CORROBORATION PROBLEMS = DIVORCE PROBLEMS

January 11, 2011 § 3 Comments

I posted here about how crucial it is for the proof of grounds in fault-based divorces to be corroborated. 

In Ladner v. Ladner, decided December 14, 2010, the court of appeals again emphasized the strength of the corroboration rule.  The court stated at ¶ 10 the familiar principle that “The corroborated testimony must show conduct that ‘endangers life, limb, or health, or creates reasonable apprehension of such danger, rendering it impossible for [the other] spouse to discharge the duties of the marriage, thus destroying the basis for its continuance.'”     

Deborah Ladner charged her husband Philip with habitual cruel and inhuman treatment  She testified that Philip had been abusive toward her and assaulted her.  She offered into evidence two police reports and two rpotective orders, which both the trial judge and the court of appeals found not to be corroborative because all of the information they contained was provided by Deborah.  The appellate court also found uncorroborative a statement in a police report that the parties’ son was afraid of his father, and that Philp had broken his daughter’s door in anger because those showed only a troubled relationship with the children and did not corroborate Deborah’s testimony about violence directed at her.  The court reversed the chancellor’s decision granting Daborah a divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. 

Justice Carlton in her dissent would have found the testimony adequately corroborated to grant Deborah a divorce on habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.  She quoted from Professor Bell’s treatise that the corroborating evidence need not be sufficient in itself to establish the ground, but only needs to be enough for the court to conclude that the plaintiff’s testimony is true.  

An interesting twist in this case is that the chancellor granted both parties a divorce.  He granted Deborah a divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, and he granted Philip a divorce on the ground of adultery.  Philip had raised the issue that it was improper for the chancellor to grant dual divorces, but the court of appeals held that issue to be moot, based on its reversal of Deborah’s divorce.

There are several points chancery practitioners need to come away from this case with:

  • No corroboration = no divorce.  The requirement of corroboration is alive and well, and you need to be sure you have a corroborating witness or two lined up to support your case.
  • Self-corroboration will not work.  The information Deborah submitted to corroborate her claims that she generated was found not to be corroboration, and that makes perfect sense.  It’s easy for a party to generate police reports and file charges to build a case.  Those kinds of documents are nothing more than her own statements, so they corroborate nothing. 
  • The corroboration has to be linked to the conduct charged.  Deborah’s proof about her son and daughter was not tied to conduct directed at her.  Maybe the result would have been different if the son had testified that he was afraid of his dad because the son saw him threaten or physically mistreat the mom; if the door-breaking incident had been tied to a rampage in which Philip manhandled Deborah, that may have been the link she needed.

The easiest thing in the world is to tell your client, “Be sure to bring a witness to court who can back up your testimony about how he mistreated you.”  That’s a ticket to failure, though.  You need to investigate and identify who are the witnesses and what is the competent evidence that will make your client’s claim.  It is no less important than discovering the value of that securities account or uncovering that hidden bank account.

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