As divorce attorneys, it is often useful to recall the reasons that people get married in the first place. We may try not to be cynical of the union of marriage, but it is easier said than done when every day is spent helping people navigate through their divorces. And, especially in light of the monumental victories that have recently come for same sex couples and the right to marry, it may be a better time than ever to take a step back and examine some of the reasons why people may decide to get married, or why people ever fought for the right to marry.
According to a recent study highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, two economists at Emory University identified a correlation between expensive weddings and high divorce rates. In addition, the researchers also noted a connection between the price of the engagement ring and the rate of divorce. The more expensive the ring, the more often the marriage ends in divorce. Despite the statistical link between an expensive wedding or engagement ring and a subsequent divorce; the researchers were not able to conclude that the price of the wedding or the engagement ring was the cause of the divorce.
The Knot, a popular website used by brides to plan their dream weddings, reports that the average U.S. wedding costs approximately $30,000. The wedding industry today is brings in roughly $52 billion dollars in revenue each year. As a result, the industry pushes the idea that expensive weddings result in long-lasting happy marriages. In addition, the more the couple spends on their special day, the more they must love each other and want to share their joy with friends and family. Although the economists discovered that high attendance at less expensive weddings is actually correlated to a long-term marriage, the price for wedding guests to attend the wedding (often priced per person) is typically the most expensive part of a wedding.
The study conducted by the economists tends to disprove the message perpetrated by the wedding industry based on the following findings:
Cost of the Engagement Ring: Couples who spent between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring are 1.3 times more likely to get divorced than couples who spent between $500 and $2,000 on an engagement in. It looks like less is more when it comes to the ring after all.
Cost of the Wedding: Couples who spent $20,000 or more on the wedding were 1.6 times more likely to get divorced.
Common Factors in Long-Term Marriages: High wedding attendance, taking a honeymoon, relatively high household income, regular attendance of religious services, and having at least one child together.
These initial findings are interesting, but the economists are not finished with their work on this subject. They are discussing additional research which dives deeper into specific populations and following couples through multiple stages of their relationship.
24 year old rapper, Iggy Azalea, and her former boyfriend, Maurice Williams (akak Hefe Wine) are apparently heading to family law court over an alleged marriage that Azalea apparently knew nothing about. Williams filed for divorce claiming that the couple was common-law married in the state of Texas. Williams claims that they held themselves out as man and wife and lived together beginning in September 2008, when Azalea was only 18 years old. Azalea, on the other hand, claims that they were merely dating for about six months and that Williams’ is pulling this “divorce” stunt in a desperate attempt to get money from her now that she has become famous.
Common law marriage is a legally recognized marriage between a couple that does not have a marriage license nor had a marriage ceremony to solemnize their union. On her twitter account Azalea even states that “Unfortunately to file common law ‘divorce’ all you need is three of your friends to sign a statement swearing the persons story is true.” If the Texas family Court judge recognizes the common law marriage between the couple, then all of Azalea’s assets (i.e. music worth millions of dollars) acquired during the marriage could potentially be split 50/50 since Texas is a community property state.
Only a handful of states even recognize common law marriage. These states include Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Utah and Texas. In Texas, a common law marriage is only recognized when either a formal declaration of the marriage has been signed and filed with the County Clerk or the couple agreed to be married and then lived together in Texas as husband and wife and represented to others that they were married. If either party is under the age of 18 then a common law marriage will not be recognized. Azalea’s rep claims that she never agreed to be married to Williams and she most certainly never held herself out as a married couple.
Before Williams and Azalea can even get a “divorce” Williams will need to prove to the court that they actually had a common law marriage. He will need to prove to the Court that he and Azalea agreed to be married, lived together as husband and wife and held themselves out to others as a married couple. One way to prove this is to have a recorded declaration of marriage, which is a form that is filed with the Couty Clerk’s Offices and says that you are married. Since Azalea apparently had no clue about their alleged common law marriage, it is doubtful that they have a declaration of marriage. Other ways of proving their common law marriage is with an insurance policy, lease or other agreements signed as a “married couple. You could also bring people to court who will confirm that you held yourself out to be married.
