Posted September 2, 202212:25 pm
By Hanah Walker
Domestic Relations Courts help people with many family matters, including separation/divorce, spousal and child support, custody, and civil protection orders.
The Domestic Relations Court is a “court of equity.” This means that the court is designed to take the circumstances of all the parties into consideration when it makes a decision. The primary objective of Domestic Relations Court is to order a decision that is fair, just, and equitable.
The court can make an equitable decision by using “factors” that are listed in governing statutes. Spousal support decisions, for example, should be based on factors such as income of the spouses, duration of the marriage, and the education of the parties. By applying the factors set forth in the law, the judge can determine how much weight to give them based on the circumstances in a particular case.
For example, imagine a hypothetical couple, Charlie and Morgan, who file for divorce. They have been married for five years, have no kids, each have some college education, and they own a house together. Morgan makes almost double Charlie’s salary, and Morgan has a substantial retirement savings in the form of a 401K account. However, Charlie cheated on Morgan, leading Morgan to feel hurt and angry. How would the court evaluation spousal support in this situation?
The court will focus more on fairness, rather than who wins or loses. The court will consider whether the house should be sold, and the profits split between the parties, or if a spouse can “buy out” the other person’s interest in the property. The court would look at the parties’ dual incomes to determine what should be done regarding spousal support with the goal of upholding the standard of living established during the marriage.
Even though Charlie cheated on Morgan, the court would not likely give much weight to that fact in determining how to divide their income and assets. Morgan would likely be responsible for paying part of any marital debts, possibly paying Charlie spousal support, and may have to provide Charlie half of the retirement savings that Morgan earned during the marriage. This approach considers all of the factors listed in the law, and then render a judgement based on those factors that is fair, just, and equitable.
This article was published in Legal Aid's newsletter, "The Alert" Volume 38, Issue 2, in Summer 2022. See full issue at this link: “The Alert” – Volume 38, Issue 2 – Legal Aid Society of Cleveland (lasclev.org).