Brian Dickerson wrote an insightful article published in the Detroit Free Press today. The past week has aroused deep concern among Michigan family court judges and family law attorneys who were only recently made aware of proposed legislation--two bills introduced last month by state Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia--that would make radical changes in Michigan law about the division of appreciation in separate property of one spouse that has accrued during the marriage and also about how a trial judge may treat separate property if a division of marital property is insufficient to maintain a former spouse and children in his/her care.
The current laws in Michigan would allow the trial court judge to award an equitable share of the appreciation built during the marriage to a stay-at-home parent. In addition, a trial court judge could invade separate property of one spouse if the division of marital property would leave the non-titled spouse with insufficient means to support that spouse and any children in his/her care. The proposed statutes, if enacted into law, would eviscerate existing law and would take women and children back to the dark ages, resulting in servitude and poverty.
Dickerson investigated in an attempt to learn exactly who is behind the proposed evisceration of Michigan's marital property laws. He says the identity of the proponent(s) and those seeking to benefit remains a mystery. He did learn that the campaign involves some of the state's most expensive and influential players.
According to Dickerson, "Richard McClellan, a veteran elections law lawyer best known for work on behalf of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and his political ties to former Gov. John Engler, said Wednesday that he encouraged Walsh to introduce the bills earlier this year after being approached by 'a group of lawyers and others' whom he declined to identify."
Now is the time for a little music to accompany this post. Click here and play in the background: Buffalo Springfield, "For What It's Worth," written by Stephen Stills. [This will open the music in a new tab, then come back to this tab to read remainder of post.]
" 'I represent nobody who is getting a divorce,' McClellan said. But he hedged when I asked him whether the legislation he's lobbying for was designed to enhance the legal position of a specific party or parties.
" ' Obviously, either the lawyer or their clients have an interest in getting the law changed,' McClellan said."
Interestingly, however, these bills were scheduled for hearing before the judiciary committee on June 17 and the only witnesses scheduled to testify were McClellan and Jay Cunningham, Birmingham divorce lawyer, whom McClellan had hired as an expert witness. McClellan also brought along Bill Wortz, partner in the multi-client lobbying firm widely perceived as having the closest ties to the Snyder administration. No family lawyers or judges had been told about the legislative proposal, and Judge Lisa Sullivan in Clinton County learned of it only on June 16th. Somehow, it seems as though there is something rotten in Denmark, don't you think?
Dickerson questioned Rep. John Walsh about the typical legislative process:
"...Wednesday, I asked McClellan whether it wasn't customary to consult the divorce lawyers and family court judges before proposing substantive changes in Michigan divorce law.
"That's the normal course," he conceded.
" 'But the bar can be a graveyard for good ideas," McClellan added. "I took a route that is a more direct route.'...."
Well, right. If you're going to push through a real stinker, why would you want the people who are in the best position to advise whether this is good law to know about it and to have any say in the passage of a bill or bills!
When asked by Dickerson to comment, many well-qualified people stepped forward. Dickerson writes:
"Diana Raimi, a veteran divorce lawyer and property law expert assigned to analyze the legislation for the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, said she was amazed when lobbyists described the initiative as an effort to codify and clarify Michigan's marital property laws.
"It reads like a special-interest, targeted remedy for one person trying to head off a particular set of difficulties in court," Raimi said Wednesday afternoon. Together, she added, the bills proposed by Walsh "amount to the most anti-family piece of legislation I've seen in my 33 years of practice."
Dickerson reported that Wexford County Probate Judge Kenneth Tacoma, who heads the Michigan Probate Judges Association, said judges who preside over divorce cases were blindsided by Walsh's bills and that his organization, along with the association that represents Michigan's circuit court judges, will formally oppose it. "We think it represents a pretty radical change in the law," Tacoma said.
Is this the end? Of course not. The fast-track hearings were re-scheduled to occur today. Jon T. Ferrier, one of many family lawyers accutely interested in this legislative play, reported after the session that only Richard McClellan, Jay Cunningham and Judge Lisa Sullivan had the opportunity to address the committee. The measures were then tabled temporarily.
You have not heard the end of this story.
You may read the full Free Press article here: Brian Dickerson: A new Michigan divorce statute, tailored for one? [Last accessed 6/23/2011]
Veteran family lawyer and separate property guru Diana Raimi's letter to the legislature's Judiciary Committee may be read here.
Veteran family lawyer, Carole Chiamp who represented Mrs. Hanaway in one of the most significant Michigan appellate cases on the issue of separate property and the property rights of stay-at-home spouses also wrote to the legislature's Judiciary Committee. Her letter may be read here.
And then, of course, I also wrote [people should just never annoy me]: You can read my letter here.