Marriage in Crisis Seminar

Marriage in Crisis- What You Need to Know When the Bottom Drops Out

A panel of local experts will provide a free seminar on the emotional and legal aspects of child custody disputes, co-parenting and divorce at the Flathead County Health Department, Conference Room A, on September 28, 2010 from 6-9:00 pm. “MARRIAGE IN CRISIS: What You Need To Know When the Bottom Drops Out” is sponsored by the HeartWorks Mediation Center in Whitefish.

The panel includes District Court Judge Katherine Curtis, Whitefish therapist Beth Kramer, Whitefish family mediator Brian Muldoon, and Marybeth Sampsel, a Kalispell divorce lawyer. Kalispell lawyers Vanessa Ceravolo and Kai Groenke will join the panel for a question-and-answer session. Presenters also include Kandy Satterlee of the Self-Help Law Center, Jolie Fish, Director of Family Court Services and Paul Sullivan, developer of the “Split Schedule” system for creating low-conflict parenting schedules.

The panel will discuss a wide range of topics, from deciding whether the marriage can be salvaged to knowing how to resolve parenting and financial issues raised by the divorce process. Following the panel discussion, lawyers will be available to provide free 15-minute consultations. These brief sessions will provide an opportunity to make initial assessments and get specific answers to legal questions. It is recommended that participants write down their questions in advance.

“ For more information, contact Brian Muldoon at HeartWorks Mediation Center at 406-862-9292 or heartworks@montanasky.com .

No-Fault Divorce Hits New York

In mid-August, New York Governor David Patterson signed a bill that finally allows New York couples to divorce by mutual consent and does not require one party to accuse the other of infidelity/adultery, cruelty, abandonment, or imprisonment.  The new law also allows a spouse to divorce the other unilaterally, meaning a party can receive a divorce even if their spouse does not want the marriage to end.  Proponents of the bill have indicated that the changes to the law will put an end to the contentious litigation that has plagued New York divorce courts for decades.   Opponents of the bill, including the Roman Catholic Church, have expressed concern that the changes will encourage divorces and drive up divorce rates within the state.   Governor Patterson released a statement stating, “New York has brought its divorce laws into the 21st century.”  Read Governor Patterson’s official comments here.

Proxy Divorce in Montana

If you were married by proxy and now need a divorce, or are stationed overseas and need somewhere to get divorced, there is now an option. A new service is offering proxy divorces for the first time. As I understand it, there are two requirements: 1) There can be no minor children of the marriage; and 2) You and your spouse have to agree about everything. If you meet those requirements, and need a way to get divorced – check out Proxy Divorce and see if they can help.

One thing I’ve learned from my practice is that there are a lot of people unable to get divorced because no courts will take their cases. This is a great option for people caught in that limbo. If you’re not sure whether you qualify, go ahead and contact that people at Proxy Divorce to learn more. From personal experience, I can tell you they’re friendly and helpful.

A proxy divorce takes about six weeks, can be done from anywhere in the world, and requires no travel. This service has already helped a lot of people, and hopefully it can help you if you’re in this kind of a situation.


Because Montana is the only state that allows double proxy marriage, I often receive questions from individuals seeking a proxy divorce.  Although a proxy divorce is now possible, the lawyer in me wants to mention the fact that it is not technically a proxy situation. That being said, it still provides a legal and easy divorce.

First, “proxy” is defined as “a person authorized to act for another.”  In a proxy marriage, an individual stands in for one of the parties during the ceremony.  So, there are actually three people that are part of the ceremony:  the wife, the husband, and the proxy (who is standing in for one of the spouses).  Most often you see proxy marriages when one party is overseas or on military duty.   During the marriage ceremony, the proxy stands in for the person that is not available.  The marriage ceremony takes place, just as it would if both of the parties to the marriage were there an in person.  In a double proxy marriage, both the husband and wife are unable to be present, so proxies stand in for both.  See more information on proxy marriages and double-proxy marriages here.  If you are interested in obtaining a proxy marriage or double-proxy marriage, check out Armed Forces Proxy Marriages at their website.

Because the term “proxy” actually requires an individual to act on behalf of someone, a “proxy divorce” does not really exist.  In a divorce/dissolution, the only parties to the case are the husband and wife.  No third party is needed to stand in for either party.  When someone requests a proxy divorce, they likely are asking if they can get divorce somewhere other than where they are that day.   With today’s technology and easy access to internet and long-distance telephones, it is absolutely possible to get divorce when you live out of state.


Economic Downturn Results in Decreased Divorce/Infidelity Rates

A recent Wall Street Journal article reports that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released new data indicating the national divorce rate is at its lowest point since the 1970s.  According to a University of Virginia project analyzing the CDC data, the divorce rate per 1,000 married women dropped from 16.9 in 2008 to 16.4 in 2009.  The last two years’ figures pale in comparison to the rate in 1980, which was 22.6 divorces per 1,000 married women.
The data also reflects that infidelity rates have decreased over the past several years. Specifically, the Wall Street Journal reports,  “For those who are married currently in the 2000s, 16% of men and 10% of women said they had an affair while married. In the previous decade, 16% of men and 11% of women said they’d cheated. The number of women who said that infidelity was “always wrong” increased to 84% in the 2000s, up from 73% in the 1970s. Some 78% of men in the 2000s said infidelity was wrong, compared with 63% in the 1970s.”
Read the full article here or read the CDC statistics for yourself here.

