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According to a recent study conducted by a trio of researchers from Brown, Harvard, and the University of California – San Diego, divorce can be contagious and can spread between friends, siblings, and coworkers. The research relies on data from the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts, which studied the lives of more than 12,000 Americans living in Framingham since 1948.

The study indicates that if a close friend’s marriage is on the rocks, your chance of divorce increases by 75 percent. If the friend follows through with the divorce, your chance of divorce increases by another 33.3 percent. Whether or not a friend’s divorce has an adverse effect on your marriage depends largely on your perception of how the divorced couple handled it. The study also found that the more friends a husband and wife have together, the lower their chances of divorce. The odds are also lowered for couples who have had children, as couples with more children have a lower susceptibility of being influenced by divorced peers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 data, nearly 50 percent of marriages end in divorce within the first 15 years.

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In this issue of our Charlotte Divorce Lawyer Blog Family Law Newsletter, we take a look at how difficult it can be to divide property in equitable distribution. We also take a look at the legal impact of signing a legally binding document without reading and understanding it. Finally, we take a look at relocation issues in child custody cases.

Click here to view and print our Charlotte Divorce Lawyer Blog Family Law Newsletter – Summer 2010:

CHARLOTTE DIVORCE LAWYER BLOG FAMILY LAW NEWSLETTER SUMMER 2010

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Tiger.jpgAs reported by the Charlotte Observer, reports coming out this week indicate that Elin Nordegren, the soon-to-be-ex Mrs. Tiger Woods, will receive over $750 million from her husband in their divorce settlement. Although Elin estimated that her legendary golfer husband was worth approximately $1 billion, her attorneys uncovered several additional assets owned by Woods which served to increase his net worth. Elin will also receive sole physical custody of the children and will share legal custody with Tiger.

In exchange for her large payout, Elin is banned from publicly speaking or writing about Tiger’s reported affairs and any aspects of their divorce. Thus, unlike many wronged celebrity spouses, Elin must maintain a dignified silence for the rest of her life, regardless of whether Tiger predeceases her. For his part, Tiger is also banned from allowing any future or current mistress or girlfriend near his two children – unless he is marrying one. Under this deal, only married women not romantically linked to Tiger and female members of the staff known to Elin are allowed near the children.

Elin’s receipt of over $750 million is by far the biggest celebrity divorce payout in U.S. history. The previous record was a $168 million payout to Juanita Jordan – otherwise known as the former Mrs. Michael Jordan. Other celebrity divorce settlements rounding out the top twelve include: Neil Diamond and Marcia Murphey ($150 million), Steven Spielberg and Amy Irving ($100 million), Harrison Ford and Melissa Mathison ($85 million), Kevin Costner and Cindy Silva ($80 million), Madonna and Guy Ritchie ($76 to $92 million), Paul McCartney and Heather Mills ($60 million), James Cameron and Linda Hamilton ($50 million), Michael Douglas and Diandra Douglas ($45 million and two homes), Lionel Richie and Diane Richie ($20 million), and Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall ($15 to $25 million).

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Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban child who became the star of an international custody battle a decade ago, released his first comments on the incident on the recent 10th anniversary of his return to his father in Cuba. He reported that he is happy to be in Cuba, and extended his gratitude to “a large part of the American public” for reuniting him with his father.

Gonzalez was only five years old when a fisherman found him floating off the coast of Florida in an inner tube on Thanksgiving Day of 1999. His mother and others fleeing Cuba drowned trying to reach American soil, while his father remained on the island. Gonzalez’s relatives in Miami refused to give him up after he was found, and Fidel Castro led marches in Cuba calling for his return home. U.S. immigration officials ruled that Gonzalez should be returned to Cuba, which created an outrage among Cuban-Americans. Armed federal agents raided the home of Gonzalez’s uncle in April of 2000 and seized Gonzalez from a closet to return him to Cuba.

Several American parents have waged notorious international custody battles in the years following Gonzalez’s ordeal. David Goldman of New Jersey very recently ended a highly publicized five-year child custody battle for his son, who was taken to his mother’s native Brazil for vacation and was never returned. Instead, Goldman’s wife divorced him and remarried a Brazilian man. When she died in 2009, her Brazilian husb\and moved to adopt the child. After five years of fighting, Goldman was permitted to return his son to American soil on Christmas Eve of 2009.

International custody battles are fairly common, and were supposed to be simplified by the signing of The Hague Convention agreement in 1980, which preserves whatever status quo child custody arrangement existed immediately prior to an alleged wrongful removal of a child under the age of 16. However, conflicting court systems and accounts of parent-child relationships can sometimes trump international law.

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Researchers from Montclair State University in New Jersey recently reported that, in marriages with a great deal of conflict, the notion of “staying together for the kids” might do more harm than good. The study, which was presented last year at the annual meetings of the Population Association of America, is being prepared for publication in a scientific journal.

