Using marital contracts to stabilize marriages: past, present, and possible

 Über ehestablisierende Rechtstechniken

On Marriage-Stabilizing Legal Techniques

 

by Prof. Dr. Hans Hattenhauer

81px-Prof._Dr._Hans_Hattenhauer_(Kiel_77.824)
 
Christian-Albrechts-Universitaet zu Kiel,
Christian-Albrechts-University, City of Kiel

Zeitschrift fuer das gesamte Familienrecht (FamZ) 1989, page 225 et. seq.

Summary and Explanation by Antje S. Heinemann, J.D., with assistance by John Crouch, J.D., and Susan Winston, J.D. candidate, University of Miami School of Law

 

In this article Prof. Hattenhauer deals with the need to stabilize marriages and the legal instruments and techniques to do so.

As marriage is a lifelong relationship it is always endangered by its duration. Because of the changes of various circumstances such as society, the spouses’ financial situation and economic development/expansion etc., marriage has lost a lot of its functions and is therefore today even more deemed to be only a short-term rather than a long-term “operation”.

But how have humans in history of mankind been able to make marriages work as a long-term relationship and make this long-term relationship an ideal of a marriage? Knowing that trust of only biological/emotional forces and the spouses’ good will are not enough to make a marriage a “long-term operation”, former cultures have stabilized it with various techniques.

As Hattenhauer states that there is up to now hardly no fundamental scientific research on this issue, he limits his point of view in his article to marriage-stabilizing legal techniques. This makes him first think of some very general questions such as: What is society’s moral understanding and what is universally valid? What is the general social consensus that courts must respect? At what point is the jurisdiction exceeding its authority when it determines what the ideal of marriage?

To find answers he works with various theses:

Thesis 1:

Marriage is the foundation of family. Family is based on marriage and – at best – includes children. In contrast to this, any other model of a “family” such as homosexual cohabitation, a commune or heterosexual cohabitation without being married is not legally binding and it can therefore not achieve the same privileges as a marriage.

Thesis 2:

Marriage is an “enterprise for maintenance”. As society has changed into an industrial society and the welfare state has been established, marriage has lost a lot of its maintenance character and functions. However, it has never totally ceased to be an “enterprise for maintenance”, which is shown by the unbroken importance of support payments. This support for spouses and children will never be completely replaced by government.

Thesis 3:

In addition to this financial “maintenance”, marriages also give enormous personal and emotional support. This support is not replaceable at all. Today, this support is even more appreciated than ever before.

Thesis 4:

Up to now the maintenance character of marriage (both financial and emotional) has been obvious. After the long-term period of upbringing the children the period of growing old usually began. The parents then needed support and care-taking themselves.

But increased life expectancy, both parents’ working, and the social security system have created a completely new period between these two periods. During this phase the spouses are usually not aware of their mutual maintenance obligations and therefore the duration of marriage is weakened. As also sexual morality has changed, marriage has furthermore lost a lot of its sexual maintenance character.

Thesis 5:

The ecclesiastical sacrament of marriage has been replaced by the civil marriage. Today, marriage is legally understood as a contract.

Thesis 6:

Although we see today all these changes to the maintenance character of a marriage, there is still a huge private interest for stability in marriages. It is important for governmental authorities to assure a process of stabilization, as stable marriages ensure the people’s life quality.

Thesis 7:

People entering a marriage often have to make sacrifices such as giving up parts of their personal freedom or privacy. As some kind of compensation the state is giving them married privileges and protection by law. Art. 6 GG, (i.e. Grundgesetz, the German constitution) for example, protects family and marriage. To give the same bonuses to other, less legally binding, types of relationships won’t be justified. These bonuses are such as, but are not limited to, support, inheritance, child custody, and in case of dissolution of marriage, a system to solve conflicts as the law determines alimony, support, division of pension rights etc.

Thesis 8:

As, because of the great public interest in long-term marriages, smart states have developed certain marriage-stabilizing policies, they have laid down marriage and family in the constitution.

Thesis 9:

The history of occidental marriage has been the history of the privatization of marriage. Marriage has become more and more a subject of the couple’s dispositions. Today spouses can determine nearly everything regarding their marital relationship. Since spouses can do so, such agreements, their compliance and their enforcement, need protection by the government.

Thesis 10:

The process of privatization is neither irreversible nor deplorable. Privatization is justified as an act of liberation from governmental constraints.

Thesis 11:

After the breakdown of the middle-class model of marriage (after 1968) as the “moral monopoly,” we find today a pluralism of ideals of marriage. The question today is: What kind of law do we need in times of pluralism, which does justice to all models and groups? What kind of law does not impose too much stabilization to the ones not interested, and does not refuse to give stability to the ones who ask for it? How can the government take care of marriages and create a law that meets all interests? How does a catalog of acknowledged ideals of marriages look like?

In the history of marriage, the non-formal (regarding the entering and dissolution of marriage) Roman marriage, the “matrimonium liberum”, has been surprisingly durable. Alfred Soellner has stated that the reason for this stability was the use of a certain legal technique: the dowry, the “dos”. The dowry was the father-in-law’s contribution to the husband in a considerable amount of money to give the marriage a binding character. The marriage and the financial contribution were strictly connected. Conversely, only an endowed marriage was acknowledged as a valid marriage. A marriage without dowry instead was regarded as void.

The dowry was highly important to wives. It was so important that the father-in-law sometimes had to impose it on the husband. The financial contribution was also a matter of the wife’s reputation. A woman who was not endowed was contemptuous. If the family was poor, the daughter sometimes had to go to the brothel.

The purpose of the dowry was to stabilize the marriage: The profits made out of the financial contribution were used to maintain the family, especially during the first years. The ongoing sanctions in case of conflicts guaranteed the existence of the marriage. Both spouses had to take care of the marriage to be entitled to the benefits of the financial contribution. In case of adultery or filing a divorce, e.g., the wife lost all her entitlements for the return of the contribution in total. If the husband wanted to commit adultery or wanted to get divorced he had to be afraid of losing the dowry, which helped to keep him from doing so. It was also possible for the wife to determine a contractual penalty for the husband, which he had to pay if he had a concubine. In general one could say: He who wanted to give his wife back had to give the contribution back.

