Some Thoughts on Dr. Helen’s Piece ‘Should Alimony Die a Quick Death?’

Dr. Helen has a new article out called “Should Alimony Die a Quick Death?” (Pajamas Media, 12/19/07). Dr. Helen writes:

“Personally, I have a hard time justifying long term alimony payments to men or women in today”s society. Years ago, when one spouse (typically women) was expected to stay home with the kids, tend the house and generally had no training or as many opportunities to make a living as women do today, I would say that alimony might have been more fair.

“However, in today”s world, in which women have fought for the right to equality, alimony seems more like a kid getting an allowance from daddy and I believe it should be abolished altogether except for extremely dire circumstances where a spouse is older, cannot work at all, and for only a short term period. No man or woman should be held to being a slave to an ex-spouse after a marriage ends.”

The concept of “alimony as slavery” is common in the men’s and fathers’ movements, and it is valid, but only to a point. Dr. Helen makes some good points above, but she goes further than I would. I am not against the concept of alimony, I am against the abuse of it.

When alimony is part of a “don’t get mad, get everything” type of post-divorce fleecing, I am opposed. When it is done out of vindictiveness, as in the divorce attorneys’ anti-male ad pictured, I am opposed. When it is done because the law demands that a divorced man support his ex-wife at the standard of living to which she is accustomed, I am opposed, because I believe that this is an unfair and unrealistic burden.

That being said, however, I believe there are situations where alimony is called for. Let’s say that Bob and Jane got married in 1995, and had three children. The couple realized that it is very difficult for the children and for the family in general if both parents have demanding, go-all-out careers. In light of this, they decide that one of them will stay home, or will work part-time, or will do a job that is not as demanding or gives flexible time, so that someone is there for the children.

In the majority of cases, this will be the woman instead of the man, but the gender is irrelevant. Over the subsequent period, Bob works 50 hour weeks and now has a career which earns him $120,000 a year. Jane works 30 hours a week and is the primary caregiver for the children, and earns $25,000 a year.

Now it is 2008 and Bob and Jane are divorcing. (I will leave aside for the moment why they are getting divorced, issues surrounding no-fault divorce, etc.). I believe that both Bob and Jane, absent a finding of parental unfitness, should have shared parenting and a relatively equal timeshare with their children.

I also think it is entirely appropriate for Bob to pay Jane both child support and alimony. Not an extortionate amount, not an amount designed to punish him, not an attempt to preserve her living standard while impoverishing him, but a reasonable amount to take into consideration Bob’s vastly greater earning capacity. This vastly greater earning capacity did not come about because Jane is lazy, or because Jane lacks talent. It came about because her contributions to the household were different than Bob’s.

Dr. Helen’s full article can be seen here.

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