If Williams and Azalea’s situation had occurred in California, then Williams would not be able to file for “divorce” because California does not recognize common law marriage. In certain situations, partners in California who are not married might be able to bring what’s known as a “Marvin Claim”, but that is not the same as a common law marriage.
A recent ballot initiative in Colorado might just make saying “I do” a little bit more complex by requiring couples engaged to be married to attend a designated number of hours of state-mandated pre-marital education classes before tying the knot. The ballot initiative was proposed by a California organization known as Kids Against Divorce. The organization intends to introduce similar measure across the country in the future. Perhaps California will be next.
According to the Denver Post, the proposed initiative, known as the Colorado Marriage Education Act, would require first time couples to attend 10 hours of marriage education. For those planning to walk down the aisle for the second time, 20 hours of marriage education would be required. And for those walking down the aisle for a third time, 30 hours of marriage education would be mandated before being allowed to get their marriage license. There would of course be an exception for widows, who would be held to the same requirement as those getting married for the first time. After completing the required amount of education, couples would be issued a “Marriage Course Completion Certificate” by the Colorado State Board of Marriage and Family Therapist Examiners.
As with any proposed ballot initiative, requiring couples to attend pre-marital education classes has its pros and cons. Proponents of the ballot initiative argue that it aims to convey the message that a marriage license should be treated like a driver’s license, license to practice law, cosmetology license, or any other license. If these other licenses require a minimum amount of education to prepare a person to drive or practice in their career, why shouldn’t a marriage license require the same to prepare individuals to fulfill their future role as a spouse and potentially as a parent? Proponents further argue that the requirement wouldn’t be overly burdensome and it’s worth it to potentially help couples go into their marriage as a stronger couple unit with more knowledge and better prepared for the commitment they will be making. Furthermore, there is the high potential for a reduction in divorces and in turn a reduction in the significant amount of taxpayer dollars spent each year on courts that handle divorces. On another note, proponents argue that many people would benefit from the tax credit that the ballot initiative offers to married couples who voluntarily choose to complete continuing marital education.
However, as would be expected, there are some Colorado residents who vehemently oppose the proposed measure. These individuals are arguing that it is an overstepping of the government to decide what education people should or should not receive before getting hitched. Others seem to feel that they are ready to get married without the need for education classes or that education classes that they are already taking through their church should be sufficient. Or maybe it’s the cost associated with the education classes (and paid for by the couples) that is the source of outrage for opponents.
In our modern world, it is no longer uncommon for the wife to be the breadwinner of the family. Research has actually shown that in more than 40% of households the wife is the main breadwinner. More and more husbands, on the other hand, are becoming stay at home fathers, taking over traditional female roles and running the home front while the wives are out in the working world and taking responsibility for “bringing home the bacon.” Divorce attorneys are encountering this type of family dynamic more and more in dissolution cases. This increase in female breadwinners challenges the societal norms and traditional gender-based expectations of men being the financial contributor and women taking care of the house and family.
Along with this new and rising family dynamic also comes a rise in new relationship challenges. In fact, research findings report that both husbands and wives tend to be less happy when the female is the breadwinner. Given these findings it isn’t too shocking that the risk of divorce rises when the wife is the breadwinner. Recent studies even report that the divorce rate is 50% higher when the wife earns more than her husband.
So why is it that women who earn more than their husbands have a much less chance of a successful marriage? Perhaps it’s because couples don’t discuss and define their financial and support roles and come to some kind of agreement – something that could be addressed in a premarital agreement. It might be that expectations become muddled and lead to an increase in relationship conflicts. Or perhaps it’s because the women are shouldering all of the financial burdens by working long, tiring hours and yet the men are perceived to be failing to take on a comparable amount of responsibilities on the domestic front. Research also suggests that the social stigma attached to a female breadwinner is also the culprit of subconscious anger and jealousy in marital relationships because the women are more likely to feel that their husbands are not pulling enough weight in the marriage.