According to Hattenhauer this was the reason why marriages without dowry had always been more endangered by divorce than others, and why the Romans preferred marriages within one’s station. A poor wife could be easily rejected but in case of a high dowry the rejection always meant a bad loss. On the other hand, a marriage with a high dowry was sometimes quite difficult to handle for a poor husband, because then he had to endure the moods of his rich wife. Thus, the Romans found the ideal marriage where there was a dowry and the financial background had been equal.

 Hattenhauer then describes the marriage in the rabbinical-talmudical law and states that it was quite similar to the Roman model: Without a trousseau a woman was not allowed to marry. If necessary the money was taken from the community’s funds for the poor. In addition to that, there was also the dowry (which could be in property or money). The dowry always continued to be the property of the wife but was administrated by her husband, who often had a right of usufruct of it. The couples necessarily had to settle upon a marital agreement. Beside certain other agreements the spouses agreed about the “Ketubah”, which was the sometimes considerably high amount of money the husband had to pay in case of the dissolution of marriage (divorce or death). The amount had to be in accordance with a minimum sum and depended on the amount of the dowry. A marriage without a “Ketubah” was not completely valid and considered as a concubinage.

 Hattenhauer states that both dowry and “Ketubah” stabilized marriages. As the capital stock usually was invested in the husband’s enterprises, his cravings for divorce were reasonably minimized. On the other hand a mean wife, whose “Ketubah” had been high enough, could sometimes leave the husband desperate. To explain this dilemma Hattenhauer cites the case of Rabbi Nachman: He couldn’t get divorced from his mean wife because the “Ketubah” was too high, but his disciples finally collected the money to pay him off and gave him freedom.

The purpose of the “Ketubah” to stabilize marriages was clear: The rabbis created the “Ketubah” to make it more difficult for the husband to leave his wife.

Hattenhauer then examines the German model and states that the German law did not adopt the Roman model schematic. In the 17th – 19th century it was held that the common marital agreements in Germany didn’t comply with the narrow frame of the Roman “pacta dotalia” because they were not limited only to financial transactions. Up to the effective date of the BGB, (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, i.e. Civil Code), January 1900, the Germans and Europeans practiced marriage-stabilizing by using various kinds of marital agreements. They had various names, varieties, and a high practical importance. They had such names as pactum dotale, pactum nuptiale, Ehepakt, Ehegedinge, Ehestiftung, Eheberedung, and Brautlaufbrief.

A marital agreement was defined as any legal transaction that determines rights and obligations of spouses. The essence of those agreements was that there were personal and financial agreements at the same time. However, the financial settlements – the agreement about the husband’s or wife’s financial contribution to the marriage – predominated. Being an important financial source for the maintenance of the family, the assets were important to stabilize marriages. The husband administrated the estate and was liable for its continued existence. In these marital agreements the spouses could also agree about the husband making a contribution to the wife in return, or a security payment for the dowry.

Those types of marital agreements were not only settled between rustic, but also aristocratic, spouses.

Beside the above mentioned possible settlements the German marital agreement in these times above all also contained agreements about inheritance (wills or any other kind of inheritance transactions). The spouses, e.g., agreed about the future of financial contributions, reciprocal assigning, and provision for children. The husband also often agreed that his heirs had to support his wife after his death. Thus, marital agreements and agreements about inheritance went hand in hand. The variety of such agreements was enormous, especially in the area of non-codified law, where spouses had creative scope.

The personal decisions in marital agreement included mainly decisions about parenting, religion or an agreement about the place of residence. The custody often was transferred completely to the wife. The spouses also settled agreements about support and education of the children in case of their divorce or agreed about contractual penalties if for example one of them refused the performance of matrimony.

 Hattenhauer states that there are good grounds to consider the German model as a Christian model. In comparison between the Roman and Jewish model on one side and the Christian model on the other side you will find that the most important difference is that the church never stabilized marriages by using financial transactions. As the Christian model of marriage, the holy sacrament, can never be dissolved, and assets were not necessary to enter one, this model didn’t need financial transactions. In addition to that, social classes were not important at all, and even poor people or slaves could enter a marriage.

According to the Roman model the limits of contractual freedom only were the compulsory law and morality. The various effective laws in former times gave the spouses different kinds of creative freedom. The “Preussische Allgemeine Landrecht” from 1794 hardly contained hardly any regulation about marital agreements, but regulated everything regarding the marriage itself. The “Saechsische Buergerliche Gesetzbuch” from 1863/1865 regulated everything in great detail.

All those regulations described as what is today known as the principle of morality, § 138 BGB (Buergerliches Gesetzbuch, the German Civil Code). According to the institutional character of a marriage as an ideal in the 19th century, a marriage rather was a moral than a legal phenomenon. Morality was then the most important limit on the freedom of contracts. In those times it was therefore determined in a very detailed manner what kind of agreements were void because of immorality: any agreement in which the spouses:

- assigned the wife to the husband’s power

- waived matrimony, sexual intercourse and joint residency

- waived the obligation of reciprocal care-taking

- excluded any litigation regarding marriages

- took away the husband’s benefits from the wife’s financial contribution such as the dowry

- adjourned the maturity to make the dowry to a date after the dissolution of this marriage

- conceded the other spouse the right of adultery or criminal behaviour

- limited the husband’s liability to administrate the wife’s dowry

An agreement was also void when it deprived the surviving wife of her property and gave it to the husband’s relatives after his death. In those times, people nonetheless believed that the above-listed limits gave the spouses enough contractual freedom.

According to Hattenhauer the end of this type of marital agreements came with the creation and effective date of the BGB (Buergerliches Gesetzbuch, i.e. the German Civil Code) in January 1900. From that time on, a marital agreement was defined as a contract which only determines the system of marital property. It did not determine any other kind of financial or personal matters. The 1901 book of annotations, Planckscher Kommentar, stated that a marital agreement is a contract used by spouses to determine their system of marital property. On the negative side you can not understand it as a contract which determines personal matters such as the wife’s obligation to follow her husband or the decisions about parenting, etc. Whether such agreements are valid and can be enforced depends on their accordance with the nature of marriage and morality. However, such agreement is not a marital agreement pursuant to § 1432 BGB.

