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Jewish World Review Jan. 25, 2002 / 12 Shevat, 5762

Sean Carter

Sean Carter
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Until irreconcilable differences do us part


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- AS we get older, we become more and more accustomed to dealing with loss - the loss of relatives, the loss of friends, even the loss of our hair. However, perhaps the hardest loss to cope with is the loss of a familiar relationship.

In fact, in some cases, we grieve for the loss of other people's relationships. For instance, my wife was genuinely saddened by the break-up of Prince Charles and Lady Di. Likewise, I'm not sure whether I'll ever fully recover from the break-up of Milli and Vanilli.

However, now I will have to cope with another lost relationship - the marriage of Michael and Juanita Jordan. And why must I suffer this pain? All because of "irreconcilable differences."

Earlier this month, Juanita Jordan filed a divorce petition in an Illinois court seeking to end her 12-year marriage with the basketball superstar. In her petition, she does not claim that Michael was a bad husband or father. Instead, she simply states that "past attempts at reconciliation have failed and future attempts at reconciliation would be impracticable and not in the best interests of the family."

In Illinois, these words are the equivalent of "abra cadabra." These are the exact words used in the statute to justify a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Therefore, by using these words in a divorce petition, a spouse can be automatically freed from the bonds of matrimony.

Of course, it was not always this way. In fact, historically, divorces were not permitted by law under any circumstances. At common law, there were only two ways out of a bad marriage - death and annulment - and death was by far the least painful of the two choices.

An annulment is a determination that the marriage was never validly entered into or consummated. Therefore, in the days before lawful divorce, an unhappy couple could only gain their freedom by fabricating stories almost as ridiculous as the stories told by Bill Clinton during his administration (I said, "almost"). After a while, it became increasingly difficult to convince a judge that yet another couple had been drugged by gypsies during their wedding.

Obviously, under this system, only people with political connections could obtain annulments. Recognizing the inequity in this system, governments began passing laws allowing for divorce. However, divorce was only available in very limited circumstances.

For instance, as late as 1977, you could only get a divorce in Illinois if your spouse were impotent, already married, unfaithful, addicted to crack, or had infected you with an STD or actually tried to kill you. And even then, you had to prove it.

Nowadays, we live under the opposite extreme. Under the current regime of "no fault divorces," you can divorce your spouse for any little reason or no reason at all. You simply claim "irreconcilable differences."

However, in my view, irreconcilable differences are as much a part of marriage as caring, sharing and sleeping with one eye open. After all, no two people are going to agree on everything.

For instance, my wife and I have an irreconcilable difference about her mother's visits. My wife's bizarre theory is that her mother should actually be allowed to enter our home and get this stay with us. Obviously, I feel that her mother would be just as comfortable staying at a nice hotel or motel or the bus station. However, after years of debating this issue, I've learn to simply accept our irreconcilable difference and move on (to sleep at the bus station during her mother's visits).

Of course, this is not to say that Juanita Jordan doesn't have good reasons for divorcing her husband but simply that a "no fault divorce" doesn't require that she state the reasons. As a result, Michael could be denied an opportunity to save his marriage. And more importantly, the general public is denied its constitutional right to butt into their private lives.

And considering that Michael Jordan's Haynes-clad duff is always in my face on TV, I believe that I'm entitled to this information. After all, if I am going to buy cereal, hamburgers, hot dogs, soft drinks and clothing from this man, I have a right to know whether he picks up his dirty socks.

Also, "no fault divorce" is another return to the old days when annulments were only available to the elite. After all, a true "no fault divorce" is only available to the very wealthy.

For those of us who don't make a bazillion dollars a year, a "no fault divorce" is simply too expensive. In truth, any divorce is expense. Therefore, for most of us, we must have a pretty darn good reason before casting ourselves into third world-like poverty.

For instance, in my case, after my wife was awarded custody of the kids and the bulk of our marital assets - the change underneath the cushions in our couch - sleeping in a bus station would be a luxury that I no longer could afford. Recognition of this reality tends to breed a lot of compromise in our marriage. "Oh, you're going to spend the next six weeks in San Francisco with your new boyfriend, Raul? Okay, pack something warm, it can get a little chilly in the Bay Area at night."

On the other hand, celebrity marriages seem to last about as long as my Christmas bonus paycheck. After all, was there any reason that a couple like Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra couldn't stay together forever? On second thought, perhaps this is not the best example.

In my opinion, celebrity marriages end so often because both parties can easily afford it. For instance, Michael Jordan is rumored to have a net worth as high as $400 million. Even if he is forced to part with half of his money, I suspect that he will be able to eke by on $200 million.

Interestingly enough, in her petition, Mrs. Jordan didn't specified how much of the marital estate she will be seeking. Instead, she simply asked for a "equitable share" of the marital assets.

Under Illinois law, many factors go into the determination of an "equitable share" - length of the marriage, status of the parties prior to marriage, future income prospects, etc. However, in this case, the most important factor will be Michael Jordan's next choice of girlfriend.

If Michael starts dating a younger and prettier woman, Juanita may very well change her request to an "inequitable" share of the marital estate. In fact, I predict that if Michael makes the mistake of showing up to the Academy Awards with someone like Halle Barry, he is going to end up on food stamps.

Of course, Michael did not amass a fortune of $400 million by being an idiot. Therefore, I would not be surprised to see Michael walking into this year's Oscars hand-in-paw with Madeline Albright.

Nevertheless, the real tragedy here is that another marriage may soon be ended through "no fault" of anyone. Much like my fascination with Milli Vanilli, this is sort of silly when you think about it.



Sean Carter is a practicing attorney, stand-up comedian and humor writer. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Sean Carter