Legal Realities

I am not clairvoyant. I simply face an endless repetition of questions every day as a lawyer in a divorce practice. I can anticipate the next question to be asked by a new client before the words are out of his mouth. I can anticipate his reaction to my answer based upon his phrasing of the question. And, at the same time, I can anticipate his horrified reaction to the state of the law at the same time.

I don’t keep actual records of the most common questions asked by divorce clients, but I can say unequivocally that there are three areas of the law in which virtually every client has at least some misperceptions. I don’t always know if I’ll be paid on time, but I know I will explain the following legal realities to clients every day.

Following are the “Top Three Misconceptions” in divorce law. The most common gender divisions are indicated, but no offense is intended. I have also indicated the most common reaction to the law.

The tramp deserved it!

The typical scenario arises in which the husband suspects his wife of adultery or actually catches her in the act. Any physical violence and even verbal threats constitute domestic violence under Ohio law. It is not a defense that the husband has been 100 percent faithful. Or that it has never happened before. Or that the wife deserved it and should be stoned to death like in biblical times. The public policy is to stop, or to at least reduce, the number of fatalities and injuries occurring each year between family or household members. Accordingly, the legal remedy for unfaithfulness is divorce, not an uppercut to the jaw.

Common reaction: more anger.

He’s not paying child support, so he’s not seeing my son!

The statistics on “deadbeat dads” are very familiar and depressing. In addition to the aggressive actions by every court in the Miami Valley to order and enforce child support, there are several cottage industries devoted to locating nonpaying parents and forcing payment for child support. Custodial parents not receiving support must rely on these measures to collect their just due and cannot speed things along by depriving the other parent of time with the child. Denial of court-ordered visitation can be a basis for sanctions, regardless of the balance owing on the support account.

Common reaction: more anger.

She’s NOT entitled to my pension!

The pension is mine because I earned it at my job.

Unfortunately, if you are married, your spouse is entitled to one-half of that portion of the pension earned during the marriage. This is an absolute property right of the same caliber as a “hard asset” such as a savings account or a house. It does not matter that one person slaved away at a much-hated job while the other stayed home all day, eating bon-bons and watching Jerry Springer. She still gets half. Common reaction: more anger and, often, tears. So far, I haven’t had a single person suffering from all three of the above misconceptions. I have noticed, however, that husbands who beat their wives do tend to not want to share their pensions.

Common Reaction: RAGE