Monday, April 23 , 2018, 1:05 pm | Mostly Cloudy 60º


Brian Burke: About Your Divorce (Letter 4)

The family dog gets caught in the middle, serving as the conduit from Stage I Denial to Stage II Anger

Dear Spike and Dear Pinky

Dear Nick and Dear Nora,

Nora, you did it. From a big house to a two-room “beach shack,” which you’ve been able to furnish and supply for $500.

Nick, you’re concerned about the $500 because it was for “her place, but our money.” You want to make sure a bookkeeping charge is added against her half of the community property for that amount.

Nora wants to know if Nick will be charged rent on her half of everything that’s left in the big house.

Law & Trifles

Here is a good axiom to keep in mind: “De minimis non curat lex,” which is codified in California Civil Code Section 3533 as “The law disregards trifles.” It is my second favorite statute.

Butch: Best Interests

Physical separation has finally been accomplished! Now you each want custody of your dog, “Butch.” Nick says Butch shouldn’t have to leave the only home he’s ever known. Nora says Butch will be left alone because Nick is “always at his office or wherever else he goes.” Nick replies, “It’s time for Nora to start working, or she should at least start looking for a job.”

Why anyone would want such a mean little dog is a mystery to me, and if his master and mistress can’t decide what’s in his best interest, who can? You both love the beast; there isn’t another person in the world who even likes him.

Butch, however, is serving a function. As you leave Stage I Denial, you can expect an increase in Stage II Anger. Stage II has the highest potential for harm. When a couple is in Stage II, lawyers can earn enough money to send their own children to law school.

In the context of death, Stage II Anger is either directed toward someone who “doesn’t count” because he’s outside the family system or toward someone inside the family who is “safe.” In the context of divorce, the obvious target is the Other, and the court system creates the seductive illusion that you can “just let a judge decide” and your misery will be over. To the contrary, “just let a judge decide” are words that reap the whirlwind.

I won’t list all the reasons inter-spousal litigation is insane and ask only one rhetorical question: “Why would anyone invite a Superior Court judge into their family to solve extremely personal issues?” To anyone who has an answer to that question, I reply, “Who do you think a Superior Court judge is?” No matter what you say, Superior Court judges are just people who know far less about your family than any of its members. The judges have no special interest, training or aptitude for fixing families, and they don’t lose sleep over the effect of their decision on the members of the family.

What the Court Did for Veronica Grove

The Marriage of Veronica and Roger Grove and People of the State of California v. Veronica Grove are two cases that have affected my practice and thinking about divorce since 1977. While working for Jim Westwick, a terrific criminal defense lawyer, we were retained to represent Veronica Grove.

Veronica and Roger Grove lived in Goleta with their two children. He was a professor in the UCSB Music Department. She dropped out of medical school to become a stay-at-home mother. The Grove marriage suffered from “irreconcilable differences.” Veronica Grove filed a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and asked the court for an order excluding Roger Grove from the family home; he opposed that request.

A judge ruled in favor of the professor. Veronica Grove immediately divided the house against itself. She and the children lived at one end, and the professor lived at the other. On a morning shortly after their court hearing, Professor Grove crossed an invisible line demarking “his” from “hers.” Whether he came of his own volition or by invitation is uncertain. In either event, Veronica Grove locked the children in their rooms, took a gun from her bedroom closet and shot her husband six times. She returned to the closet, got a second pistol and eliminated any credible claim of self-defense by shooting him again and again. As I recall, she missed only two of the 12 shots she fired.

She buried the guns in the children’s sandbox and called her psychiatrist.

What happened to Roger and Veronica Grove was a tragedy. Veronica Grove was seduced by the idea that a judge could enter her family long enough to provide a temporary fix to her marital problems. Her request for judicial relief was opposed by her husband and denied by a judge. She lost; he won.

When Veronica Grove returned for a second appearance, the divorce case was moot, and she was arraigned for killing her now former husband.

Roger Grove made only one appearance in the Superior Court and he was “victorious.” Thereafter his role changed from being a “Respondent” who had successfully opposed his wife’s request for a “kick-out order” in a divorce case to the corpus delecti in the prosecution of the same now former spouse for his murder.

With continuing interest and concern,

Your best friend,

Bucky (who happens to be a) divorce lawyer

— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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