Friday, April 11, 2003

Virginia court of appeals knows what's more manifestly unjust than adultery

In this opinion, the court of appeals concluded that a wife's claim for spousal support fell under the "manifest injustice" exception to the usual rule that adultery bars support. The opinion notes the following facts about the husband and the marriage:

"Viewed in the light most favorable to Lynn, however, the evidence also portrayed John as a profane and verbally abusive man. John frequented "strip joints and topless bars" and told Lynn about, among other things, the "oil wrestlers" that performed at these places. He would indiscriminately engage in these conversations in the presence of his children and Lynn's family, at times even "boasting or bragging about those places." "It was not an infrequent topic of conversation." John went to these places, he explained to one witness, "because they have the best p----." John "frequently talked crudely about sexual type things." He carried on with this practice "[p]retty much the same the whole 20 years."

John also directed his profanity toward his children. In one instance, John's son Michael had accidentally kicked his father's head while both were lying on a bed watching television. Though realizing it was simply an accident, John "started yelling . . . God damn you, Michael. Why in the f--- did you kick me in the face. . . . Why did you f---ing have to kick me in the face?" In response, Michael ran out of the house. On another occasion, John was having a "food fight" with his twelve-year-old daughter when John accidentally got hit in the eye. He "started screaming . . . God damn you. God damn, you hit me in the eye." His daughter "just sat there and started crying," not at all understanding her father's outburst. Other times John would come home from work angry and declare, in ear-shot of his children, that "one of the girls at the office" was a "bitch or a c---." His use of vulgarity, in the presence of his family and others, "was quite frequent."

Several witnesses who knew John and Lynn over the years testified that they had never once seen John show any affection or any kindness toward Lynn. Over the course of the marriage, John chronically complained (both to Lynn and others) about Lynn's weight, appearance, housekeeping, and spending habits. John referred to Lynn as "Witch." He was a "heavy drinker," sometimes starting as early as "10:00 in the morning." Because John maintained strict control over the financial accounts, Lynn was not "privy to the family finances at any time during the marriage." John particularly disliked Lynn's family and threatened on one occasion to move her out of town if she did not "stop speaking with her parents."

Despite these problems, John and Lynn enjoyed considerable financial security. John has a college degree, a stable and long-term career in a family trucking business, an annual salary exceeding $250,000, and additional income from corporate dividends and family related gifts. John's interests in stocks, real estate, and tangible assets exceeded $6 million. In contrast, Lynn has not held a full time job since the early years of her marriage, choosing instead to stay at home to raise their three children. She has no college degree, giving her a future earning capacity far below her husband's. At the time of trial, Lynn was earning $10.00 an hour as a receptionist."

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