Many engaged couples in San Diego contemplate getting a premarital agreement (otherwise known as a prenuptial agreement) before they take their walk down the aisle. However, many future brides and groom never bring the subject up with their future spouse for a variety reasons. For example, parties often misunderstand many elements of the premarital agreement process, are afraid of their partner’s reaction, and resent the stigma that getting a premarital agreement equates to a lack of faith in the marital relationship. However, there are many benefits to getting a premarital agreement as explained below which should also be considered by those contemplating a premarital agreement.
All couples who marry in California without signing a formal premarital agreement have entered into a different type of premarital agreement known as the California Community Property Law. If parties to do not contract otherwise, the default family code provisions governing property division and spousal support will apply upon divorce. There are so many rumors, myths, and misconceptions floating around about California divorce law that many divorcing couples are surprised about their legal rights upon divorce. By discussing a premarital agreement with an experienced family law attorney prior to marriage, both parties can become informed regarding default legal provisions. More importantly, the parties can reach agreements to create the outcomes they intend and expect upon divorce.
Many laws regarding spousal support and the division of marital property contain many elements and factors. Further, California family court judges have a lot of discretion to determine fair and reasonable outcomes. Considering these two facts together, the outcome of a California divorce is nearly impossible to predict. A premarital agreement can provide certainty and peace of mind to parties considering divorce. Premarital agreements provide parties with the opportunity to protect businesses, family assets, and future income.
A premarital agreement is relatively inexpensive compared to a contested divorce which is litigated due to the upset expectations of the parties and uncertainty in family law. As recently modeled by California celebrity divorces, the dissolution process can be so lengthy and drawn out that sometimes it can extend longer than the underlying marriage. One disputed issue can result in multiple hearings or even a trial which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Depending on the complexity of the case, the cost of a premarital agreement will not likely exceed the cost of just one hotly contested issue in a divorce case. Litigating a divorce also comes at a high emotional cost. By resolving the distribution of property and spousal support prior to (or even during) marriage, parties can avoid the emotional turmoil that accompanies divorce litigation.
In the past few years internet dating and the concept of online love connections has exploded. It has become increasingly more socially acceptable to find a mate online than when the concept first arose with the invention of the internet. Recently a new trend has emerged: internet marriages.
The idea that a marriage can occur without the physical presence of one spouse is not so new and trendy. A proxy marriage is a legal ceremony which occurs when one (or both) spouses are not physically present. If both spouses are not present, the wedding is called a “double proxy wedding”. Usually a “stand in” will be present in the absent spouse’s place. Generally, proxy marriages are not legally recognized throughout the United States except in limited circumstances such as for military personnel. In Del Mar, the courts recognize proxy marriage as valid in certain circumstances. California is in the minority of states in this respect.
While proxy marriages were traditionally entered into mainly by active duty military, they are now being used between people who met online and may have never seen each other in person. Weddings are literally being conducted over the internet through services such as Skype and Google Hangout. The purpose of requiring both parties to be present and to conduct a ceremony in the presence of a witness is to ensure the voluntariness of the marriage. The main concerns of the states which do not allow proxy marriages include: facilitation of fraud by those attempting to gain U.S. citizenship and the possibility that they will be used by human traffickers to bring women into the U.S. Although individuals are generally interviewed when they apply for citizenship and questioned about the details of their wedding, the Times reports that officials working for Homeland Security and the State Department do not specifically ask if the wedding occurred by proxy.
Although many stats disallow proxy marriages, generally every state recognizes marriages legally conducted abroad. This means that if two parties legally marry in a foreign jurisdiction in accordance with that jurisdiction’s laws, their marriage is generally recognized in any state. The recognition of marriages legally conducted abroad is being used as a loophole to circumvent the restrictions on proxy marriages. As divorce lawyers are aware, if a proxy marriage occurs pursuant to the marriage laws of a foreign country and that country recognizes the legality of proxy marriages, the proxy marriage will be legally recognized in any state.
It is that time of year when you need to file your income taxes and we want you to be informed. Your filing status for taxes depends partly on your marital status on the last day of the year. If you were still legally married (meaning there is no final divorce decree) as of December 31, 2011 you are considered to have been married for the full year and must file as either married filing jointly or married filing separately. For federal tax purposes, “marriage” currently only means a legal union between a man and a woman as husband and wife. Your filing status is important and is used for many things on your tax return, such as determining your standard deduction, whether you need to file a return, the amount of tax you owe, and whether you qualify for various deductions and credits. When it comes to your filing status, you do have options.
