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Back to the marriage that may not have been

After a long pause, we are returning to the Michael and Debra Mandelbaum divorce case from New Jersey. As we started to say in our Sept. 22 posts, the marriage and dissolution of marriage laws in that state differ in some ways from ours. For instance, Minnesota has a longer "waiting period" between the time the license is granted and a couple may marry (five days here, three days there).

However, the states have one very important thing in common -- well, in equitable. Both states are "equitable" property division states. Property division is not a 50/50 split. The court is looking for a fair division of assets and liabilities acquired during the marriage.

But Michael Mandelbaum claims the couple was never married. The license was delayed and was not valid on the date of their wedding.

The key word in property division is "marital," of course. If there were no marriage, there were no marital assets. Debra could be entitled to what she brought to the marriage and nothing more. According to court documents, Michael is not altogether abandoning his obligation to Debra: He said he will treat her "fairly and responsibly."

Debra has filed reams of documents supporting her argument that they are, in fact, married. Joint tax returns, anniversary cards -- from soup to nuts, every indication is that the couple presented themselves to the world as Mr. and Mrs. She cannot argue the existence of a common law marriage, because New Jersey, like Minnesota, has done away with common law marriage laws.

Would it be possible to argue that the validity of the license made no difference as long as one party believed it was valid and relied on that belief -- for 20 years -- to her detriment? Debra gave up her own career after the couple's wedding.

Or, could the court apply the principles of "palimony" -- one partner in an unmarried couple pays maintenance to the other after the couple splits up -- to obtain spousal maintenance for Debra?

The next hearing in the matter is scheduled for sometime this month. We'll keep tabs on the case.


Wall Street Journal, "Son of Minnesota Vikings Part-Owner Says He Wasn't Legally Married to His Wife," Yoni Bashan and Heather Haddon, Sept. 18, 2014

Forbes, "How Far Some Men Will Go To Get Out Of Dividing Assets In Divorce," Jeff Landers, Oct. 22, 2014


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