From that time on, people didn’t acknowledge agreements about any personal matters anymore, even if they had done so in a tradition of hundreds of years. According to Hattenhauer the annotation shows the skeptical understanding of the validity of such contracts very clearly, because it points out the fact that such contracts had to be in accordance with the nature of a marriage. Because the BGB was understood as defining the nature of marriage in those times, consequently every agreement about personal matters was void, because it differed from the model described in the BGB.

The annotation to the first draft of the BGB had the same understanding:

“The draft acknowledges the principle of contractual freedom. However, it also points out the limits of contractual freedom. An agreement can only be valid as long as is not in contradiction to the nature of marriage. Agreements about the regulations regarding the marital status of spouses such as e.g. their legal relationship are void in general because those regulations are the necessary essence of marital relationships.”

By citing Art. 199 EGBGB (Einfuehrungsgesetz zum BGB, the Introduction Act to the BGB) Hattenhauer reaches the conclusion that the German law in those times didn’t favor such marital agreements anymore:

“The personal relations between spouses, especially their obligation to pay support, are determined by the regulations of the BGB, even if they concern a marriage before the effective date of BGB.”

Hattenhauer believes that the purpose of this was to eliminate agreements regarding personal matters in general. In his opinion, therefore, The Marital Agreement by Albert von Baldigands (1906) was a fundamental book which pointed out that such agreements are no longer marital agreements.

Regarding this new legal understanding of marital agreements Hattenhauer cites two cases:

In 1900 a court had to decide about an agreement in which the husband agreed to have his place of residence at the wife’s land property, and promised to cultivate the land. The wife sued the husband, and the court held that she had no right to demand performance of the agreement, because only the husband had the right to decide about the place of residency (pursuant to § 1354 BGB). It was also held that even if the agreement had been valid until the effective date of the BGB, it had become void.

In 1905 the courts had to decide again about a marital agreement made before the effective date of the BGB. In this case the husband had waived his right to administrate the wife’s estate, and had waived his right to use it. In consideration of this, the wife had waived her right to receive support from her husband. The court held that a contractual waiver regarding support is void and that it did not make a difference if the wife’s waiver was made freely or not.

From that time on it was case law, and the annotations stated, that all agreements about personal matters were void. They were not in accordance with the nature of marriage.

Hattenhauer says that one reason for this change in opinion about marital agreements and the mistrust against them might lie in the effort to create a uniform/homogeneous family and inheritance law. He argues that the authors of the BGB were proud that they had limited the former variety of 100 systems of marital property to only five. He therefore reaches the conclusion that it was only reasonable that nobody wanted to destroy this success and give the spouses their contractual freedom back.

The authors of the BGB were also convinced that they had created marriage as a “timeless and exhaustive institution,” and that they had created a truly moral model of marriage with equal rights for wife and husband by upholding the traditional roles. This middle class model of marriage was regarded as exclusive. As marriage and family were the cornerstones of the middle class, Hattenhauer believes that this was the reason why the middle class didn’t want to make any concessions for the benefit of the spouses’ individual liberty, and the demand for contractual freedom only led to mistrust.

However, in this new model of marriage the husband still had to be afraid of losing assets by leaving his wife. The new system was still able to stabilize a marriage because of the continued existence of a very traditional social order and the principle of marrying within one’s station.

Hattenhauer believes that this legislation would have been useless if the people’s understanding of marital obligations of spouses had not been generally shared. He also believes that the model was secured by society’s morality. He states that even socialists had the same opinion about sexuality, marriage, family etc. in those times. So he reaches the conclusion that the general moral understanding helped to make the courts find every agreement differing from the BGB void because of immorality.

According to Hattenhauer the acknowledgement of this model of marriage was also supported by society’s unbroken trust in their assets. It was e.g. not immoral if the fathers-in-law sat down and started calculating the amount of the assets while the spouses just enjoyed their love. But only after two decades, in the 1920s, the trust in the assets, and the assets themselves, were melted away by inflation, so marriage-stabilizing couldn’t be achieved by financial contributions anymore. Society was forced to look for new stabilizing techniques.

Hattenhauer states that from this time on a new “asset” for a wife to bring into the marriage was a solid vocational training, as a form of social security. People believed that this asset could not melt away even in times of inflation. The fact that both spouses were working turned out to be a stabilizing factor for marriage, especially regarding its psychological balance. Besides her dowry her vocational training now gave the wife stability even if she gave up her profession to become a housewife. However, even then, stability was still achieved by society’s constraints and traditional case law.

Hattenhauer then describes the current status quo:

- marriage has lost its protection by law

- middle-class morality has lost its general prestige

- the number of divorces and the number of children of divorce who are skeptical of marriage have increased

- the model of an “emancipatory marriage” has replaced the middle-class model of marriage

- the stabilizing legal techniques such as “Zugewinn- and Versorgungsausgleich” (equitable distribution including property and pensions) can be abolished by marital agreements

- the loss of faith and trust in marriage made the concubinage more attractive

- the loss of the husband’s responsibility for the wife’s social security (because of her ability to work) has increased the marriage-age of wives, reduced the number of children born into the marriage, and increased the number of disabled children.

According to Hattenhauer the traditional middle-class model of marriage has no binding character anymore and the “emancipatory model” of marriage is a fad without a function. He believes that this pluralism of models cannot be resolved by giving one of them priority, and that the role of the law is reduced to setting only the frameworks for what might be binding and what might not.

Today, there are various answers regarding the question of what is legally binding, or what is the nature of marriage and therefore is protected by the Code’s principle of morality (§ 138 BGB). Prof. Gernhuber, e.g., names various principles which he thinks are binding:

“[1] The principle to be free to enter a marriage, [2] that spouses make a contract by entering a marriage, [3] the principle of monogamy, [4] that marriage can only be between a woman and a man, [5] the spouses’ obligation to live in matrimony, [6]  that marriage can only be dissolved by death.”