Married Filing Jointly
If you are still legally married, you and your spouse can file a joint tax return. Married couples do not have to be living together to file jointly. If you file a joint return you both must include all your income, exemptions, deductions, and credits on that return. Even if you or your spouse had no income or deductions, you can still file a joint return. You must balance taxes due against your risk of being jointly and separately liable for taxes, interest, and penalties on a joint return. If you question whether your spouse is reporting all income, or have little or no knowledge of your spouse’s income and finances, discuss this issue with legal counsel before signing a joint return. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can hold you liable for all taxes due on a jointly filed return, as well as penalties and interest, even if your spouse alone earned the underlying income.
Married Filing Separately
Legally married couples can also file “married filing separate” whether they live together or not. If you and your spouse file separate returns, you should each report only your own income, exemptions, deductions, and credits on your individual return. You can file a separate return even if only one of you had income. However, the married filing separately status rarely works to lower the family tax bill. For example, one major disadvantage is that you can’t have one spouse itemize and claim all the deductions while the other claims the standard deduction. Both husband and wife must either itemize or use the standard deduction. You can’t mix and match. So if one spouse itemizes and the other has nothing to itemize, that spouse would not then be able to claim the standard deduction, which might have reduced the amount of taxes owed.
Another disadvantage with “married filing separate” filers is that they can no longer take any relevant exclusions, credits, or deductions for adoption or education expenses. Likewise, various exclusion and exemption amounts will be cut for child and dependent care expenses, employer dependent care assistance, and alternative minimum tax. Here are some examples if you file separate returns with your spouse:
• You cannot take the Earned Income Credit.
• You cannot take the Child and Dependent Care Credit in most cases.
• You cannot exclude any interest income from U.S. savings bonds that you used for education expenses.
• You cannot take the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled unless you lived apart from your spouse all year.
• You may owe more taxes on Social Security income or railroad retirement benefits than if you filed jointly.
• You cannot deduct interest paid on student loans.
• You cannot take any education credits.
• You cannot take an exclusion for adoption expenses or the Adoption Credit in most cases.
Benefits of filing under this status include only having liability for the tax, interest, and penalties on your own return. The IRS would not pursue you for your spouse’s tax obligation for that same year. If the return is filed electronically, any refund due can be divided up and directly deposited by the IRS in up to three different separate accounts. Note, however, that some financial institutions will not allow a refund for a joint return to be deposited into an individual account, so if this option is being considered, the taxpayer should check with his or her bank.
If you are a fan of Who’s the Boss? star Tony Danza, you may recall that in 2006 he separated from his wife, Tracy. Four and a half years later, Tony Danza has filed for divorce according to People.com.
As a San Diego divorce lawyer, I have had clients in similar situations; specifically, clients who have waited some length of time after separating to file for divorce. Although I do not know the reason Tony Danza personally waited to file for divorce, sometimes parties wait to file for divorce because they are attempting reconciliation. In my work as a San Diego family law attorney, I have been asked how an attempt at reconciliation effects how property is divided, and specifically how an attempt at reconciliation effects how a spouse’s earnings will be characterized by a court, that is as separate property or community property.
Generally, except as otherwise provided by statue, all property, real or personal, wherever situated, acquired by a married person during the marriage while domiciled in this state is community property. Family Code section 760. One such statutory exception is that earnings and accumulations of a spouse while living separate and apart from the other spouse are separate property. Family Code section 771.
Accordingly, once parties separate, their earnings after the date of separation will generally be characterized as separate property. An “attempt” at reconciliation should have no effect because it is, by its nature, only an attempt, assuming the parties remain living separate and apart. However, as a practical matter, the spouse who stands to benefit from a later date of separation may argue, depending on the facts, that the parties not only attempted reconciliation, but that they actually reconciled. Therefore, an attempt at reconciliation may put date of separation, and thus the character of property, at issue.
It can benefit some individuals, depending on the facts of their case, to enter into a written agreement specifying that reconciliation is being attempted only and preserving the date of separation.