“All happy families are alike,” begins Anna Karenina, while “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. The Appellate Division’s recent decision in Steiner v. Steiner quotes Tolstoy in holding that the existence of irreconcilable differences as grounds for divorce under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2(i) is largely, if not entirely, a matter for the family court judge to determine as trier of fact.

In this case, the unhappy couple had been married since 1955 and were in their late eighties or early nineties. He was a successful real estate developer who had held all of the marital assets, including the home, in his own name. She contended that they had irreconcilable differences on a variety of grounds, not least because he excluded her from any role in the marital finances, kept their daughters out of his real estate business, and intended bequeath the bulk of his assets to their only son, whom he had taken into the business. He contended that their differences were not irreconcilable—after all, she had stuck by him for more than 60 years—and that the divorce was a ploy, instigated by one daughter, to divide the marital assets so that his wife could leave her share to their daughters. The trial court found irreconcilable differences and the Appellate Division, after a detailed review of the evidence, affirmed. The case, in short, was a classic inheritance dispute brought forward before death through a suit for divorce. One might argue that the relationship portrayed would have been quite common fifty or sixty years ago, when the partners were middle aged, but has become an anachronism by modern standards.