To form their conclusions, the researchers analyzed the results of a national survey of nearly 7,000 married couples and their children living in the United States. The parents were initially surveyed in 1987 and asked questions to gauge their level of marital conflict at home, including how often they disagreed over money, household tasks, the in-laws, and multiple other hot-button issues. Then, between 1992 and 1993, both parents and children were surveyed, with researchers assessing how the parental conflict changed over the years, including whether the couple divorced. The children were surveyed a final time, as adults in 2001 and 2002, and were asked about their level of happiness and conflict in their own current relationships.

The results of the study indicate that children of parents who fight a lot yet stay married experience more conflict in their own marital relationships than children of parents who fight and get divorced. Researchers indicate that the results show that children do suffer short-term issues during crisis periods when their parents divorce, but they usually recover in the long run. Constant exposure to parental strife is most likely what causes children’s future relationships to suffer and sometimes end. In contract, parental happiness did not appear to affect the children’s adult relationships; children of happily married parents did not necessarily grow up to have happy marriages themselves.

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In an interview with Matt Lauer of NBC’s Today Show this week, Elizabeth Edwards spoke out about her finalized divorce from former U.S. senator and presidential candidate John Edwards. The Edwardses, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina began divorce proceedings shortly after John Edwards admitted to fathering a child with Rielle Hunter, a campaign aide with whom he had a long-term relationship. Hunter now lives in Charlotte with their two-year-old daughter.
Calling her decision to leave her husband “terrifying,” Elizabeth notes that she attempted to salvage the marriage after learning of the affair, but eventually stopped trying when she realized that the affair was more involved than she originally thought. However, she reported that she and John remain in close contact for the sake of their three children. Elizabeth’s first book, “Resilience,” documenting her struggle with her husband’s infidelity, was released in paperback form this week.

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Many Charlotte fathers – and a few mothers – are advocating for shared parenting time after couples divorce. A local group called Kids Need 2 Parents (KN2P) held a rally at Marshall Park on June 12 in an attempt to make “shared parenting” the presumed standard in custody law.

Although the current legal standard in child custody decisions is whatever arraignment is found to be “in the child’s best interest,” the President of KN2P, Sheila Peltzer, insists that the reality of custody battles is that the mother wins custody 85% of the time. Under KN2P’s proposed plan for shared custody, each child would start out splitting his or her time 50/50 between parents.

Members of KN2P believe that the Tender Years Doctrine, a common law theory that presumed that children of a young age are better suited to live with their mothers rather than fathers, is an unspoken bias in the law that remains today. They claim that children’s right to equal access to both parents is “the civil rights fight of this century.”

The Charlotte-based grassroots organization was originally known as Kids Interest Equals Dual Support. That entity joined forces earlier this year with the Children’s Alliance to form the statewide organization KN2P. They presented a shared parenting bill to North Carolina Representative Earline Parmon (D-Winston-Salem) this year, for hopeful presentation in 2011.

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Divorce comes in many varieties, including “no fault.” Including North Carolina, almost every state in the nation permits no-fault divorce. California was the first state in the country to pass no-fault divorce laws in 1969, and many states followed suit quickly. Only one state is still currently an exception: New York, which forces one side to prove that the other was at fault before the couple may obtain a divorce. However, New York’s state senate recently approved a bill that would permit no-fault divorce in the state and would allow couples to cite irreconcilable differences as grounds for the termination of a marriage. The state assembly should vote on the change within the next few weeks.

No-fault divorce is a divorce in which neither party must prove wrongdoing by the other in order to obtain a divorce decree. States that allow no-fault divorce permit a judge to grant a divorce by the petition of either party. In North Carolina, a husband and wife must be separated for at least one year before they may obtain a Judgment of Absolute Divorce.

Because New York is the only state without no-fault divorce laws currently, many lawyers note that couples in failing marriages are often forced to essentially lie to a judge in order to prove the other was at fault by one of three standards: adultery, abandonment, or cruel and inhuman treatment. Under New York law, only if both parties notarize a separation agreement and live separately for one year, can a judge grant a divorce. The proposed change could be most significant for the state’s many wealthy residents, who would be able to focus on the division of their assets rather than manufacturing reasons for their own divorce.

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According to a recent article by USA Today, today’s couples are delaying tying the knot longer than ever. In the post-World War II era, most couples married in their early 20s. Now, the average age for a first marriage is 28 for men and 26 for women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, this delay is being viewed as very positive by marriage experts, who report that the combination of a certain maturity level and the ability to work out problems before committing may help new couples avoid the marital mistakes of their parents’ generation.

There are many reasons why experts say today’s young adults are waiting to make their relationships more official. They are gaining more education, which delays financial independence and increases money and stability concerns. Two-thirds of young couples are also living together before marriage, making sex before marriage much more widespread. Additionally, today’s young adults are more worried about divorce, as they have watched the national divorce rate skyrocket in their lifetimes.

Regardless, most young people do still expect to get married and believe that they will not face divorce. A survey of 2,300 high school seniors conducted by the University of Michigan in 2008 revealed that 80% of students say they will marry and believe they will stayed married to the same person for life. Only 4% of students believed they would not marry, and the final 16% said they were not sure.