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Vail Daily column: There are no answers in law

My first bachelor’s degree was in genetics. One of my other two is in the hard sciences. I spent years in graduate work, studying genetics and human physiology. I did a cameo in med school. All of this before it dawned on me that what I really wanted to be was a lawyer.

There was some good here and some bad.

The good? Science is rigorous and teaches you to be disciplined, to think logically and to expand your mind to concepts that are beyond the normal quotidian ken. That is, unless your workaday world includes telomeres, quarks, molarity and cosines.



The bad? In all of my pre-law education, I expected answers. The human hand has 27 bones. The molecular weight of water is 18.015 amu. Light travels at a finite, constant speed of 186,000 miles per second. e = mc2. To be certain there were and are many things unknown. What, exactly is the behavior of a Higgs boson? What is dark matter? Why does lint always find its way into the pockets of your jeans?

But all-in-all, with a slide rule, a mechanical pencil, a library and sleuth-like diligence, a whole lot of the known world could be figured out, quantified, and at least generally understood.

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Not so much in law.

A SIMPLE DIVORCE?

What I learned early — and then often — is that there are no answers in law. OK, OK, that, admittedly is a bit of hyperbole, but … well, let’s take this as but one example:



Say you have a document — signed by both parties — that provides that a divorcing couple agrees, as a condition of their divorce, to equally split all debt. Say, further, there are a few “carve outs” or exceptions to the general agreement that each of them will take 50 percent of the debt. Say one of those “carve outs” states that, the general 50/50 agreement notwithstanding, when it comes to “outstanding” medical bills, each party will be responsible for the debts associated with services he or she, respectively, received. He had his knee scoped and the financial obligation is on him. She had her face lifted to impressive new heights and the pulling, stretching and tucking is on her (both literally and financially).

So far so good.

But let’s introduce a fly in the buttermilk.

Say — before the now-unhappy couple was still happy and basking the in the throes of wedded bliss — there were a passel of unpaid medical bills that they roundly ignored. And, at some point, the party to whom those medical bills were due, was a little peeved that the heroes of our story blew them off, and, in a pique of anger, filed suit. Still, our protagonists ignored the matter and a default judgment was entered against them. To be clear, the judgment was entered against both of them and, accordingly, in the eyes of the law, they were both responsible for satisfaction of the judgment and each was equally so. The way these things work, is that the debt was referred to as “joint and several” which means the judgment creditor could collect against them both or one of them, whoever had the deeper lint-filled pockets.

All of this was before the divorce and before they included in their divorce agreement that outstanding medical bills would be borne by the party who was provided the medical services that gave rise to the particular medical bill.

Fast forward.

NOT SO FAST

After the divorce is finalized and tied up in a neat little legal bundle, lo and behold, the judgment creditor finally decides to take action. As the wife, with her new, up-lifted face, is now a mini mogul in the making and earns a boatload more than the ex-hubby, the creditor decides to garnish her wages in satisfaction of the debt. And to leave the husband alone.

The wife, of course, cries foul. “Wait just a goldarn, minute!” she may insist. “Ninety percent of the bills of which the judgment is comprised were for services provided to my ex! Why should I be stuck with these?!”

Let’s complicate the matter just a little further and suppose the medical services provided to hubby were, among other things, for a vasectomy which, arguably, “benefited” them both. What to do?

Hubby will say, “Whoa! Hold on a blessed minute! Our separation agreement says that we are to bear ‘outstanding’ medical bills according to who incurred the debt. It also says that all other debt is to be split 50/50. As these bills are not “outstanding,” and a judgment is different than an unpaid bill, it should be split 50/50 rather than 90 percent being allocated to me.”

Hmmm.

Unlike the calming, verifiable reality that red falls on the color spectrum with a frequency of 480-405 thz, there is no answer. Only arguments.

The lady or the tiger?

Perhaps the judge can work this out.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 and at either of his email addresses, robbins@slblaw.com and robbins@colorado.net.


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