The Henderson Gleaner

Divorce cases involving kids more likely to be bitter

By By FRANK BOYETT - Gleaner staff
June 4, 2002
The Henderson Gleanor

When it comes to divorce, good intentions often sour and leave a bad taste in the mouths of the kids involved.

The Gleaner's study of a year's worth local divorce cases involving minor children showed that divorces are twice as likely to be acrimonious as to be amicable.

That's probably not surprising; when a marriage ends there is bound to be some conflict. But what is noteworthy is the number of cases where both the man and the woman enter the divorce process wanting only the best for the child -- but that goal gets lost in the scuffle. It appears that filing for divorce often sets loose unforeseen dark forces.

"You see it both ways," said Steve Gold, who is winding down his role as domestic relations commissioner in Henderson Circuit Court. Some divorce cases start out nasty but the couple is able to work through their problems prior to trial, he said.

"But sometimes they start off on fairly friendly terms ... and then it gets hostile," he said.

"One of the reasons divorces escalate sometimes is that people are uninformed," said Elizabeth Vaughn, who was domestic relations commissioner for eight years and was recently appointed family court judge. "If they knew more about what is actually important and relevant in the decision-making process ... then they could go into that process a little more wide-eyed.

"If you have a road map you probably get there a little easier. Some people have no idea what's going on. That's especially true if they come out of EPO (emergency protective order) court and are immediately plunged into divorce court."

Vaughn said some of the problems that arise could be avoided with the right advice.

"If the family court constitutional amendment passes (in November) one of the things that courts want to do is have a family court council, a multi-disciplinary group of people who can address those kinds of issues and maybe set up those kinds of programs."

She said she would like to see some process whereby people can find out beforehand the consequences of marriage and divorce.

Gold said one reason divorces tend to escalate is that people's expectations change. One spouse may be relatively conciliatory "when I thought we were going to get back together again," he said. But once it's clear there is no stopping the divorce "then it's a different story."

That different story can really prolong a divorce. Although the average divorce took six months to finalize, at least one case in the study lasted longer than the actual marriage it was dissolving. The marriage lasted two years and the divorce process lasted three.

And it can get expensive -- especially if the couple is relatively well-off. Two women in the study spent about $5,000 apiece on legal fees for their divorces. It appears that the more money a couple had, the more likely they were to fight over its division.

Although disputes usually arise over division of assets, custody or child support, sometimes there are other factors. A significant percentage of the divorce cases in The Gleaner's study showed that divorce is often packaged with other bad luck, such as loss of a job, bankruptcy, or severe illness.

Seven couples out of 157 experienced serious medical problems, ranging from mental illness to stomach cancer.

In eight cases the husband lost his job while the divorce was pending. One of the men had been earning an annual salary of $100,000. In one case, both husband and wife lost their jobs during the divorce.

In four cases the couple was undergoing bankruptcy about the same time as the divorce. One woman refused to join her husband in the bankruptcy, so she was saddled with all the marital debts.

Another couple did not file bankruptcy, but was strugging under a crushing credit card debt of about $80,000.

Not every divorce case escalates, though. Eight of the 157 couples studied reconciled, including one couple whose divorce had been finalized. Four months after the divorce decree had been granted the couple had it annulled.