The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently held In the Matter of Joni Guy and Daniel Guy on March 5, 2009 that in order to prove a fault-based divorce for endangering health or reason, the innocent spouse must prove that there has been more than just hurt feelings and anger. This holding raises the standard and makes this type of fault based divorce much harder to prove.
Joni filed for divorce citing the fault grounds (NH RSA 458:7 ) of conduct endangering her health and reason, adultery, and habitual drunkenness. Alternatively, she sought a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences. (458:7-a. ) The trial court dismissed the grounds of habitual drunkenness and adultery but granted Joni the divorce on the fault grounds of conduct endangering Joni’s health and reason. The exact language of 458:7(V) is: When either party has so treated the other as seriously to injure health or endanger reason. Daniel appealed the final divorce decree based arguing that the trial court had made an error by granting Joni the fault based divorce.
The NH Supreme Court examined the meaning and standard of conduct that would be considered to injure an innocent spouse’s health and endanger their reason. The court determined that any behavior of one party which affects the other physically or mentally is treatment within the meaning of the statute. The opinion goes on to state that while the statute does not require proof of conduct that would have affected an average reasonable person, it does require proof that the health or reason of the complaining spouse was actually affected.
The court scrutinized the conduct that Joni alleged caused her injury to her health and reason. Joni alleged that e-mails between Daniel and a former girlfriend which spoke of their love for each other and were sexually suggestive caused her to feel “angry, upset and distraught”.
The court determined that this type of conduct is insufficient to constitute treatment that arises to the level of seriousness required by the statute. Feeling angry, upset and distraught does not constitute serious injury to one’s health or endangerment to one’s reason. The conduct at issue did not harm Joni’s physical well-being. Nor did it cause her to suffer the type of mental anguish the statute was intended to encompass. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
Crusco Law Office, PLLC Law Clerk Marisa Ulloa contributed to this post.