Hattenhauer asks what kind of legal techniques we need in our changed society today, if we see those principles as binding? As the traditional pre-1900 marital agreement, varying the standard obligations of marriage, is back and practiced again, he believes that it can be used as a stabilizing legal technique. The determination of personal and financial matters in those agreements can help to give marriages a more binding character than the law itself does. Hattenhauer states that the creation of various types of such marital agreements has already begun and will continue. Those new marital agreements still find their limits of contractual freedom in illegality (§ 134 BGB) and morality (§ 138 BGB).

Looking at spouses’ considerations as they enter a marital agreement, you will find that hardly anybody has considered it as a stabilizing factor. You will also find that people haven’t paid much attention yet to agreeing on personal matters, nor to agreeing about certain personal sanctions, in a marital agreement, in contrast to financial matters and financial sanctions. According to Hattenhauer the demand for individualized agreements and regulations is especially high. He states that personal matters included in agreements can be: the decision to have children and their raising, the decision who works and who does the household work, the place of residence, the things you do in your leisure time, holidays, relationships with relatives and in-laws, religious decisions, decisions about the procedure to solve conflicts or problems, etc. As each of his listed personal matters can cause a conflict and might destroy a marriage if it cannot be solved, he argues, spouses should agree in a marital agreement about those personal matters and should therefore also agree about sanctions to avoid conflicts and the dissolution of the marriage.

As the regulations in the BGB regarding divorce, and high costs, do not deter spouses from the decision to get divorced, Hattenhauer thinks that it might aid the stabilization of marriages if spouses could agree to limit their right to get divorced. He states that any useful suggestions on this are still missing, and people miss the mark by only agreeing about financial sanctions. Prof. Langenfeld suggested having different systems regarding the financial consequences of ending a marriage, distinguishing between ending because of divorce and ending because of death.

Even the BGH (Supreme Court) had already to decide about the use of assets for the purpose of marriage-stabilizing. A marriage entered in 1976 in a mosque in Munich between Islamic spouses included an agreement about a payment in the amount of 100.000 DM in case of getting divorced. The BGH held that the agreement is valid under the freedom of contract. Thus, it was held that agreeing about financial sanctions in case of divorce is valid. It was also held that this was not a contract about the system of marital property, and therefore it did not have to be in one specific form (such as for example under § 1410 BGB).

But no courage to make such decisions on personal matters can be found yet.  Hattenhauer asks why we go about this complicated detour by using only financial sanctions to encourage the continued existence of marriage. Don’t we exclude from the opportunity of contractual stabilizing those spouses who don’t have considerable assets to lose? Why isn’t it possible to let all couples stabilize their marriages by using clear and formulated clauses? He hopes that the lawyers will improve upon this opportunity.

Then he comes back to his contested thesis about the possibility to waive the right to get divorced. First of all he states six theses:

  1. Agreements regarding personal matters are valid and find their limits in the general limits of privatization in civil law.
  2. A limitation or waiver of the right to get divorced is valid because it is not prohibited by law nor immoral or unconstitutional.
  3. Agreements about arbitration and any other models for solving conflicts are valid and legal
  4. Although entering or leaving a marriage has to comply with a certain form, agreements limiting the ability to get divorced do not.
  5. An agreed limit on the ability to get divorced can be revoked by agreement at any time.
  6. A court should determine the immorality of an objection regarding the waiver of the right to get divorced in a trial, in which the invalidity of the agreement has to be proved by the petitioner.

The train of thought is again, for example:

Wife and husband, both Catholics, want to get married and want their religion to become legally effective (in addition to the official governmental ceremony). Using Privatization in order to express their religious beliefs, the couple creates a marital agreement that they will not get divorced. In addition the agreement states that any litigation of marital issues will be decided by means of arbitration and the arbitrator shall be an ecclesiastical judge.

If the spouses then get into conflict there are two choices: Both agree to change the marital agreement, revoke their waiver and both can move the court for a conventional divorce. That means that nobody can jump out of the marriage hastily.  If the other spouse refuses to agree about the change of the marital agreement the spouse will then move the court to decide. But the Respondent can make the objection that the court has no jurisdiction because of the agreed clause regarding arbitration. If the respondent moves to the court of arbitration, he or she will be forced to find a mediated solution. If there is no arbitrated solution the arbitrator will dismiss the motion to get divorced because of the agreed waiver. The Petitioner can appeal by citing § 1041 Nr. 2 ZPO and proving the immorality of the Respondent’s objection regarding the waiver. Finally, the way out of a marriage should never be absolutely excluded as the last solution, but the way out should be restricted. This complies with the principle of tolerance and pluralism.

It is now necessary to show what sort of model of marriage will be more successful. In open concurrence to the already existing variety of dangerous and insecure models of concubinages, we will have a variety of secure marital agreements in which the demand for stability and the waiver of the right to get divorced will find their place. It will be personal self-fulfillment instead of being kept in leading strings by the government: In dubio pro libertate! [Meaning, in all cases that are in doubt, rule in favor of freedom. In English law, stated as “in statu dubio semper erit pro libertate iudicandum”. Bracton, f. 191 b]


2018 Va. family law legislation: Alimony, court reporter reform, abuse prevention, child support, inheritance, violence, legalized adultery?

UPDATED APRIL 10, 2018

MODIFICATION BY THE GOVERNOR 

  •  HB 1351 Joint legal or physical child custody; custody and visitation decisions, communication to parties. Governor added: In any case or proceeding involving the custody or visitation of a child, to enable the child to apply for a state or federal benefit and upon the request of any party, the court shall make any finding of fact required by state or federal law in order for the child to receive such benefit. The existing language, which the Governor did not change, is: "The court shall consider and may award joint legal, joint physical, or sole custody, and there shall be no presumption in favor of any form of custody."  The bill's original text, completely replaced as it went through both houses, was, "The consideration of "joint physical custody" means the court shall consider custody and visitation arrangements that are reasonably constructed to maximize a child's time with each parent to the greatest extent possible in the child's best interests." At least the statute still says, "The court shall assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children." 

ENACTED, SIGNED BY GOVERNOR

KILLED (incl. passed by, stricken, tabled, continued to next year ...)

