a pet in Maryland, DC and Virginia and most other states.  The law views pets as personal property, with no more rights than a table, chair or lamp.

But if you live in Alaska, divorce court judges are now required to consider the well-being of the pet under a new law.  The court may award custody of a pet on the basis of what is best for the animal, not the human owners.

The law also allows judges to include pets in domestic violence protection orders.

Avoiding Divorce Month

by James J. Gross

January is “Divorce Month” and Tuesday will be “Divorce Tuesday” because it is the first day the lawyers’ offices will be open for business in 2017.  Divorces typically spike right after the holidays.

Will the divorce lawyers at Thyden Gross and Callahan be hearing from you in 2017?  Marriage therapist, Dr. John Gottman, says the number one predictor of divorce is contempt.

Contempt is rolling your eyes at your spouse.  Or calling their point of view ridiculous.  Feel disgusted with your partner or having other negative feelings about them is contempt too.

But contempt is fixable.  Avoid contempt signals like rolling your eyes, smirking, or making negative comments.

Allow your partner to be different from you and different from your expectations.  Learn to compromise.

Should I Get Divorced?

Google searches for “Should I get divorced” hit their highest for the year during Christmas week.

Searches for “Should I break up with my boyfriend” hit their highest for 2016 worldwide.

But trends for “Should I break up with my girlfriend” remained around average.

However, it was not all bad news.  Searches for “Should I quit my job” dipped to their lowest for 2016 over the festive period.

Suing for the Engagement Ring

By Michael F. Callahan

Mr. Dockendorf gave Ms. McGrath a two carat diamond engagement ring valued at $26,000 when he proposed.   Alas, the engagement was broken off and the marriage never occurred.

Dockendorf sued for return of the ring or its value.  McGrath moved to dismiss the suit contending the suit was barred by  Va. Code sec 8.01-220 which prohibits suits to recover damages for breach of promise to marry.

The Circuit Court held for Dockendorf and the Supreme Court affirmed.   The Court explained that the plain meaning of the words of the statute did not bar a suit to recover a gift made on the condition of marriage if that condition failed.  The statute barred actions for general  damages caused by the breach itself — injury to the affection and wounded pride, loss of opportunity, impaired prospect of marrying another, etc.

The Court did not discuss it, but the result was good for the diamond industry.  A prudent suitor might hesitate to spend big on an engagement ring if he could not recover the ring if his intended broke off the engagement — without throwing the ring at him in the process.

McGrath v. Dockendorf (2016)

Extra Credit for Being Smart?

by James J. Gross

Randy Work, an American financier, is appealing an award that the English Courts made to his wife, Mandy Gray, last year of 140 million pounds, which was half the martial estate.  He claims that he should get two thirds because it was his financial genius that created the wealth.

Under English law, a court can make less than an equal division if it would be unfair to disregard the conduct of one party to the marriage.

In Maryland, the court can adjust the equities of property distribution by making a marital award based on certain factors that must be considered.  One of the factors includes the efforts of each party in accumulating marital property.

But another factor is the contributions of each party, either monetary or non-monetary, to the well-being of the family.  If one spouse took care of the home and children while the other spouse advanced his or her career, who is to say those contributions are not equal?  How would you divide this estate?


Husband Who Would Rather Be Idle than Industrious Has to Pay Alimony

by James J. Gross

She was an army nurse and he was in the army. Mr. and Mrs. Donigan married in 1943. A daughter was born two years later. They lived in Baltimore until 1948 when the husband rejoined the army and was assigned to Japan.

The wife and child joined him six months later but discovered the husband had become infatuated with a girl serving with the Red Cross. Eventually they returned to the US and the husband filed for divorce. The trial judge denied alimony to the wife because he found that she as employed and self-supporting.

The appeals court viewed it differently, however, and said “The husband is about forty years of age but  prefers to travel about the country rather than work, or as his wife puts it, he enjoys play more than he does work….if the wife’s income is insufficient for her needs, the husband’s obligation is not less because he would rather be idle than industrious and peripatetic than productive, although he has the mental and physical ability to earn a living.”

Donigan v. Donigan, 208 Md. 511, 119 A.2d 430 (1956)