This is the Dumbest Reason for a Couple Getting Divorced in Washington
Gail Wahrenberger is a divorce lawyer. Part of her job is to see partners fight over who gets to spend more time with the kids.
Last time, though, the couple who were divorcing didn’t have any kids. Instead, they fought over who would keep a beloved Lhasa apso. Along with pictures of her client and the dog, Wahrenberger, a lawyer at Stokes Lawrence in Seattle, put them in her legal brief. She made a chart that showed which partner took the dog for walks more often. She even asked the vet for records that would show which partner took the dog to its visits.
Wahrenberger’s buyer got the dog in the end. She holds back a smile as she says, “The woman didn’t come to me and say, ‘This is a dog-custody case.’ But believe me, the hot-button issue came up pretty quickly.” “We had a hard time, but we were able to get the dog back to its owner.”
Tom Hamerlinck works as a divorce lawyer in Seattle. Hamerlinck says that in the past 20 years, he has seen hundreds of cases that make him shake his head. Hamerlinck talks about a case where he defended the wife of the head of a manufacturing company. When the husband started dating his maid, Hamerlinck’s client left the family home and asked for a divorce.
When she left, she didn’t take any furniture or household goods with her because she didn’t want anything in her new home that made her think of “that slimeball.” But Hamerlinck’s client changed her mind when she found out that the maid was pregnant.
While the husband and his pregnant secretary went on a romantic weekend trip out of town, Hamerlinck’s client rented a moving van and took everything out of the family home, even the light bulbs. The client told Hamerlinck everything she had done the next Monday when she went into his office. Because his client had destroyed their case in this way, Hamerlinck was ready for the worst.
He remembers, “I fully expected the husband to file a motion with the court to punish my client and order her to return the personal property that she had taken.” “To my surprise, the husband did nothing. Later, my client heard that her husband thought the “housecleaning” was the price he had to pay.”
It’s Been Nice Getting To Know You, So Long
It looks like divorce is almost as American as apple pie. The National Center for Health Statistics says that 43% of first marriages end in divorce or split in the first 15 years. The number of divorced people in the U.S. has gone up from 8% in 1990 to 10% now, according to the Census Bureau. Also, only 59% of Americans are married, which is less than the 72% who were married in 1980.
People who go through divorce every day are the only ones who really understand it. The Washington State Bar Association says that there are more than 100 divorce lawyers in Western Washington. As much as you might not like it, being a divorce lawyer is hard work. You have to help two people fight it out after their marriage ends. Still, Wahrenberger says she couldn’t picture herself working as a lawyer in any other field, since she helps her clients when they’re at their weakest.
“Being a lawyer in this field, I really believe I can help people through some of the worst times in their lives,” says Wahrenberger, who specialized in business law until 1991. “Divorce can be hard, but it can also be very rewarding if it’s clear that both people will be better off without each other.”
Divorce Cases 101
A spouse doesn’t have to show that the other person did something wrong for the court to end the marriage. This “no fault” method is meant to help couples work things out without getting angry or bitter. Many problems can be solved through mediation, but many people who are divorcing hire lawyers, especially when there are disagreements or when children and property are involved. Things can get very bad without lawyers.
Things often get bad, even when you have lawyers. As a “community property” state, Washington lets both people in a marriage own the assets that belong to the marriage. There is still no set way to decide how property should be split up. Washington law says that property gained during a marriage must be divided in a “just and equitable” way. This means that all assets, real and personal, tangible and intangible, must be split up when a marriage ends. Wahrenberger says that the vagueness of legalese doesn’t always lead to an equal split.
After a divorce, spouses may have to pay more than just child support. In some cases, one or both of them may also have to pay “spousal maintenance,” which used to be called “alimony.”
If one partner needs the money and the other can pay, the needy spouse may get it. However, spousal support will not be given or taken away as a punishment for cheating or bad behavior in the marriage. What matters now is making sure that both people can get through life after the split, not the events that led to it.