  • HB 599 Child support; nonpayment, amount of arrearage paid, suspension of driver's license.
  • HB 1223 Erin's Law, having schools educate children to recognize, resist and report molestation
  • HB 661 Assault and battery against a family or household member; enhanced, penalty. [Passed house, passed senate with substitute,  each house insisted on its own version, time ran out for Conference Committee]
  • HB 411 Assisted conception; gender-neutral as to same-sex.
  • HB 998 Parental or legal custodial powers, temporary delegation of; child-placing agency. [Passed House, continued to 2019 in Senate committee]
  • HB 807 Custody and visitation agreements; best interests of the child, violent abuse of other family members
  • HB 412 Marriage-related criminal laws; gender-neutral terms, adultery repeal, penalty.
  • HB 413 Adoption; gender-neutral as to same-sex.
  • HB 414 Same-sex marriage; marriage laws, gender-neutral terms.
  • HB 478 Domestic violence-related misdemeanors; enhanced, penalty.
  • HB 1237 Assault and battery against a family or household member; first offense, enhanced penalty.
  • HB 149 Child support order payee; change in physical custody of child, orders involving DSS.
  • HB 1331 Child support; review of guidelines federal compliance.
  • SB 64 Custody and visitation decisions; communication to parties required in writing.
  • SB 70 Custody and visitation; rights of parents with a disability.
  • SB 178 Parental or legal custodial powers, temporary delegation of; child-placing agency.
  • SB 596 Victims of domestic violence, etc.; firearms safety or training course.
  • SB 603 Same-sex marriage; gender-neutral terms.
  • SB 612 Assisted conception; parentage presumption.
  • SB 727 FOIA; exemptions for courts of record, courts not of records and Office of the Executive Secretary
  • SB 938 Child support; withholding of income, contracts with an independent contractor.
  • HB 216 Guardians, licensed physician, etc.; annual reports to include medical examination.
  • HB 383 Missing-heir search firms; void contracts.
  • HB 406 Guardianship; protects communication between incapacitated persons & others, notification of relatives.
  • HB 406 Guardianship; communication between incapacitated persons & others, notification of relatives.
  • HB 1403 Electronic wills; requirements.
  • HB 1565 Presumption of death; missing person reports.

 Compiled by John Crouch, updated by John Crouch and Sarah Araman


My comments on proposed limited-scope representation rules; your comments due March 1

The Virginia Supreme Court and the Judicial Council are considering a new rule to deal with limited-scope representation, especially assistance to people who are already in litigation. My comments on it are below. The proposal, and where you can send comments by March 1, 2018, are at:

Advisory Committee on Rules of Court, Judicial Council of Virginia, "LIMITED-SCOPE REPRESENTATION ISSUES".

Overall comments — 
 
This is a very important reform. Full-scale representation in family law litigation is often unaffordable even by people who would be considered upper middle class. And it takes both divorcing spouses to prevent any particular divorce from becoming unaffordable, long-running litigation.
 
The proposed rule has many extra cautionary requirements for the attorney, or the attorney’s name and contact information, to be present in court, and on documents, even for issues where the lawyer is not involved. Please bear in mind that each of these requirements comes at a cost, not only of the attorney’s time, attention, and availability for other cases, but also by sowing predictable confusion among clients and especially their opposing parties, who aren’t involved in the limited-scope agreement. When lawyers’ names are on papers or a lawyer is present, lay people are going to assume that the lawyer is a prime mover in whatever is going on. Lay people, and even the lawyers themselves, will often feel that the lawyer has some responsibility to intervene or advise about whatever comes to the lawyer’s attention. Lawyers' instinct to be helpful will inevitably cause “mission creep” in many cases. So all such requirements should be kept to the minimum necessary.
 
As lawyers comply with these additional requirements, clients and other members of the public may feel that the lawyer is hanging around like a vulture waiting to insert herself into the proceedings and expand her involvement so that it is no longer limited. Or interfering, intruding and violating the client’s desire to limit the scope of the lawyer’s work, by writing to the client with repeated notifications of well-known facts about hearing dates, etc., whenever the lawyer is cced on something the other side sends out. Many clients already respond this way to communications that court rules and ethics rules require us to send.
 
Line comments
 
9-10 
 
 I agree that a lawyer should not be present but generally uninvolved, only popping up now and then with objections. That would be chaotic and unfair.
 
But I can also see the value in having an attorney handle only a particular motion in limine or motion to suppress. It seems fairly clear that the intent is to allow that, but it would help to make that explicit.
 
11-13
 
" A notice of limited scope representation is not required for  … (ii) services performed by an attorney before any litigation is pending”
 
Does that dispensation also apply to the requirements to “indicate” or “identify" in (1) (F), Alternative versions 2 through 5?
 
I believe it should apply. Either way, that question should be answered explicitly.
 
26 et seq. — Alternative versions of (F)
 
In all versions, the term “papers for submission to a court” is intended to be clear, but what about marital separation agreements? They are not court filings. They are binding contracts when the parties sign them, regardless of whether they are submitted to a court. But whenever one gets signed by both spouses, perhaps 95% of the time there is going to be divorce, and the agreement i8s going to be submitted to the court as part of the divorce process.
 
I think limited-scope assistance is crucial, so I oppose Alternative # 5, which essentially bans limited-scope, and Alternative # 4, which creates a presumption against it; imposes a needless requirement to essentially file a notice of appearance, and then to file a notice of disappearance.
 
86
 
“Papers” sounds vague. I think you mean litigation documents such as pleadings or discovery requests, but we need a more precise, comprehensive, understandable, and distinctive term for that.
If it’s intended to mean everything, including settlement correspondence, that’s reasonable, too, but that too would need to be clearer. Because the word “papers”, to a lot of people, vaguely indicates papers that are somehow official, binding, and/or threatening.
 
88
 
The requirement should be to notify the “sender”, not “the adversaries”. They might not be the same people.
 
 
notify the adversaries in writing of that fact
should be changed to  
notify the adversaries, in writing, of that fact
or
notify the adversaries of that in writing
 
But really, “that” or “that fact” might not make clear to everyone which of the facts mentioned earlier in the sentence it refers to, so it would be better to say, 
 
“the attorney must notify the sender that the documents received deal wholly or partly with matters outside the scope of the limited representation,"
 
107-108
 
"(D) Contacts by adversaries or co-parties on matters within the limited scope of 108 representation shall be with counsel …"
 
What about family law cases, where many couples legitimately continue some kinds of negotiation between themselves, even when they both have counsel who are negotiating at the same time? 
 
