Ask A Lawyer: Guns & Divorce – Nine things you need to know

By Henry S. Gornbein

I am about to file for a divorce and my husband has several handguns and rifles in the house. Our marriage has been volatile and I am concerned about my safety and the safety of our children. What should I do?

We are in the aftermath of the most horrific shooting tragedy in the history of our country. Fifty-eight people died in the horrific shooting Oct. 1. It happened in Las Vegas, but can happen anywhere.

In my divorce practice, gun issues have come up on many occasions. Divorce can be volatile under the best of circumstances and safety is of paramount importance.

I have had clients murdered by a spouse during a divorce. There was an incident several years ago when a divorce was finalized and the husband, who was to vacate the house by court order the next day, barricaded himself in the marital home in an upscale West Bloomfield neighborhood. Police were called and, tragically, a West Bloomfield police officer was killed and then the man turned the gun on himself, resulting in a murder/suicide. This house was two houses away from where my grandchildren were living.

Guns are everywhere. Emotions are high and a divorce can trigger a tragedy.

Following are some steps that I recommend to my clients that I would like to share with you:

  1. If you are concerned, get any guns out of the house and have them held by another family member or friend in a secure place. You can always remove the guns and put them into a storage locker for safe keeping.
  2. I once had a case where my office was holding the rifles during a divorce. This is something that I do not recommend.
  3. Many police departments will put guns or other weapons into storage for safe keeping until there is a further directive. Check with the local authorities where you live.
  4. You can always file a motion with the court to make sure that guns are safely stored until the case is resolved.
  5. Possession of guns after a divorce can be an issue and this is something that I have negotiated on numerous occasions.
  6. I once had a case where I walked into a deposition and my client pulled out a handgun. I immediately grabbed it and it was put in a safe and secure place. This was many years ago and is something that I don’t recommend.
  7. In another high-conflict divorce, a client pulled a gun and started shooting over the heads of the two attorneys and the other client. This was in a law office conference room in the Renaissance Center in Detroit. The bullets remained for many years as a reminder of how a tragedy can occur.
  8. The key is to be safe rather than sorry. If there is any doubt, get any weapons out of the house before you file for a divorce.
  9. Talk to your attorney and explain the situation when you are strategizing as the best way to move forward once you have decided to file for a divorce.

Divorce is known as crazy time, when even the most rational human beings sometimes lose it!

I urge you to err on the side of caution. Guns and divorce can be a very toxic brew. This is not a matter of gun control. It is a matter of making sure that no one is killed during the traumatic times that go hand in hand with a divorce.

These are my thoughts. What are yours?

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