Reflections

This is poison soup to

kill the bad witches

she said.

How can you tell the

difference? I asked.

O, good witches are very polite & say no

thank you.

Bad witches

just die.

–Brian Andreas

 

So bad witches are greedy. True enough. And maybe the good witches are a bit more perceptive? And maybe bad witches eventually choke on their own greed.

The new year is, of course, a time to reflect on the year gone by. While I am grateful for everyone’s general good health, it was in other ways a tough year, with the events the ex set in motion culminating in court room showdowns by the end of 2013. Never a pleasant experience.

Perhaps most difficult to hear were the accusations slung–I am a good mother, but you are a bad man. If that sounds to you more like something a contrite child would say but not a mature 41 year old woman, I couldn’t agree more. What makes one “bad” in her eyes is finally having a judge recognize that overpaying child support by $1700 a month is not what the law requires. The ex feels like she gets to stipulate what she is owed, and anything that falls short of that makes her feel cheated. Her sense of being wronged is a debt that can never be repaid. And, like some divorced women, she has never understood that child support is for the children in the first place; she certainly rarely used her considerable funds on them. We paid all that and still bought clothes, etc., while she told the children that their father wasn’t paying for their needs (this while she was getting $4,000/ month). For the record, my husband is a good man not because he continued to overpay his greedy ex-wife, but because he did everything to provide his children with a stable environment, despite the thrashing and screeching of a vindictive ex, even after she sued him.

But on the other hand, since the law in the southern state we live in treats divorced women who are awarded permanent alimony like children, she may as well act like one. Now that child support has been lowered to an equitable amount–only after months of effort and with money leaking out the door all those months to the ex–what has been bothering me all along about the relationship between alimony and child support has begun to crystallize. While we presume they are two different kinds of support with two separate functions, this is only partially true. There is, in some sense, little difference in terms of the source of the claim they make on the man. (Explanation follows.)

First, let me say that no one should begrudge paying child support. It is fair for ex-spouses to equalize a difference in earning power by providing children with financial stability in the home(s) they live in. Second, case law in our state shows that when the woman is higher earning than the man, permanent alimony is rarely ever awarded to the man. It is still being awarded to women in our state, never mind that more women are getting college degrees in America today than men.

What has become clear to me after months of trying to untangle the threads is that if alimony were really about a contract that has been broken, permanent alimony would never be awarded and certainly not in a no fault divorce. What are the expectations in a marriage? That the partners love one another until death do they part. Where does it say that the woman will have financially stability provided by the man, even if the marriage fails, for as long as she lives? In fact, of the 12 factors that determine whether or not alimony is awarded (and mind you, these are not tangible guidelines, like, for example, a certain percentage of income or a formula like child support), the two most pressing factors seem to be the discrepancy in incomes and potential earning power. Fair enough. Rehabilitative (or temporary) alimony makes sense and addresses these factors. But what incentive does the partner who earns less have to increase her earning power (say by going back to school), if she is being paid a stipend which, in the case of my husband’s ex, was about what I made in a year for many years? If she doesn’t take advantage of the money and elapsed years to increase her earning power, why isn’t that on her? I can only conclude that alimony is not really about that in our state, or it wouldn’t be permanent, certainly not for couples which go through a divorce early in life.

Instead, there is the implication that with the failure and termination of the marriage contract, the woman has lost more than the man, whether they had children together or not. What about what the man lost? If they had children, didn’t they both “get” children out of the marriage? Aren’t they then equal? If the woman is awarded alimony for a period of time to work towards financial independence (and we are talking here about marriages of relatively short length and when both partners have a full working life ahead of them), isn’t that equitable? What has she lost that can only be repaid by never-ending alimony? If I sued a painter because he didn’t finish painting my house, thereby breaking our contract, I might be awarded damages to pay someone else to finish painting my house, but I wouldn’t be awarded an excessive sum to pay for the repainting of my house as many times as I chose to change the color in the future. (Example courtesy of my husband.)