110-111
 
“copy served upon the attorney making a limited scope appearance” — 
 
Would serving the attorney require that attorney to respond and notify as required in (3)(C)? If that happens once, it makes sense or is at least harmless. But in litigation where filings go back and forth almost every week, it’s going to drag the limited-scope attorney into a lot of busy work, and confuse litigants — the client and/or the opposing party — about the attorney’s role.
 
115-116
 
(A) — attendance at all court proceedings, outside the scope,  should not be required if the rule is truly allowing limited representation. I would expect attorneys to charge for this time, and it would be a major burden on the clients and the attorneys.
 
John Crouch
VSB Council Member for 17th Circuit
Fellow, International Academy of Family Lawyers (Formerly IAML)
and International Academy of Collaborative Professionals
 

Law schools' focus on case-law makes the law & lawyers elitist, undemocratic, bad at their most important job

Larry Gaughan, an elder statesman of family law and mediation in Northern Virginia, recently reflected on the legal profession's excessive focus on case-law, and the attitude that law isn't real until it has been applied in a published appeals court case. Besides the way it poisons lawyers' ability to help their clients, which he so eloquently illustrates, I think there's even more:

  1. It makes young lawyers ridiculously elitist and contentious -- they model themselves on bow-tied Supreme Court Justices hurling pompous insults at each other and at the people involved in their cases, and not on real lawyers working in the trial courts, lawyers who work to resolve disputes before they become trials, and lawyers who try to draft contracts and statutes so well that people won't even have legal disputes about them, and won't have to go to lawyers to know what they mean.
  2. It's anti-democratic: As Larry points out, major new legislation in our field -- even something as basic as letting divorce courts divide property --  is often not understood, and not really recognized, until there is case law saying what it means. And Virginia's appeals courts sometimes take the attitude that revising the details of divorce-related law is only their business, and when the legislature tries to meddle in it or to undo the effects of an appeals court decision, they seem to do their best to frustrate the legislature's aims or use the new statutes to reach absurd and unintended results, as if to say, 'see what a mess you make when you meddle in the affairs of divorce courts!' In Constitutional law, the Third Amendment and, until recent decades, the Second Amendment, are often described as a dead letter because there were no court case opinions 'making them real.'

Larry writes:

"In 1890 American law schools began to switch to the study of appellate cases as the primary means of legal education.  ...  Given that so few law graduates now wind up as litigators, that approach makes less sense with every passing year.  Almost by its very nature, the case system teaches us to look backwards and to think of law as litigation. ...

"The case system made more sense when most law graduates wound up as lawyers whose practices included litigation.  Even [for them], law schools were not great in teaching statutory interpretation.  I remember vividly the problems many Virginia lawyers had in figuring out how to interpret the new equitable distribution statute as first enacted in 1982.  To many lawyers, the new statute really only started to have meaning after the appellate cases started to come into play. ...

"We must recognize that most legal disputes are not resolved by courts, that statutes have meaning even before courts interpret them, and that more law school graduates will pursue careers that require some knowledge of the legal framework, but also the ability to quickly learn and assimilate other kinds of expertise."

Like most lawyers, I have good and bad recollections of my own legal education.  I remember the popular law professor who taught commercial law courses, and the skepticism about another professor who taught criminal procedure.  The former taught us “the law” from uniform statues that were already in the process of major revisions.  The latter was a theorist whose courses accurately predicted every one of the major reforms of the Warren court.

-- Mediator and lawyer Larry Gaughan in "An Improper Focus for Legal Education", The Divorce Agreement Newsletter, No. 53 – July 6, 2016


The best way to divide Christmas between divorced / separated parents is ...

The author of "What’s the best Christmas contact arrangement for children?"is a wise man, that's for sure. His slogan is, “Mediation is the fence at the top of the cliff, not the ambulance at the bottom.” I share his recommendation for mediation, or using your parenting coordinator if you have one, or even picking one or more neutral-ish friends to consult together to help resolve such issues. I used to know a judge who got in trouble for flipping a coin to decide the issue the parents put before her -- who got which half of Christmas vacation which year -- but I think what she did was precisely appropriate to the nature of the dispute, and made the point that the question should never have been in court at all. Here's how to do better:

What’s the best Christmas contact arrangement for children?


#KansasSpermDonor media coverage spreads savage, medieval notions of children as trade goods

In a case that has gone on for years now, a couple found a sperm donor on craigslist instead of going to a sperm bank or fertility clinic. States have laws that say sperm donors won't be considered fathers, but they require several procedures, standards and safeguards, and a licensed clinic must be responsible for the procedure. 

Some media coverage has perpetuated the inhumane, patriarchal, but still widespread notions that children are property to be bought and sold  by contract, and that child support is a trade-off for visitation. Fox's WHTI TV 10 in Terre Haute, Indiana says in today's story on the case, "Kansas sperm donor fights back after state forces him to pay child support":

"'Angie and Jennifer are the parents,' Marotta said. The state of Kansas won’t accept that. Despite the fact that the lesbian couple and Marotta signed a contract giving up all parental rights to the child."

"According to Marotta his lawyer has only found one other case in the United States where this has happened, but in that case the sperm donor had changed his mind and requested visitation with the child. Something Marotta’s never wanted, or asked for."

The social services spokesperson quoted in the article has it exactly right: 

“If an individual wants to have the protections of a sperm donor, he needs to follow the law. ... Parental rights can not be signed away without following adoption laws.

And that's exactly what those involved should have done, at least after Kansas's Supreme Court upheld a trial court decision recognizing gay co-parenthood in February of 2013. The Court's opinion in that case shows how it differs from this one:

The coparenting agreement before us cannot be construed as a prohibited sale of the children because the biological mother retains her parental duties and responsibilities. The agreement is not injurious to the public because it provides the children with the resources of two persons, rather than leaving them as the fatherless children of an artificially inseminated mother. 

