Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Let's Update the Divorce Courts, Shall We?

I've said before I don't believe we should have alimony. That's not exactly true. The thing is, alimony came about when wives were expected to stay at home after marriage, thus preventing them from advancing their career, and making it impossible for them to get a job afterwards since they had no marketable skills. When it was conceived, it was a good thing, since it meant that women were not left without any income after the divorce.

However, today alimony is used as a revenge tool to bilk the wealthier partners out of their money. Many people who receive alimony are employable or even have a job, they just want to maintain their previous lifestyle.

So my view on alimony is this: If both partners are employed full time, there should be no alimony. Ever. Clearly they can support themselves (though they might require child support).

Now, if one partner chose to be employed at a job for which the part-time pay puts them beneath the poverty line, at the time of the divorce, due to reasons directly relating to the marriage (to maintain the household or to care for children), then the partner who was employed full-time should have to pay the part-time employed partner some court-determined amount that is just enough to raise them above the poverty line, but is not enough to either lower the breadwinner's income BENEATH the poverty line or to raise them up extravagantly high. Then, the alimony would end as soon as the partner with the part-time job either got a full-time job or remarried.

So for example, let's say partner A makes $20,000 a year and B makes $5,000 a year, and the poverty line is $10,000 a year. A would have to pay B $5,000 a year in alimony. But if A made 100,000 a year and B made $5,000 a year, B would still only get $5,000 a year, and if A made only $12,000 a year, B could get no more than $2,000 a year.

If one partner was not employed at all at the time of the divorce, the same rule as above should apply, maximum $10,000 a year until they get a job or remarry. However, the partner had to again be unemployed for reasons relating to the marriage-- because they chose to stay at home and maintain the household or, more significantly, to raise the children. If they are disabled or they wanted to pursue other interests, then they are not the other partner's responsibility.

And if neither partner is employed, neither should have to pay alimony, even if one of them gets a job after the divorce. Only exception would be if you could somehow prove that one of the spouses quit their job to prevent having to pay alimony to the other.

All of this excludes child support, of course, so the primary caretaker, if they are unemployed, shouldn't not have to sustain their children at that level. My only complaint is with alimony (glorified welfare).

Now, I know that there are "no-fault" laws but there are definitely situations where a person shouldn't have to pay alimony even if they meet the above criteria. For example, if the marriage was shorter than three years, the unemployed partner can probably go back to their previous job. Also applies if the unemployment was for less than three years. If you can prove that the person wasn't actually staying home for the kids or to maintain the house, they shouldn't get alimony. If they were abusive to the working spouse, they shouldn't get alimony. Basically it would have to be decided by a court, but while child support can be as high as necessary, alimony should be very low, and only for homemakers who have made themselves hard to employ through their marriage.

Also, no partner should get more than 50% of the joint assets, and not a penny of the assets that are in their spouse's name alone. If they were foolish enough to not keep either their own or a joint (if they are the less well-off) account, it is their own fault.

Divorce penalizes the rich and the hard working. It shouldn't penalize anyone. People have a legal responsibility to take care of their dependents (children), but not their spouses. I think it's time the divorce courts acknowledged that.

16 comments:

a male said...

You're a brave one to be promoting this. I am a man, but must disagree.

Firstly, marriage is a legal contract. Excepting things such as a prenuptual agreement, both parties AFAIK, are agreeing that their property is joint property. If one is extremely successful like Britney Spears or Bill Gates, and they have doubts that their marriage will endure (or heaven forbid, that their partner actually is an opportunist like K-Fed) that is precisely why they should have prenuptual agreements (and Gates does). Spears set herself up for a fall, financially.

Secondly, I must vehemently disagree that alimony for women or men, is unnecessary. If there is some significant disparity in income, why not expect the greater earner to provide some improvement in lifestyle for the lower? Particularly if the lower earner is a woman who had to sacrifice some opportunities to earn income or career advancement to raise children full time or even part time. Why is your cut off for eligibility at some poverty level such as $10,000 a year? Why not at some more liveable average wage earner's income like $30,000 a year? For example, a man earning $40,000 would provide his ex-wife earning $25,000 a year, $5,000 a year, plus child support if applicable.

And if one is really well off like Spears or Gates, and does not want to be taken to the cleaners in a divorce suit, they would be well advised to have a prenuptial agreement. If some potential mate is so offended by the preconception that their marriage may not work out, or the prospect of walking off with only a "few" millions of dollars in a divorce, they shouldn't marry these successful people at all.

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