I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid back in the 1960’s, watching black-and-white TV, I heard (several times) the phrase, “Possession is nine-tenths (9/10) of the Law,” but I had no idea what it meant.

Most clearly, I remember the phrase from the old Western Television series, “Maverick” starring James Garner as the stylish and rambling Gambler “Bret Maverick.”

Well, now  –  fifty years later  –  I finally understand.

It means that you should never give up the “high ground.”   You are always better off being the person who possesses the “thing of value,” with others trying to get it from you.

For example:

  1. In Family Law, when your marriage is fraying apart, and you think your spouse might be planning to file for Divorce, ALWAYS stay in the MARITAL RESIDENCE.  Do Not leave, or agree to leave.  The “high ground” advantage goes to the party that is in the HOUSE, with the other spouse going to Court to take it away.  You also want to be the party that spends the most time with the children.  Always insist on the kids being with you for the majority of each week, even if you have to take time off from work to make it happen.  Eventually, the custody sharing arrangement will be finalized by the Court, and your percentage of time with the kids will determine whether you are paying or receiving Child Support, and how much … for a very long time.  If there is a Property Settlement, with one party keeping the House, and the other receiving an equivalent amount of Cash, you want to be the one that keeps the House … since it will be critical in keeping the kids with you for the majority of each week.  And don’t forget that on a School Day, the party that has the kids with them in the morning, and again in the evening, gets credit for the six (6) to seven (7) hours that the kids are in school each day !

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  1. In the Dissolution of a Business Partnership or Corporation, you are generally better off to be the one that keeps control of the business, and not the one that will be paid an annual payout from the operation of the Business.  If you are in control of the Business, you make the decision of how much will be invested in expansion, and how much will be taken out in profits, despite what the provisions of the Dissolution Agreement state.
  1. Whether it’s Real Property or Personal Property, it is generally best to be the Person “ON TITLE.” Let your business partners and/or relatives go to Court to say that despite the fact that YOUR name is on the Title, you were actually just a “NOMINAL TITLE HOLDER,” and it is really them that should be awarded the Beneficial Interest in the Real Estate or Personal Property.  With YOUR name on the Title, you are holding the “high ground.”
  1. If it’s Livestock, Whether Cattle or Horses, you want to be the one that owns the animals, just like it should be you that is on Title to the Real Estate.  Better to be the one with the livestock, with your business partners and/or relatives going to Court to claim that YOU are the “cattle-rustler,” instead of YOU going to Court to say that YOU’VE been “rustled.”
  1. If there’s been Fraud On Your Credit Card, and the Credit Card company asks you to review the monthly statement, and “circle” the charges that are “fraudulent,” just say, “no thank you” … the charges are ALL fraudulent, as far as you’re concerned … and let the Credit Card company be the one to spend the time “circling” the charges that appear NOT to have been “fraudulent.”  Just an illustration of when you might want the other side to spend the time, doing their homework, “taking the laboring oar.”
  1. Be the One to “Press Charges.”  I hesitate to even say it, since it just doesn’t seem right to suggest this, but … if you get in a scuffle, and Police break-up the fight, and ask, “do you want to press charges?,” YOU should be the one to say “YES.“  Years ago, a thirty-something, “Yuppy” friend of mine, on the City Subway, back in the day of “Boom-Boxes,” and very loud radios, got in a verbal argument with a teenager, and (apparent) gang member, about the loud noise from the teenager’s “Boom Box.”  The teenager “sucker-punched” my friend, and pretty soon it was an all-out fight on the subway platform.  The NYC Transit Police broke up the fight, and turned to my friend, asking, do you want to press charges?  My friend figured enough was enough, and no one was really hurt, so he said, NO.  The Transit Police then asked the (apparent) gang member the same question, and he said, “YES … I want to press charges.”  So my friend was arrested.  He should have said “yes” when asked.  It is always best to negotiate from a position of strength, meaning be on the “high ground.”  So, in this case, the criminal process “corollary” to the saying “Possession is nine-tenths (9/10) of the Law” means, do NOT “waive charges” until the other guy “waives charges.”

 So, always remember, “Possession is nine-tenths (9/10) of the Law,” and YOU want to be the one on the “high ground’ … the one that maintains “possession.”