Tiger Woods’ Divorce Finalized

Early last week, Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren’s much-expected divorce was finalized in Bay County, Florida.  Though most reputable news sites are reporting only that the parties have agreed on shared parenting, other new sources have indicated that Elin will receive $750 million in exchange for her silence regarding Tiger’s alleged extra marital affairs.  If true, there will be no tell-all books, interviews or TV interviews.  Seems like an expensive settlement, given the public seems to already know plenty about Tiger’s escapades.

Annulment in Montana

Rather than using the term “annulment,” Montana law provides for a declaration of invalidity.  If a marriage is declared invalid, it is basically as though the marriage never occurred.

Under Montana law, there are only certain circumstances under which a declaration of invalidity is possible.  For example, invalidity is appropriate when one of the parties to the marriage lacked the capacity to consent to the marriage either because of the influence of alcohol/drugs or because they have some sort of mental disease or defect that makes them unable to consent.   If a party was forced into the marriage or induced by fraud, the court may declare the marriage invalid.

Another circumstance where the court may declare a marriage invalid is if one of the parties to the marriage lacks the physical capacity to consummate the marriage and the other party was not aware at the time of the marriage.

Age can also be a reason that marriage is declared invalid.  If one or both of the parties was under 16 years of age at the time of the marriage, the court will likely declare the marriage invalid.  If one or both of the parties was 16 or 17 years old, but failed to obtain a parent’s consent or the consent of the court, the marriage is likely invalid.

Finally, if the marriage is prohibited, it will likely be declared invalid.  For example, if one party is already legally married, an additional marriage is prohibited by law.  Marriages between relatives are prohibited by law as well.

Because Montana’s invalidity law is very fact based, anyone considering filing a petition for declaration of invalidity should speak with an attorney about their rights.

COBRA Insurance in Montana Divorce

When considering whether or not to file for divorce, almost everyone considers how their financial circumstances will change and how they will adapt once they are single.  In today’s economy, one of the biggest considerations for divorcing individuals is how they will be able to afford health insurance, if at all.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, commonly know as COBRA, permits individuals to stay insured under their spouse’s insurance policy for a period of eighteen months, provided you pay the premium.

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration explains:

Group health coverage for COBRA participants is usually more expensive than health coverage for active employees, since usually the employer pays a part of the premium for active employees while COBRA participants generally pay the entire premium themselves. It is ordinarily less expensive, though, than individual health coverage.

In the past few months, Congress has been in a heated debate about subsidizing COBRA coverage.  The COBRA subsidy would assist individuals by paying up to 65% towards cost of the premiums.  Without the 65% assistance, premiums are often prohibitively expensive for unemployed or divorced.

Unfortunately, the Medicaid package that was passed on August 11, 2010, did not include a COBRA subsidy.  This means divorced individuals can still receive 18 months of COBRA coverage, but they will need to come up with the full premium payment.

For more information on COBRA coverage, see the United States Department of Labor FAQ’s here.

Insurance Company Begins Offering Divorce Insurance

A recent New York Times article discusses what appears to be the World’s 1st Divorce Insurance Program.  SafeGuard Guarantee Corp. is now selling “WedLock Divorce Insurance” designed to cover the costs associated with divorce, such as attorney’s fees or costs associated with setting up a new household.

The New York Times article brings up an interesting point: if marital funds are used to purchase the policy, is your ex-spouse entitled to a portion of the insurance benefit?  Since this is the first divorce insurance program in the world, courts have likely not encountered this scenario.

The cost is approximately $15.99 per unit per month and each unit results in $1,250 of coverage, provided the policy has matured.  Not necessarily a bad payout if you divorce shortly after the 48 month maturity period.  It will be interesting to see if other insurance companies follow suite or if WedLock will fold sometime soon.

Read the New York Times Article here or go straight to WedLock’s website here.

Online Montana Divorce Forms – BEWARE!

Even though I am a Montana attorney, I certainly do not in a fantasy world where everyone can afford to hire an attorney to assist them with their divorce.  Unfortunately, hiring an attorney can be incredibly expensive and not everyone has the means to hire one.  Lately, however, I have noticed a troubling influx of do-it-yourself divorce forms online promising things like a start-to-finish divorce for $200.00.   Before you drop several hundred dollars on online forms, I urge you to keep a few things in mind.

First, you will recall from previous posts on this blog that there are several options for those that plan to handle their case on their own.  See Divorce Options for information and links to divorce forms created by Montana attorneys specifically created for use by Pro Se litigants (a person without an attorney).  These forms are featured on the State of Montana’s government website, so I find that they are reliable and based on Montana law.

Next, if you are looking into using online forms from a do-it-yourself divorce website, determine whether or not your case is “contested.”  I have looked through numerous on-line pay sites and it is clear that most of those websites are designed for people who have uncontested cases.  Uncontested means that both parties involved in the divorce are in agreement about ALL issues in the case: property division, parenting, child support, etc.  If your case is contested, a few fill-in forms will probably not cut it.

Rather than pay $300 to a random online site, I suggest you first look into divorce resources in your city.  For example, Kalispell has a fantastic Self-Help Law Center at the county courthouse.  Second, you may want to take your few hundred dollars and set up an appointment with a local family law attorney, so you can be sure you are getting information specific to Montana law and your own circumstances.