To my mind, it can only be one thing in our heavy-handed, paternalistic state. The woman has lost her best years. The man can still reproduce, is still virile, attractive. The presumption is that the woman will now have a harder time attracting a partner; she is used up. Really? Is this how women with college degrees want to be seen and valued? So whether the couple had children or not, the reproductive years of the 20s and 30s are more closely associated with the value of a woman than a man, who must continue to pay her for this damage he has wrought. If you can think of another way to understand permanent alimony, which signals the broken contract of marriage with an implicit understanding that the break down of the marriage can in these cases never be adequately compensated for, I’d love to hear it. Because as it stands, this is an unbearably sexist way to measure the value of a woman. If the partners were approximately the same age, the men “lost” those same youthful years, but there is no compensation for them, only penalty. Women are valued for the ability or potential to reproduce and attract a partner, men for the ability to go out in the world and earn a dollar.

As a “second wife” who has always presumed she would take care of herself and who entered marriage for love, I cannot for the life of me understand divorce as a fundamentally damaged state for which either divorcee should be interminably compensated. Divorce frees you up to create a new life. Also, let’s be honest, I hate that the ex thinks she has a prior claim on my husband. And while I remind myself that not overpaying child support is eminently gratifying, because this was her mandate, not the state’s, I actually told myself that I wouldn’t resent her for the alimony payment, just the state. And to some extent I do. On the other hand, she is right; the alimony laws that award permanent alimony tell her that her claim on my husband is prior and worth a good chunk of change. No wonder she thinks that way, and no wonder she confuses the financial claim with the emotional and moral. Because at the root of the alimony law that awards permanent alimony is not equity in terms of earning power and potential earning power but a presumption that marriage during the 20s and 30s of the couple especially have taken something away from the woman for which the man must compensate. I resent paying her alimony because she does nothing to increase her own income, because she openly weighs suitors based largely on their earning power and if you have a whopping alimony not many suitors can compete, and because each month’s payment reminds us that the state agrees–she has a prior claim. So at the end of the day, child support is for the children and seems generally fairly calculated and you are a jerk if you mind supporting your children. Unfortunately, there are women who spend child support on themselves. At the same time, permanent alimony implies that the value of a woman is related to her ability or potential to reproduce and that her claim on her ex-husband, similar to child-support, is a result of her role in procreation (real or potential). No wonder women can’t tell the two sources of income apart.

All that said, this coming year, you will see me turning to a different set of issues. First, because who wants to chew over the same *%@#! again and again? Second, because it’s time to do something instead of sort out issues and complain. Now that I understand how family court works (arguing the law seems secondary in family law; there are lots of unspoken customs), it is time to see what’s up with alimony reform in this state and lend a hand. And third, (see my next post) there are so many better ways to be spending one’s time!

Goodbye 2013. At least the waiting was over and the kids are thriving. Hello 2014, the year when the loose ends get tied up with the ex, and we move on to doing.

~Wanda

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4 Comments

  1. Nicole says:

    I agree that there are a lot of unstated/undefined expectations in the marriage contract that aren’t revealed until the couple walks into divorce proceedings (as you put it, “unspoken customs”).

    I can’t help but think that this is all tied (however unconsciously) to women being sexual beings.
    Point 1: R. got out of paying a cent in alimony because he was able to produce even the slightest bit of evidence (old emails) of his ex’s affairs and alleged lack of contribution to the household finances, even though she had a full time job. And he provided for her child for 14 years or so. Honestly, I sometimes it comes down to the lawyer who argues best.

    2: Infidelity is a bar to alimony (drug abuse and domestic violence aside)- not being a Mall Rat, not being a miserable person to live with, not intentionally claiming tons of dependents so that her husband gets hammered on his taxes, not being a party animal who is never home, not embezzlement, not slander, not being a hoarder, not refusing to do any housework- but giving away what was rightfully his (including her eggs) to own til death do they part.

