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M.T of Perry writes: My wife of 20 years has decided to divorce me. I don’t want the divorce. Can I stop her?
Dear M. T.,
Unfortunately, my answer is that if your wife is absolutely certain that she wants a divorce there is little you can do to prevent her from obtaining one. In the state of Florida, like most states, a wife, or a husband, can get a divorce by claiming that “irreconcilable differences” exist. Even if you were to say that the differences can be reconciled, if she were to tell the judge that those differences can’t be worked out, then the court would grant her a divorce.
There is one provision of Florida Statute 61, which governs dissolution of marriage proceedings, that might be helpful, but that only applies if there is a minor child of the marriage involved. Under F.S. 61.052 (b)(1), a court may order “either or both parties to consult with a marriage counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, minister, priest, rabbi or any other qualified person…” before granting the relief requested. Under section (b)(2) of that subsection, the court may delay the proceedings for up to three (3) months to see if reconciliation is possible.
You can, of course, contest issues such as entitlement to alimony, equitable division of marital property, division of debt and other such things, but that won’t stop the divorce, it will just make it more painful, and expensive. Any way you look at it, though, divorces are difficult at best and awful at worst.
Your question prompts me to provide you with a little history on the subject of divorce law. Up until 1971, a person could not get a divorce in Florida, or in most any other state, unless adequate grounds for divorce were pled and proven, and the grounds were, at times, quite difficult to prove.
Back then, the most commonly used ground for a divorce was adultery. To prove their case a party would often hire a private investigator to catch the offending party in the act of adultery. Needless to say, while that was quite a good time, from a financial point of view, for private investigators, it led to many dangerous, and occasionally disastrous, situations.
Another commonly pled ground for divorce was cruelty, and that involved pleading and proving physical or mental cruelty. Yet another ground was conviction of a felony, which wasn’t hard to prove, but it wasn’t all that common an occurrence. Another ground was voluntary separation for one year. In that scenario, which was also frequently used, parties would be required to live separate and apart from each other, and have no marital relations, for a year before they could obtain a divorce. There were a few other grounds, but the point is that it was much more difficult to get a divorce 40 years ago than it is today.
As an aside, the issue of divorce is handled much differently in most other countries than it is in the United States, but that is far beyond the scope of this article. I will offer one example, however, and that is Ireland. The first time I visited that country was in 1995. While there, the Irish were voting on whether or not to change the constitution so as to allow a citizen of Ireland to get a divorce! It was against the law to do so at the time. With 98 percent of the population being Roman Catholic, the separation of church and state was marginal. The marital vow of ‘til death do us part was taken quite literally. The Irish voted to allow divorces.
There are many who think we should make it more difficult for people to get married, since almost half the marriages end in divorce these days. The trend is, of course, the opposite and many states have legalized same-sex marriages and done nothing to raise the legal age for citizens to marry. Florida recognizes a marriage only as a union between a man and a woman. See Florida Statute 741.212. Florida does not recognize same-sex marriages even if the marriage was legal in the states from which people came.
I hope I have answered your question, M.T., and I hope you are able to convince your wife to give you another chance, if that is what you want.
Any readers with specific legal questions for this “Ask a Lawyer” column are invited to submit those questions to the Editor of this newspaper, who will pass it along to me. If you need assistance with a consumer matter, such as an unfair and deceptive collection practice, or garnishment of wages, a mortgage foreclosure or other such things, and you cannot afford an attorney, call the Legal Services office closest to you, which provides free legal assistance to qualified individuals, or call the Florida Bar Referral service at 1-800-342-8011. I wish you good luck in obtaining access to our legal system, no matter what your income and asset level might be.
The foregoing was written by attorney Pierce Kelley, who is a member of the Florida Bar Association. The contents reflect his personal opinions and beliefs.