November 16, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Alimony anyone? Not for this Huffington Post blogger (Huffington Post, 11/11/14). She’s Cindi Capitani and that bane of family courts everywhere, a second wife. Hell hath no fury like second wives. They’re among the most dedicated and effective campaigners for sanity in family courts anywhere, and Capitani is clearly cut from that cloth. It never ceases to amaze me that, although men and fathers are the hardest hit by the dysfunction in family courts and laws, their second wives often seem to be the angriest about it. Capitani doesn’t sound angry so much as focused. She sees the problems and has the bit in her teeth. We see her learning process as it’s occurring.
It all began with a letter, as it so often does.
It looked like junk mail but the barcodes and numbers… something told me to pay attention…
This official letter from an attorney general’s office was to let us know he owed back child support payments totaling dollar amounts that made me a bit faint. My husband is not a "deadbeat dad" — I see the money leaving our checkbook every week.
But apparently her husband had a serious financial setback. He either lost his job and hasn’t gotten a new one, or he has and it’s much lower paying than the previous one. The ticket is that his child support and alimony were set based on his previous earnings.
And that, as every divorced dad knows, is bad news. It means he’s got to shell out significant sums of money to a lawyer in the hope of reducing what he pays, and of course he must do so using his dramatically reduced income. A lot of dads can’t do that and our court systems make it hard for non-lawyers to plead and prove their cases on their own. And in any event, until they can get a hearing, the old orders remain in place meaning their arrears keep building up and up.
Once they get to court, whether with or without counsel, there’s no certainty that the mere loss of a job will mean the judge will reduce the amount owed. The judge will look to other assets to satisfy the debt, so if Capitani’s husband has a retirement account, it goes to his ex. If he has anything that can be sold beyond the basics, then sell them he must.
And what about alimony, which had been calculated under old salary numbers — numbers which existed a mere few months after the divorce. Doesn’t it matter if there’s a drastic change in household income? Is he supposed to sell a kidney to pay this "debt"?
Well, it hasn’t come to that yet, but give it time and it just might. One of the core values of the child support system is that fathers don’t care about their kids and want only to avoid supporting them. Never mind that that’s flagrantly untrue, the draconian nature of child support orders, their enforcement and courts’ unwillingness to modify them are all based on that concept. So Capitani’s husband is assumed to be exactly what she knows he’s not – a deadbeat dad.
One thing Capitani’s not yet caught onto is that his child support may or may not be going to support his child. No law anywhere requires that it do so. The only thing required is that he pay – either to his ex or to the state if she’s received TANF benefits. What she does with it is her business, no questions asked.
It may be that that little matter escaped Capitani’s notice because what her husband pays his ex every month does in fact go to support her. That’s because he pays her both child support and alimony. And Capitani’s not happy about it.
I’m glad I’m not alone in my outrage that forever-alimony to keep non-working women in "lifestyles" is something that has to stop. It hurts us as woman, makes us look like we need a man to "lifestyle" us since we can’t figure it out for ourselves. But having a hug-fest doesn’t get us out of the poorhouse. There’s real work to be done for reform, to see that women who truly need support get it, and the ones taking advantage are stopped.
Yes, there’s a growing movement to make alimony laws sensible, but it hasn’t made a lot of progress. (Of course one of the most significant gains in that area was accomplished in Massachusetts with the help of the National Parents Organization.) And one of the main reasons it hasn’t is exactly what Capitani puts her finger on – the sexist (and flagrantly wrong) concept of women as feckless incompetents, unable to fend for themselves in the job market. Alimony law remains stuck in a past that made it hard for many women to earn what men did. Of course that’s no longer the case, so alimony law should change with the times, but so far it hasn’t. (One of the many hypocrisies of gender feminism is that it’s feminist organizations that often lobby against any change in alimony laws reciting that old familiar trope that doing so is just part of a “war on women.”)
The upside down numbers in this new math economy is felt everywhere, and we’ve all had to adjust accordingly. Keeping an ex-husband indentured to his ex-wife for life, tied to paying large percentages of a salary he’ll likely never see in his middle-age life again — well, how is that justice?
I don’t understand why alimony is doled out forever to women perfectly capable of working, and who have, in fact, earned money and demonstrated skills we all wish we had. Why are women — so lucky to be afforded the privilege of staying home with their children, never ever having to earn an income — why do they have this feeling of entitlement, even if it’s they who decide to walk away?
Good questions all. I personally doubt that most women have the feeling of entitlement Capitani attributes to them, although some do. The simple fact is that they are entitled. State laws say they’re entitled to receive hefty chunks of their ex-hubby’s income sometimes permanently. Sometimes those laws mean that the ex literally can never retire but must continue working and earning until he drops. And since the law gives them the power over that income, why would any healthily self-interested woman refuse?
Oh, some of them do alright. To her credit, Capitani’s one of them.
When I got divorced, I waived alimony so my ex could have a life. If he paid alimony to me, he would’ve joined the ranks of many other divorced men sleeping on relatives’ couches, unable to afford a room of his own. I was entitled to alimony, and my career might’ve been better off had I not worked part-time or freelance, (so I could always be near my children) and had pursued higher goals (and degrees). But it was my choice. Many American women are fortunate enough to be afforded many choices. Women who choose to stay home full time — and I did that for many years — have an obligation to think ahead. Sooner or later, they will start a business or jumpstart a career or begin another. No degree? One class at a time, and in 18 years you’ll have one or two. Do women really bank on never needing to work, ever? Or wanting to, for that matter?
“Women have an obligation to think ahead.” Yes, they do. But the law says a wife need think no further than a quick napkin calculation of their husband’s earnings. If they’re sufficient, she’s set for life without lifting a finger. That’s not what anyone would call self-reliance and it’s not particularly healthy for the economy at large either. Nor does it encourage men (and high-earning women) to marry. But it does encourage lower-earners to divorce.
In short, alimony is not only at odds with present-day realities that see women fully capable of working and earning equally with men. It also suggests, as Capitani notes, that women are exactly the type of fragile flowers Victorian society deemed them to be – not exactly a positive message. And of course alimony laws promote divorce, non-marriage and the minimal involvement of women (and lower-earning men) in the workplace.
The simple fact is that there’s essentially nothing to be said for alimony. Oh, as I’ve mentioned in the past, there are narrow exceptions to what should be the rule. Very old spouses and those who are disabled and unable to work and earn shouldn’t be put out on the street just because they can’t get along with the person to whom they’re married. But beyond that, alimony should be abolished. It’s unnecessary and pernicious. Period.
Will Capitani come around to that opinion? I wouldn’t be surprised. After all, she’s now tied to a man who’s been ordered to pay amounts that make her feel faint. And the slow, grinding reality of the matter is that that may never change as long as he lives. So every month Capitani will have the dubious pleasure of watching her husband’s hard-earned dollars go to his ex who’s chosen to put her feet up. As a fine Texas songwriter once wrote, “There’s no way out and it’s a long way in.”
Such is the nature of alimony.
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