    You just need to find some way of plotting to find this woman a beau. Once she cohabits with someone (in this state, your best bet is her finding a male), he can move to have alimony stopped. bEcUz wimmens having SeX in SC outside of marriage ist verboten!

    Happy 2014 and congratulations on the reduction in superfluous child support. The number almost made my jaw drop.

    I really like how you have framed this as an essentialist/sexist legal issue, rather than a “men’s rights activist” issue, because I do think that your case is statistically an outlier in this state. I think this is a good example of how feminism benefits both men and women. I don’t judge women who choose to be so-called “golddiggers” or prostitutes, but when the marriage contract (or dating or whatever loose agreement) is dissolved, then that’s it! Move on to someone else or learn to adjust to a new standard of living. There are consequences in life to every choice- desirable or not. We don’t get to always live within “the manner to which I have become accustomed.”

    I think you also make a good case for pre-nups. Perhaps a fair one could expire if the marriage lasts less than X years šŸ˜‰

    • Wanda says:

      Thanks for your comments. The comparisons help. In this case, the divorce was no-fault. Unfortunately, cohabitation is particularly hard to prove in this state. Her boyfriend could live with her week on, week off, and you don’t have a case. He could move out on day 59, and it’s not cohabitation. The case law on this makes it clear it’s not a realistic way out, especially for a man try to catch an ex-wife at it. I’ve said all along that until her child support gets lowered to the guidelines and alimony to something sane and fair, she will never seriously consider getting married. She shops for boyfriends based on income and shares her criteria with her teenage daughters. Especially since she has sued him several times and sued for this divorce, why does she keep benefitting? Like you said, if you sue for the divorce, adjust to your new standard of living and raise it yourself. I’ve been told that our case isn’t an outlier for men who earned significantly more than their soon-to-be ex’s 8 years ago and had wives who did not have graduate degrees. In the current economy, that high of alimony probably wouldn’t be awarded today. Sometimes I wonder if our representation has just been that passive and sucky, or whether it really is all that hopeless and entrenched if you were a new professional married to a new teacher. :( I think with $400,000 plus and 8 years she should have gone back to school to improve her income. Why does she get a handout indefinitely?! And why didn’t that money go toward her childrens’ college education?!

      The idea of an expiring pre-nup is interesting. I can’t imagine why my husband would get married again after what happened to him. I’m not what you’d call a sugar-mama. :)

      • Nicole says:

        Holy cow! One would hope those kids have their Ivy League educations paid for with that kind of child support over such a short period of time! I suspect you make a valid point about the income discrepancy. So many women seem to struggle to get any regular child support just to meet children’s basic needs, but perhaps there is a ceiling- a point where intentions go from simple survival and fairness to pure greed when *certain* people (like your husband’s ex) are involved in situations where the pockets they are digging into are rather deep. I’m so accustomed to hearing about women in my community whose husbands manage to support their new families (or girlfriends) but never pay the bare minimum in child support, that I forget how moving up an income bracket might be a game changer- especially if the ex wants to spend the money on herself.

        It is one thing to be delusional about what one is entitled to (Forever Alimony), but quite another to use one’s children as pawns for her own financial gain. Now, that is a special kind of awful person. As for the boyfriend shopping, well…

        I think your last statement applies to a whole lot of people who’ve experienced heartbreak, disappointment, and financial ruin. Darn emotions and drive for companionship! I have a friend who has been married 4 times, went from millionaire to bankrupt now at age 60. Was raped, held at gunpoint, jaw broken, and emotionally abused- yet still has hope that the next guy will be better. I hope she is right… I am amazed at her capacity to love and trust again, in spite of her awful past. Perhaps your husband is also resilient :)

        And of course, I’m still trying to figure out why people (myself included) ever give birth more than once! LOL

  2. Nicole says:

    Sorry, I meant “if the marriage lasts longer than X number of years” specified in the pre-nup.

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