Divorce Wars to make you Cringe
I read this article in Elle magazine and it made me wonder why it should be so difficult for a woman to leave an unhappy marriage. It's truly sad. And this is not happening in a Third World Country but in New York! Read on and let me know what you think:
STUCK ON YOU
Imagine not being able to leave a bad/boring/sexless/loveless marriage - ever. Diana Kapp reports on the bitter divorce wars in States where 'till death does us part' is more than just a marriage vow-it's practically the law!
On May 1, 2006, 10 jurors silently filed out of a White Plains, New York, courtroom into a small, poorly lit conference room down the hall. After about an hour, the chamber door opened and the all-male group shuffled back in. A 37-year-old blond in classic dress pants and a crisp white blouse, her hair pulled tight into a low ponytail, leaned in to her attorney and whispered, “Is a quick decision a good sign or a bad one?”
“A good one,” he reassured.
The foreman gave his verdict. The Westchester County Supreme Court officially denied Dana Godner a divorce.
Earlier, before the judge had excused the jury to deliberate, he turned to the group and issued this stern instruction: “It doesn’t matter if you deem this a deadbeat marriage or a loveless marriage,” he said. “The only thing that matters is: Are there grounds [for divorce]?” He then listed the four legally sanctioned grounds in New York, one of only three states that do not confer unilateral or one-party divorce (the others are Mississippi and Tennessee) and the only state that doesn’t provide a “no-fault” ground (i.e., irreconcilable differences). Rather, one must be able to prove one’s spouse guilty either of “cruel and inhuman” treatment, adultery, abandonment for one year, or having spent at least three years in prison. The only exception is if a couple mutually consents to the divorce and all financial and custody terms, which in acrimonious, contested situations—about one fourth of cases—just does not happen.
In this instance, Godner was suing to leave her husband of 13 years, Michael Godner, for cruel and inhuman treatment, which must meet a standard of abuse that “renders it unsafe or improper” for a couple to continue to cohabit. Clearly in the minds of these jurors, her husband’s behavior just wasn’t bad enough.
After crying her eyes out on the courtroom’s back steps, surrounded by her parents and lawyer, Godner climbed into her silver Range Rover and drove to her colonial-style home in the tony New York City suburb of Armonk. Michael, who had driven back from the courthouse separately, was in the kitchen with their three children. “Hey, how’s it going?’ he asked when she walked in. On one level, this scene resembled many other evenings in the Godner household for the previous two years since Dana had first asked for a divorce: the children, ages five to 10, tiptoeing around their parents’ chilly conversation; Dana cooking dinner for herself and the kids (and tossing the leftovers down the disposal when she heard the key in the door), then retiring to bed separately in the guest room. This evening’s pleasantries, however, followed 15-plus hours of searing court testimony over two weeks, in which Dana, an affable soccer mom, tried to prove to 10 strangers that her husband, the CFO of a $14 billion investment firm, was a controlling bully and their marriage “empty,” “demeaning,” and “the farthest thing from a partnership.” Unfortunately, she couldn’t garner any female sympathy, as almost every one of the women screened for the jury said they would never send a woman back to her husband against her will—effectively disqualifying them—and the one woman who did get picked dropped out midtrial because of a family obligation.
Michael, meanwhile, asserted he was a generous, attentive husband and dad. In his defense, he argued that Dana was well provided for—spoiled, even—and that their problems were the typical ebbs and flows of any longtime union. “Just look at her life—help, money, vacations, a great house,” he testified. As evidence, Michael passed the jurors 31 birthday and anniversary cards Dana had written over the years, described the mink coat and diamond necklace he had bought her, and offered a photo of the two of them, arm in arm on a trip to Vermont. “Don’t we look happy?” he asked.
The marriage, according to Dana, had unraveled slowly, though there were worrisome signs from the start. The couple had met in Manhattan when Dana was in her early twenties and working as a sales rep for a fashionable sportswear company. Michael was exactly the type she’d always thought she should marry—a hard-nosed, sophisticated financier, seven years older and clearly going places. “I loved the way he yelled on the phone when he was doing business,” she recalls.
But their intense, three-month courtship—fueled by weekend getaways and wine-filled evenings—included regular blowouts and deep-freeze periods, usually, she says, over his emotional evasions. Underlying his behavior, Dana felt, was a lack of trust that could be traced to his parents’ difficult divorce when he was a young child. Dana’s parents, meanwhile, who’d been married for more than 40 years, encouraged the couple to go to therapy, which they eventually did. In spring 1993, they had a black-tie wedding for 250 guests at the Mamaroneck Yacht Club.
After two years, the couple moved to Westchester, where Michael was raised, and Dana quit working, which they both wanted. Soon they had a son, followed two years later by a daughter. Michael was totally consumed with growing his investment business; Dana was focused on her new mommy role. Three years later, their third child, another boy, was born.
As sometimes happens to young parents, they began to share less and less. Michael was preoccupied with work and resented being pulled into household concerns. “I don’t ask you to solve problems in my office,” Dana says he once snapped when she phoned to ask for help juggling the kids’ schedules. Dana allowed Michael to take control of all family financial matters—“I was an idiot,” she says now. Everyday expenses required his approval—buying a rug, booking airline tickets, signing off on a contractor’s bill. Michael insisted on separate bank accounts and would replenish Dana’s monthly “allowance” on the first of the month. This was money she could spend on personal needs—clothes, hair, tennis lessons. The only domain left to Dana was day-to-day care of the kids. “It’s like he was the grown-up and I was the child,” she recalls.
Read the rest of the article here.