Crime scene tape

George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has energized the Black Lives Matter movement, and energized the world, not just the United States, with mass protests. But this post is focused on the family law consequences of Floyd’s killing.

Chauvin is now charged with murder of 46 year-old Floyd, and is facing more bad news. His wife of 10 years, Kellie Chauvin, has filed for divorce. This fact is not surprising – serious criminal charges change lives for the worse even without the glare of worldwide publicity.

Derek Chauvin faces protests, and divorce

Black Lives Matter Protest after Floyd Death

What is surprising are the headlines generated by this filing – all tend to focus on the name change request, plus the fact that she is waiving alimony. The NBC News headline is typical of the coverage: “Wife of accused ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin says in divorce filing she wants to change her name.” The subheading points out that “Kellie Chauvin is not asking for any spousal support in divorce papers she filed.”

Change of Name in a Divorce

The media is hyping the name change request, trying to suggest it shows she is disassociating herself from her husband. And stories are even speculating on what she may change her name to, given that she has apparently used a couple during her adult life.

But the reality is name change requests are completely common, and the Colorado Supreme Court’s model Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation, the JDF 1101, even has a line where such an election is requested or declined: “The Petitioner Co-Petitioner requests that the Court restore his/her prior full name to __________________________.”

At Graham.Law, we see name changes in at least half of our cases – more when there are no children, and probably less when there are children (so the spouse can keep the same name as the kids). I’ve even had a couple of husbands ask if they can force their wives to change their names, as if their surname was an asset that could only be awarded to one of them! (The answer is “no”, by the way). As the Chauvins have no children together, a name change as part of a divorce is a completely typical request, and hardly earth-shattering news.

Colorado goes one step further with name changes, with a recent statute to simplify the process of an adult name change after a decree of dissolution has entered. Per C.R.S. 14-10-120.2, either spouse can petition to change their name at any time after a decree is issued. Note that under either process (during the divorce, or later on), the decree simply changes one’s name. Just as the spouse had to change her name with state & federal governments, financial institutions, etc, upon marriage, that process will need to be “reversed” upon dissolution.

Waiver of Alimony in a Divorce?

The media also reports that Ms. Chauvin is waiving maintenance in her divorce petition. While I cannot speak for Minnesota, she would not be a strong candidate for alimony as part of a Colorado divorce. Though she is presently unemployed, and, presumably, Officer Chauvin has traditionally been the breadwinner, he has been fired from the police force, and is in custody, facing murder charges.

Charged Officer's Wife Waives Alimony in DivorceIn short, Chauvin’s employment prospects are not good, and while I am not in a position to speculate about his chances of conviction vs acquittal, the video which has inflamed the world suggests his criminal defense team has an uphill battle.

So while it’s surprising that Ms. Chauvin chose to waive maintenance in her petition for divorce, rather than at least keeping her alimony options open, I suspect her counsel has advised her she has no chance of receiving any alimony, and waiving it at the outset at least gives her positive headlines. And it’s worth noting that she is also asking the court to award no alimony to her husband. Given her unemployed status, and Mr. Chauvin’s history as breadwinner, he would not be a strong candidate for maintenance either – especially if he’s incarcerated and therefore has no living expenses.

But She Still Wants the House!

Finally, waiving alimony does not mean Ms. Chauvin is completely altruistic – one article points out that she is asking to have the marital residence awarded to her – we have posted numerous blogs on the role of the family home in a divorce, and it is often a hotly-contested matter. No idea how much equity it contains, but typically marital assets (in Colorado, at least) are divided roughly equally. But if she needs a place to live, and her husband end up remaining incarcerated, she certainly has a greater claim to the house.

Interesting Addendum – Tax Evasion Charges

On July 22, 2020, it was reported that both of the Chauvins have been charged with tax evasion – they allegedly filed false tax returns from 2014 – 2019. In that five-year period, they allegedly concealed a whopping $460,000 of income, failing to pay taxes on it. If true, this hidden income may well explain why Ms. Chauvin was so quick to offer a maintenance waiver – presumably at least some of this income would be connected to her, and not all Mr. Chauvin moonlighting.

And herein lies the problem with the government turning a couple’s financial lives upside down – they are very thorough, and leave no stone unturned. But for these murder charges against Derek Chauvin, chances are that whatever conduct resulted in the tax evasion charges would never have seen the light of day. The tax evasion charges, and any liability owing to the IRS, will complicate what already promised to be a messy divorce.

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