July 13, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The case of Ari Schochet, the man whom the American Bar Association Journal called the “poster child for alimony reform” is headed to court again today. New Jersey judge Ronni Jo Siegal informed Schochet this past Friday that he has a hearing in her court today. We’ll see what happens.
Why is Schochet the poster child for alimony reform? Because the State of New Jersey has treated him — continues to treat him — with what can only be called malice. Simply put, none of what has happened to Schochet makes any sense. In a fair system, a just system, his case would have been sorted out years ago, he’d no longer be in debt and he’d no longer be going to prison every night and weekend.
But the New Jersey system of alimony makes no pretense of being fair or just. Its only conceivable justification is the patently false notion that ex-wives can’t work for a living. How else to describe a system of permanent alimony that bankrupts the payor for the purpose of maintaining his ex-wife in the manner he did during their marriage? And how else to describe a system that cares not a whit that Ari Schochet cannot pay what he’s been ordered to? This system of alimony is an infernal machine that, once it’s turned on, just keeps going and going and going, racking up ever greater debts and more and more days and nights behind bars for a decent man that no one believes can pay what he owes.
Schochet was once a very well-to-do Wall Street investment analyst. At the height of his career, he earned a cool one million dollars in a single year. But that was before the bursting bubble of 2008, before he lost two jobs at investment firms and of course before his wife, Sharona Grossberg divorced him and took their four daughters. Their divorce became final in 2012 and since then Schochet has tried in vain to keep up with his child support obligation of about $22,000 per year and alimony of about $78,000. The marriage lasted 17 years; the alimony will last until either Schochet or Grossberg dies. This is Schochet’s life. He will never go to bed at night, never wake in the morning free of the thought and the burden of alimony.
Meanwhile, Schochet struggles along on the salary of a stock transfer agent that leaves him $100 per month to live on after amounts for child support and alimony are garnished from his paycheck. That’s right, $100 per month. Of course even at that, his debt only gets higher every month. It’s not as if he’s making complete payments; he’s not. In someone’s wisdom, leaving Schochet $100 per month makes sense, makes the system one that wouldn’t make Charles Dickens scream. Why not just take it all?
Surely though Schochet can get his alimony payment modified, right? Wrong. He’s sought work and works every day, but simply can’t get a job with the earning power he formerly had. So, on $100 per month, he can’t very well hire a lawyer to represent him. Filing the necessary motions and presenting the necessary evidence runs to about $10,000 per hearing. Where’s Ari Schochet going to get that kind of money? Then there’s this little gem from the state Court of Appeals.
Schochet wanted the state to pay for experts to testify as to his employability at such a hearing. His ability to find work that pays the type of salary that could make it possible for him to pay Grossberg $100,000 per year is of course the nut of the matter. If Schochet can prove he’s doing the best he can, then maybe, just maybe, some judge would grant him the modification he so clearly deserves. But without that expert testimony, he can’t prove his case. So naturally, the Court of Appeals denied his request.
Plaintiff represents that he now earns $600 per week. He states that, as of February 2014, his arrears were approximately $250,000 and continue to increase by almost $1500 per week…
On January 31, 2014, less than one week before the scheduled hearing, plaintiff’s counsel wrote to the Bergen County Counsel and requested that the County retain David B. Stein, Ph.D., an employability expert, and an as-yet-unidentified certified public accountant for plaintiff. He stated: Both experts are needed to testify as to Mr. Schochet’s employability and his past, present and future earnings, income, job placement and his current ability to pay child support. It is necessary and essential to our case and to the issue of Mr. Schochet’s current ability to pay child support that we retain these experts.
That makes perfect sense to everyone except the Court of Appeals that simply decided that the trial court didn’t need the advice of experts, so Schochet should have none.
In a nutshell, Schochet is clearly indigent. Net earnings of $100 per month constitute indigence in anyone’s book, but he needs to prove it to the court for the court to grant him the use of his expert witnesses. The experts are further required to prove that his non-payment isn’t willful but the result of an inability to pay that is beyond his control. His inability to pay means he can’t hire the necessary experts to prove his inability to pay. So the court’s refusal to allow his expert witnesses prevents him from proving his inability to pay.
Stated another way, the State of New Jersey has Ari Schochet in a box and it’s not going to let him out. That’s true regardless of how sensible his request or how dire his position. Mr. Bumble, in Oliver Twist was right; truly, “the law is a ass.”
As if to make the point completely clear, remember that hearing I mentioned at the start of this post? Guess what it’s for. Can’t guess? Neither can Schochet. That’s because the judge’s office didn’t tell him why he’s required to appear in court. There are no pending motions, nothing that needs to be decided. He’s just required to show up and find out then why. Amazing.
All of this of course falls within the framework of a system of alimony that makes no pretense of being sensible, much less just. For one thing, Grossberg could easily just agree to a modification of alimony based on Schochet’s ability to pay. But she’s shown no inclination to do the decent thing. No, she wants money, everything the divorce decree ordered, $78k for life.
But more importantly, the very concept of alimony reflects assumptions that bear little resemblance to the real world of the United States in 2015. Women can and do work for their livings. About 48% of those employed in this country are women. Moreover, they should. If women are ever going to gain the respect and the equality feminists say they must, we have to stop treating them like hapless incompetents, which is precisely what alimony laws do.
With exceptions for the very old and the disabled, alimony should exist for at most two years after marriage. That would allow a spouse who took time off work to raise children enough time to get back into the workforce and become self-supporting. After that, alimony should end. If people want to divorce, fine. But what we have now is a weird system in which divorce isn’t really divorce at all. The two adults don’t go their separate ways, but instead, one continues to support the other who becomes dependent on that support. In countless cases like Schochet’s, alimony, like a diamond, is forever.
Inexplicably, divorce also means that one partner — usually the woman — is maintained in the style she became used to during marriage. That is, the divorce is not only no-fault, but no-consequence for her. There is simply no logical explanation for that. Divorce should have consequences and if one person contributed little or nothing to the family finances during the marriage, it’s only just that his or her income should decrease post-divorce.
But, as Schochet’s case so aptly demonstrates, the person who supported the family during the marriage has no right to maintain a decent lifestyle, while the spouse who contributed little or nothing monetarily continues with her marital lifestyle after the marriage ends. That type of discrimination in favor of non-earners and against earners isn’t simply unjust, it encourages both unemployment and divorce.
The system of alimony should be scrapped altogether and replaced with a very limited scheme of short-term support aimed solely at getting one spouse back into the workplace where she can support herself as well as her experience, education and diligence allow. It’s time to stop the financial incentives to divorce. It’s time to stop treating women like delicate flowers unable to care for themselves. It’s time to stop treating men like cash machines.
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