Almost every celebrity divorce is ripe for gossip. But since reality star Kristin Cavallari and former pro football player Jay Cutler announced their split last week, the pair has found themselves in a media firestorm of speculation over their marriage’s demise.
What has put this particular celebrity divorce in the spotlight? It all stems from a very basic divorce mistake: Not understanding the privacy consequences of choosing certain grounds for divorce.
On April 21, the courts in Tennessee, where Cavallari and Cutler reside, received a divorce petition from Cutler that cited the grounds of “irreconcilable differences” for the divorce. Irreconcilable differences is a “no fault” grounds that allows the divorce to move forward without either side shouldering the burden of being “at fault” for the divorce.
Irreconcilable differences simply means that you and your spouse have been experiencing problems in your marriage for at least six months, and that these problems cannot be worked out. No other details need be provided and you don’t need to describe the problems or who caused them, thus protecting the privacy of all involved parties.
On April 24, Cavallari filed her own divorce papers. In them she also cited irreconcilable differences, but then went one step further in citing the additional fault grounds of “marital misconduct” as the reason for the divorce.
This move, whether intentional or an error or oversight, was what ignited intense speculation over the divorce. In Tennessee, “marital misconduct” has a clear legal definition: The ground refers to martial breakdown brought on when one spouse has caused pain, anguish or distress to the other party and rendered continued cohabitation improper, unendurable, intolerable, or unacceptable.
Gossip websites have made the most of this definition by making salacious insinuations about what Cutler did to warrant Cavallari choosing these serious grounds. It’s a sad situation that seems to only be ratcheting up tension between the two.
You might be thinking, but what if marital misconduct really did take place? Shouldn’t it be cited?
What is important to remember when choosing divorce grounds is that modern divorce is governed by very clear property and custody laws. If one spouse misbehaved by cheating, it generally has very little bearing on the spouse’s share of a marital asset when dividing the family home or a retirement account, for example. Likewise when deciding custody of children, a spouse’s cheating does not make them any less of a parent.
Of course, there are exceptions to these examples, which are often covered in other civil claims called “marital torts.” But in general, anything and everything that needs to be discussed and addressed in divorce can be under the privacy-friendly grounds of irreconcilable differences. All the same laws that apply in a divorce citing marital misconduct apply to a divorce citing grounds of irreconcilable differences.
There are other advantages to citing irreconcilable differences.
Because there is no public airing of dirty laundry or allegations of mistreatment, it’s often the case that tensions between separating spouses can be kept to a minimum, and attention can be focused on working out a fair settlement. There is no need to prove who is at fault, which can also speed the divorce process up. This may be better for spouses who both just want to move on discretely and confidently into the next chapter of their lives.
So, whether or not you are a celebrity, divorce can be completely private…if you choose wisely.
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