Family Law Corner: Reading [the Tabloids] Between the Lines


There was recent tabloid uproar when it was discovered that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Response to Maria Shriver’s Petition for divorce requested that he not pay her spousal support and that she pay for her own attorney’s fees.  Most family law attorneys get a chuckle reading celebrity divorce gossip because the tabloids try to make a story out of the initial divorce filings, when in reality, the divorce Petition and Response are form documents with check boxes.   Recent headlines like “Jennifer Lopez/Faith Evans/Buzz Aldren files for divorce citing ‘irreconcilable differences’” are somewhat meaningless given that the only other ground on which to file for divorce in California is “incurable insanity.”  In California, the grounds for divorce must be pleaded generally –this is in contrast to fault states where parties may plead specific acts of misconduct.

In Arnold’s case, public scrutiny over his spousal support termination request likely had a lot to do with public opinion over how their marriage ended.  Per the tabloid website TMZ, the public pressure became so intense that Arnold filed “revised, more respectful divorce docs.”  Of course, consideration must be given in checking boxes—the manner in which the boxes are checked informs and gives notice to the other party of what specific relief the party is or is not seeking. 

For example, Arnold’s Response to the dissolution gave him the option of checking the following boxes:  that he pay spousal support to Maria; that Maria pay spousal support to him, or that the court terminate its ability to award spousal support to Maria.  Given Arnold’s initial Responsive filing, he was probably considering the scope of the community estate (estimated to be more than $400 million) and the likelihood that Maria will not need spousal support if she indeed has a net worth of $200 million or more.  As a matter of due process, had Arnold not requested a termination of spousal support in the Response, a later termination request could have only been granted if Maria had been given notice and an opportunity to be heard.  Nevertheless, this is now a moot point if Arnold has indeed amended his Response requesting that he pay her support—and that may be a moot point as well, since the court always has broad discretion to permit the Respondent (or Petitioner) to amend his or her pleadings to bring new issues “in furtherance of justice.”  Marriage of Liss (1992) 10 CA4th 1426, 1429.