courts, divorce, family law, law, weddings, wills & estates

Goin’ to the Chapel—

When I got Sirius XM Radio in my ride I stopped listening to talk radio on my commute and switched to satellite radio’s Fabulous Fifties channel instead. Now I groove my way to the office awash in the smaltzy lyrics of a simpler age.

After 40 minutes of teenage angst, enduring love, unrequited love, unfaithful love, and just plain old lustful love,my conclusion is that everybody in those days was either going to, or coming from the chapel. The world, or at least the  song writers of the day, were fixated on that long walk down the aisle, and there could be no doubt that what they meant by matrimony was  “the union of one man and one woman, for life.”

That indeed was the legal definition of  marriage, back in the day, when I first donned my legal robes (accessorized by tan shoes with pink shoe laces) Nowadays however, the iron bands of matrimony clang tightly shut,  when at least two people of any gender, any pronoun, form a “marriage -like” relationship  for at least two years.

That notion is increasingly giving family and estate lawyers difficulty. Its not the same-sex aspect of modern marriage that gives us grief, but rather, trying to divine what constitutes a “marriage like” relationship, and some interesting case law is now developing, since important economic consequences flow from being designated a “spouse”.

It has now been judicially determined that it is not necessary for you to actually reside with your main squeeze, in order to have a marriage like relationship,- nor indeed do you have to actually squeeze your squeeze. Sex, although a typical part of any serious relationship, is not a requirement. Nor does the relationship even need to be monogamous. In fact, you can be legally deemed to be a spouse to one person, even while married to someone else ! So, is it possible that you could acquire a “spouse” without even knowing it ?

Getting worried? you should be – you need not even share a postal code with the object of your affections, in order to be told you have to share your assets and your income  with your “spouse”, it all depends upon whether a judge considers your relationship to be sufficiently cozy to be marriage-like.

In one rather remarkable  recent case  Mother 1 v Solus Trust Company, a wealthy Asian bon vivant  died, leaving 5 children, each by a different potential spouse.  The presiding judge  literally had to resort to an excel spreadsheet to track the various ‘spouse-like’ attributes of each potential claimant- who had lived with the deceased, been acknowledged by him, and so forth. In the end result, none were deemed to be a spouse, leaving a $20 million estate to be divided amongst his children. You won’t find that result memorialized on any fab fifties playlist !

The new definition of spouse is, of course, the law’s reaction to changing societal mores, where changing norms, and even technology, allow people to  custom craft their relationships in a fashion unique to their  particular circumstances. Those relationships continue to have  consequences however, so the law has to grapple with how to divide the spoils when a relationship sours, and who to give the estate to, when someone dies.

Its probably going to get more complicated still, as legal commentators gaze into their crystal balls and point out that there are now more than 10 million polyamorous households in the US ( that’s like, three or more spouses) so the head scratching is only just beginning. I wonder what sort of playlist Sirius will devise for this decade?


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