Massachusetts divorce lawyer Josey Lyne Payne discusses what the “fabric of the marriage” is and what it means in the context of a Massachusetts divorce.
On an organic level, divorce is quite literally the process by which your combined lives are severed from each other in a transactional way. The business-like approach to breaking the ties that bind two people together can seem cold and unfeeling, and to be honest, that’s not always a bad thing. The reality is, when you marry, you combine more than just your hearts, hopes and dreams; you combine a home, incomes, bank accounts, savings, assets, liabilities, pensions…the list goes on. All of these things are transactional in nature – and require transactional attention if and when they need to be severed, like during a divorce.
When it comes to the legal transaction that is divorce, you’ll often hear the various parts of a marriage referred to as “the fabric of the marriage” when speaking with an attorney or just observing a hearing or trial in the Probate and Family Court in the Commonwealth. The metaphor is a sound one; imagine a piece of fabric, now imagine a zoomed in perspective – what do you see? You should see rows of threads, each woven or latticed over the next piece of thread – like a pie lattice or a grid – and the more threads, the more durable the fabric, the more difficult to unweave cleanly. But what does that have to do with marriage and/or divorce?
Imagine each day of your marriage as a thread (and each day the spouses and their things become more unified and combined); as the number of days increases (the longer the marriage is) the number of threads likewise increases. These numerous threads are woven together and create fabric. The longer the marriage, the more threads, the tighter the weave, the larger the resulting fabric. Each thread passes over and under every other piece of thread in the fabric creating a tight locking grid of threads.
When divorce happens, and it is time to address the division of assets (the fabric) between the parties, what does that look like? Well, it depends on the “fabric”. If you enjoyed a long marriage and accumulated assets or debts together, your “fabric” has a higher thread-count and it will be far more difficult to differentiate between each individual thread, if not impossible. If you demand a single particular piece of thread (that’s my toaster), and that thread is in the middle of the “fabric”, how do you get that particular piece of thread without damaging the rest of the “fabric”? Realistically, you can’t. That is one of the sources of pain in any divorce. Remember, the longer the marriage, the more each parties’ contributions, good or bad, are no longer separate and distinct; likewise, the larger and tighter the piece of fabric, the greater likelihood that the threads are no longer separate and distinct and thus attributable to one particular party.
Why not just cut the fabric in half? Well, have you ever cut a piece of fabric? What happens to the edges? The fabric unravels and becomes useless. There can be a similar result when marital assets and marital liabilities are being divided between divorcing spouses. If there is only 1 of Aunt Tillie’s antique toaster (a thread in the fabric of your marriage) in the marriage, how can each of the parties get half without destroying the toaster? That’s where the trouble lies in divorce, and where approaching it as an objective transaction, the approach attorneys take, can temper some of the sting and preserve the value of your assets.
About the Author: Josey Lyne Payne is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.
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