If you’ve followed the news coverage of the divorce of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, you’ve likely seen headlines, everywhere from People to Business Insider, stating that Melinda has declared her marriage to Bill to be “irretrievably broken.” The headlines blare as if the readers are getting some new and surprising insight into the state of the Gateses’ marriage. As any knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer will tell you, though, the reality is actually something much more mundane.
People outside the legal world sometimes misunderstand how the legal process works. They may see language included in a party’s pleading and think that it is particularly unique, insightful, or shocking when actually, it is just form language that is required by the rules that the law has erected. The stories about the Gateses’ divorce make for one very good example of that.
Melinda Gates filed for divorce in her hometown of Seattle. Washington is a state that recognizes no-fault divorce. In states like these, the spouse who files for divorce doesn’t need proof that the other spouse was “at fault” (such as, for example, being unfaithful, being excessively cruel, being insane or imprisoned, or deserting the filing spouse.)
Instead, all you need is proof that the marriage has fallen apart and is past the point of salvaging. In other words, the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Sometimes, this is also called “irreconcilable differences.”
So, why is this so important? Because this is one of the essential hurdles you have to clear to get a no-fault divorce in a state like Washington. If the judge finds that your marriage is irretrievably broken with no hope of reconciliation, then you can go forward with getting a divorce. If the judge doesn’t make that finding, then you cannot get your divorce.
Here in Maryland, it’s different. Irretrievable breakdown isn’t the key. Instead, you have to establish that you and your spouse have been voluntarily separated for a sufficiently long time. While composing the pleadings for this kind of divorce may not involve “magic words” like “irretrievably broken,” it still requires careful and precise drafting.
Maryland law says that you have to prove more than just separation. You have to prove (1) a period of separation of at least 12 months that included (2) no periods of cohabitation and that your marriage has (3) no hope of reconciliation. A knowledgeable attorney can help you ensure you are pleading what’s required to clear each of these evidentiary hurdles.
Sometimes It’s the Little Things that Do Great Harm
So why did we discuss this topic of “irretrievable breakdown” at such length? It’s because it is an example of the kind of seemingly small things that can trip up – and doom – legal cases pursued by those not well-versed in the law. Whether it is “magic words” within a pleading (like irretrievably broken,) a nuanced aspect of a legal standard, or a seemingly counterintuitive procedural requirement, any of these legal “technicalities” have the potential to do great damage to your case. They’re things that could trip up even a smart layperson but won’t trip up an experienced divorce lawyer.
Obviously, your divorce is extremely important to you. Make sure your case is supported by a legal advocate with the in-depth knowledge and experience you need. Look to the skilled Maryland divorce attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to protect your interests while piloting you around all the potential procedural pitfalls that exist in the law. To learn more about how we can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.