A major issue which arises in the dissolution of a longterm marriage in Kentucky is that of spousal maintenance, known otherwise in some other states and in the common culture as alimony. Practitioners of the law all too frequently present it to clients as an "it exists, live with it" proposition, and laymen understand it only as a nebulous concept. Sadly, this conclusive and nonexplanatory concept is all too frequently reinforced in the opinions of both trial and appellate courts; further obfuscation comes from the earnest efforts of legal scholars in creating voluminous (and largely incomprehensible to anyone outside the legal community) articles on the topic. Because of this, the general public has difficulty in understanding how spousal maintenance awards are even justifiable in an age where there is rough parity in employment and economic potential among men and women - this leads to miscommunication and misunderstanding between lawyer and client. To my way of thinking, it is important to distill the notion of why it exists down to an explanation that is simple, yet not a soundbite, if only to clarify available options.
In most property division disputes in divorces, people tend to focus on the major items. Home equity (after mortgage reduction), investment accounts, retirement accounts, interests in closely held businesses and valuable collections seldom escape notice.
I've spoken on the conjoined topics of shared parenting and child custody in Kentucky in the past, but as this is a frequently misunderstood matter, it is important to revisit the issues from time to time. By statute, rule and case law, the minimum allocation of shared parenting time in a child custody case is very narrowly defined. Under our Family Court Rules of Practice and Procedure, the minimum is every other weekend, with an overnight to occur midweek. In the Louisville area, we often find an increasing willingness on the part of family court judges to allocate time on a far more equal basis (provided that there is a suitable home environment in each). Further, due to the circumstances of modern life, courts are often willing to make allowances due to the unusual work schedule needs of emergency service personnel, people working in health care and those who find themselves traveling as a requirement of employment.
In divorces, a frequent area of concern in the courts in Louisville is what happens with regard to health insurance. A person previously covered under an employment plan offered by their spouse's employer generally comes to find that the 18 month continuation of COBRA benefits is so costly as to be impossible to obtain. Compounding the difficulties for the older divorce litigant is the problem of insurance underwriting on policies for those who are sailing headlong through middle age - they may not qualify for coverage, and even if they do, the product that is offered is expensive and inadequate for the needs of the litigant. When this occurs, a regular market based policy solution (if available at all) is as financially out of reach as the COBRA benefit, and has far reaching impacts on issues of spousal maintenance.
I recently came across an article about an older couple that remarried nearly fifty years after getting a divorce. While heartwarming to the point of nearly being maudlin, the story brought to mind the occasions that I've had to work with couples who were breaking up after a second attempt with each other (some having experienced intervening marriages to a third party). Having worked in this area of the law for a number of years, I've noticed a definite pattern to these relationships; this pattern is marked by some legal realities that some parties find difficult to accept at first glance, and which serioulsy impact the eventual resolution of the case.
Kentucky has never been an easy place to try and maintain a domestic partnership; ordinary family law concerns have long been subordinate to the intrusions of culture war issues from the political realm. In examining Kentucky law on domestic partnerships, in my opinion, our statutes have been drawn to clearly define marriage as a heteronormative institution - as a matter of official governmental policy, we deny recognition of same sex unions as well as the decrees of other states with regard to those unions. Compounding this, Section 233A our Constitution makes it impossible to unwind those statutes by a vote of the majority of the legislature as it definitively prohibits any recognition as a matter of organic law that cannot be undone by a vote of the General Assembly.
Over the years, I've noticed that couples under great emotional stress experience problems in their careers in the months prior to filing for divorce. This manifests itself in tardiness, absenteeism, poor customer or employee relations, inattentiveness to duty, excessive personal calls and a general sense of malaise on the job. Conversely, once the divorce action is filed and proceedings are under way, many of those problems seem to melt away - there seems to be a renewed focus on personal development and attention to detail is restored. In fact, most employers in the Louisville area are more than willing to cooperate with the employee in the scheduling of appointments with court, attorney appointments, counseling and other expert employments. While my experience on this issue is anecdotal in nature, it is widespread enough to be seen as a trend for good reason - the organization finds itself with a better, less distracted employee.
One of the most important things any family law or divorce litigant can do is maintain a sense of persective while participating in the process. In my experience, people are all too frequently paralyzed by feelings of intense emotion during the period leading up to resolution of family law matters. Fear, dread, vindictiveness, rage, hurt, betrayal, pride and denial can all incapacitate normally mentally healthy people, negatively impacting the rational decisionmaking process.
One critical item rarely considered by those who are entering the divorce process is the number of legal fields which a family lawyer must have better than passing familiarity on while advising the client and litigating the case. Here in Louisville (and in Kentucky in general), we are fortunate in that our family courts grant a fair amount of latitude in arguments and don't require skilled counsel to present panels of experts on each item of valuation or each ramification of differing allocation of parenting time. As a result of this latitude, however, we must be alert to bedrock principles of law, the vagaries of local economics,local educational performance issues, and in our analyses we should know our limitations and be willing to bring in outside help and testimony if needed.
A divorce is rarely a spur-of-the-moment event. Over the months prior to the actual filing, there is usually a period of stagnation, because the decisions to be made are difficult, costly and have a huge impact on the lives of the litigants. Allocations of parenting time, schooling decisions, child support, alimony/spousal maintenance and the division of hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of assets and debts all have to be reckoned with, all while the couple is under severe emotional stress. At the same time, the couple may also be attempting some actions to salvage the relationship.