 I am for freedom of contract and against government interference, far more than almost anyone else I know. But your freedom of contract ends where your children's fundamental rights and interests begin. Including the child's right to parents, recognized in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.* Because of that, courts and other government agencies are in charge of investigating and approving adoptions. That authority is exercised pretty minimally in cases that are based on mutual consent, particularly where one biological parent remains a parent, but it is still crucial for the government to have a role in any change so fundamental as changing who a person's parents are. This gives the state and judges a chance to oversee the process, to verify the parents' informed consent, to step in when it looks like the adoption is not in the child's interests, and to have uniform official records confirming legal parent-child relationships.

*Relevant Parts of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child:

The family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community." (CRC Preamble)

The child ... shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and. as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. (CRC Art. 7)

 States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference. (CRC Art. 8(1))

States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be made as to the child's place of residence. (CRC Art. 9(1))

States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child's best interests. (CRC Art. 9(3))

States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child. (CRC Art. 14(2))

 


This top divorce litigator highly recommends mediation, but for reasons most of us won't talk about:

It's really refreshing to hear Atlanta divorce lawyer Randy Kessler say why he thinks mediation is "wonderful" and needed in almost every family law case that is in contested litigation or heading for it. ("High-Conflict Cases: Q&A with Randall Kessler" on familylawyermagazine.com, 9/1/15)

For me, just like for Randy, actually working as a neutral Mediator is just the tip of the iceberg. I act as a mediator in family law cases, but almost as often, I represent one person as their lawyer in a mediation that involves lawyers as well as clients and the neutral mediator. Even more often, I counsel clients who are in mediation on their own. I help them review their written agreements and their personal and legal situations before they finally sign a contract settling all the issues between them and their ex. But far more often than that, I help people through divorce and other family disputes as a negotiator and drafter, as a litigator, or in Collaborative Law, which combines the conflict-resolving  techniques of mediation with the things that mediators cannot provide but lawyers must: complete, frank legal advice; loyalty and fidelity to the client's goals and interests; and advocacy which makes sure that clients' views are heard, that their interests and concerns are carefully and adequately considered in the process, and that before making any final decision, they have enough time, information, advice, and are in a mental and emotional state to understand and make such life-changing decisions safely. 

I'm not a touchy-feely "new age" or "granola" mediator or lawyer, so I have always really liked Randy's style. He mentions one virtue of mediation that I always thought was necessary and should be recognized and developed, but which went against the purist therapeutic, facilitative, non-directive ideal of mediation which I was trained in over 20 years ago. Many people in disputes want, and need, to make their case for justice, as they see it, to someone who represents their community (however they define it), and/or an authority figure,  or at least to someone who will understand their situation, and whom the other party will have to respect and listen to. I always thought of this aspect as "A Mediator is a Person in Your Neighborhood."

Here's the mediation part of Randy's interview: 

Let’s be clear that I'm a litigator who also mediates. I did get trained 20 years ago as a mediator and I do serve a few times a year as a mediator, but I'm an advocate and often hired because people think they need to litigate.

Sooner or later, people will understand that mediation is almost inevitable in any divorce case. It's a wonderful process and it's almost necessary in every case, except when there’s domestic violence or it's clear mediation won't work. It is worth trying for so many reasons and that's why I recently wrote a book on mediation and how I feel about it. If done properly, mediation gives you a chance to settle the case, save the aggravation of litigation, and prevents you from hearing the unkind words of your spouse on the witness stand that will ring in your mind forever. It’s invaluable if you can solve the case without litigation.

There are additional secondary and tertiary benefits to mediation. You may learn something about your opponent's case that makes you re-evaluate your case, or you may learn something about your own client and realize they can't stand up to the other side. For example, if your client falls apart when the other side is present, you cannot go to trial. You may learn that the other lawyer is brilliant or not so brilliant. Maybe the most important point is that mediation allows your client to have a brief catharsis and say the things that many people feel they need to go to court to be able to say. While it might not matter to the judge what your client’s ex-spouse did to them, it matters to the client and they may not be able or willing to settle the case until they've said it to somebody besides their attorney – somebody neutral like a mediator.

Mediation and litigation are not mutually exclusive. They’re part of the process. Most judges require or urge mediation if for no other reason than they know it will reduce their calendar. If half of the cases that go to mediation can settle, there are 50% fewer cases that the judge has to handle. More than 50% of cases that go to mediation in domestic cases do settle.

Mediation is a wonderful tool. When I first started, I remember lawyers saying that they didn’t need a mediator to help settle their cases; however, fewer clients felt like they'd had their chance to speak. I could talk about mediation for hours, which is why I wrote a book on it. ...

From: "High-Conflict Cases: Q&A with Randall Kessler" on http://familylawyermagazine.com, 9/1/15.

Randy's book is How to Mediate a Divorce.


NY's Unilateral No-Fault Law Increases Divorces 18%, Makes'em Nasty, Brutish & Long. Lawyers Mystified.

New York joined the rest of the U.S. and most of Europe a few years ago by allowing no-fault divorces that were unilateral -- not requiring a separation agreement on the economic and child-related details of the divorce -- and quick -- well, quick to start, anyway. Not so quick to finish. Now the divorce lawyers who pushed for the change are dumbfounded to discover that divorce in New York is starting to look exactly like divorce in the rest of the country, the New York Law Journal reports.

In the past, couples who lacked grounds for a divorce or didn't want to assert grounds had to work out an interim agreement and wait a year, said Lee Rosenberg, a partner at Saltzman Chetkof & Rosenberg in Garden City. Rosenberg, a fellow with the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and former chairman of the Nassau County Bar Association Matrimonial Law Committee, said that while he is writing far fewer separation agreements now, he is seeing more divorces—and an inexplicable elevation in hostility. "There is a proliferation of litigation," Rosenberg said. "The amount of recalcitrance and expectations which are illegitimate, the amount of infighting amongst the litigants, and to some degree amongst counsel, is from my perspective at an all-time high."

The number divorces jumped from 49,816 in 2009 to 56,382 in 2010 and 58,556 in 2012* .  "If there are more cases filed, there are more cases in the pipeline and less resources to deal with them. We have judges triple-booked for trials through the end of the summer," Rosenberg said.

"Data from the New York State Department of Health showed that in 2012, only one of every 32 divorces followed a separation agreement, compared with one in seven in the pre-no-fault era."

"Just a few years ago, separation agreements consistently preceded about 7 percent of divorces, providing a cost-effective way for unhappy couples to start dissolving their marriage and a steady source of income for matrimonial attorneys drawing up the agreements." Richard W. Cole of the Albany Law firm of Tully Rinckey said: "Previously, separation agreements were like a two-step divorce because you didn't want to fight over fault grounds. So, the parties would reach a separation agreement and wait out the year without having to prove cruel and inhuman treatment or any of those other unpleasant things that come up in divorce complaints."

Rosenberg said court system is being strained due to an influx of unrepresented litigants and budgetary constraints. The Judiciary, which has been functioning for years with flat budgets, is seeking about a 2.5 percent increase from the Legislature for the fiscal year that begins April 1.

"It is extremely burdensome on the judiciary and court staff to try and manage these cases," Rosenberg said. "If there are more cases filed, there are more cases in the pipeline and less resources to deal with them. We have judges triple-booked for trials through the end of the summer."

Condensed from "With No-Fault Divorces, Separation Agreements Plummet" By John Caher, New York Law Journal, March 7, 2014. 

Read more: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202645838937/With-No-Fault-Divorces%2C-Separation-Agreements-Plummet#ixzz2vJ4d6MkO


A mentor in the dark, dangerous art of drafting, a model for lawyers' and law's service to clients and lawmakers

Richmond lawyer and professor Rodney Johnson, who died last Wednesday, was one of my most important teachers, although only through his formbooks and continuing-education course. He and William & Mary Prof. John E. Donaldson gave me an outstanding model for how the content and practice of law should intersect with real people’s lives, and how lawyers should interact with legislatures. They were my first instructors in drafting, a dark and mysterious art that I care about deeply. All of their teachings affect my techniques in family law and mediation just as much as in drafting wills, trusts, powers of attorney, etc.

I still use Prof. Johnson’s forms for my wills, etc., though I have painstakingly translated them into plainer English and have made them even more modular, and even easier to customize efficiently while avoiding common revision mistakes and unintended consequences – i.e., building on his inspiration to make them even more “Johnsonian”. Documents should have the legal effect that people intend, across time, but should also be worded so that non-lawyers understand them: two goals that can be mutually exclusive, and require great effort and imagination to combine. They must be built to withstand every possible unexpected sequence of events, continuing to carry out the client's wishes even though most clients don't want to think about the possibilities. To minimize the need to go to court, or even to lawyers, to figure out what they mean. And to discourage and survive the tampering of clients who know a little bit about the law and terminology, most of it wrong, and think they know everything.

I came into law school already believing in the ideal of the Common Law as explained by Bruno Leoni in Freedom and the Law: that the law, at its best, reflects the rules of life, adapted to local conditions, which most people find fair and workable when they actually have to apply them to resolve real disputes. And that therefore, common law, forged and evolving in jury trials and judges' decisions, is better than legislation, which can be made up in a vacuum and based on ideologies and grand systems that look impressive on paper but are irrelevant to real life. What I learned from Johnson, Donaldson, and other teachers did not change that, but gave me a solid idea of how to achieve those objectives in the legal system as it actually is. Legislation about wills, trusts etc. should work so as to provide "default" rules, and rules of interpretation, to carry out what most people would want, intend and mean if they thought about it and had a chance to spell it out expressly. But also make it easy for people with different wishes to put those into effect. Legislation can be an efficient way to tweak the common-law rules, and older statutes, to make the laws and personal documents do what most people directly affected by them most often want them to do. This can and should make litigation and adjudication less necessary. It should also make it less necessary for people to hire lawyers and make or update their wills, contracts, trusts, powers of attorney, etc. Lawyers should work with legislators, as Professors Johnson and Donaldson did, by telling them what kinds of laws make things easier, fairer and more peaceful for clients and families, and what laws have had, or might have, unintended consequences; not lobbying for any particular faction based on gender, age, class, or some other special interest, but to increase everyone's welfare by lubricating the system and reducing conflict and court involvement in people's lives. That's the kinds of laws and lobbying that we heard about in law school, and it is what I and others try to to when informing legislators about the pros and cons of family-law legislation, as well.

J. Rodney Johnson, lawyer, expert in wills and trusts, dies at 75

By ELLEN ROBERTSON Richmond Times-Dispatch


Creationist with backhoe debates more constructively than most lawyers, helps science

 In Collaborative Divorce and other kinds of Collaborative Law cases, the clients and lawyers share all the evidence. Even while disagreeing fundamentally about what it means. Even if they fear it will undermine their positions. That's one of the two most fundamental elements of Collaborative Law, and sometimes the most difficult (not hard to understand, but hard to bring yourself to do).

Collaboration borrows some concepts from science and medicine, in which teams of professionals in various fields pool their information and expertise and collaborate to solve problems. A great example of such collaboration in the midst of conflict, in which both sides seek the truth from very different points of view, was reported in the Calgary Sun last week:

"One of the most important fossil finds in decades, helping to solve an evolutionary puzzle dating back 60 million years" ... "comes at the end of a backhoe operated by a man known as the greatest promoter of creationism in Alberta. His name is Edgar Nernberg, and when he’s not sitting on the board of directors of Big Valley’s Creationist Museum or actively lobbying for the inclusion of creationism in Alberta’s school curriculum, Nernberg operates a backhoe in Calgary."

Nernberg found five complete fossilized "bony-tongue fish", about 60 million years old, while digging a basement. “'No, it hasn’t changed my mind. We all have the same evidence, and it’s just a matter of how you interpret it,' says Nernberg. ... 'There’s no dates stamped on these things,' he says, sharing a good-humoured chuckle about a discovery that has him working alongside the ideological enemy. ... Thursday, the University of Calgary will officially unveil the five priceless fish, which might have been chips had Nernberg not noticed them.vIt’s bound to be a very interesting meeting of minds, as Nernberg stands with officials from the university to show off the find."

Alberta creationist Edgar Nernberg digs up what scientists are calling the most important fossil finds in decades 

BY , CALGARY SUN   

1297705409474_ORIGINAL