According to a new poll of divorce lawyers in the U.S., more women are paying child support and alimony than ever before. Read about it here (Daily Mail, 5/10/12). Some 56% of the lawyers polled said they’d seen an increase in women paying child support and 44% said they’d seen a hike in women paying alimony to their ex-husbands. None of the attorneys reported seeing a decrease in the incidence of women paying child support.
The news is being greeted as evidence that American society is changing and the changes are reflected in court orders. Women are earning more, so the story goes, and men are doing more childcare, so it’s no surprise that men are more and more on the receiving end of child support and alimony.
If only it were true. But the survey only asked the lawyers for what they’ve observed, and those anecdotal observations, at least about child support, don’t square with the data. For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009 (the most recent year for which there are figures), just 30.4% of non-custodial mothers had been ordered to pay child support. Percentage-wise, that’s the lowest since 1993. And, despite the fact that more fathers have primary custody than at any time since 1993, fewer of them numerically have the benefit of a child support order. Just 740,000 dads have a child support order out of 2.4 million with custody.
So whatever the lawyers may feel in their bones, mothers continue to get a break, even when they don’t have custody, which about 83% of them do.
Still, the lawyers were asked about the last three years, so the Census Bureau’s data may not really reflect what they’ve seen recently. Even so though, I’ll believe it when I see it, and the data don’t bear out what the lawyers believe they’ve seen.
But as I said earlier, I wish it were true, and hope that it comes to pass. That’s primarily because both our child support and our spousal support laws are woefully deficient in many ways and call out for reform. And there’s nothing more likely to reform them than if the ox being gored is female. The resistance of state legislatures to the reform of both sets of laws strongly suggests the anti-male/anti-father bias of a family law system that’s long been observed. Spousal support in many states simply makes no sense in a world in which women support themselves. Unlike Billy Pilgrim, it’s stuck in time, a past in which women were considered delicate flowers unable to cope with the rigors of the workplace. That the vast majority of them did exactly that concerned no one bent on protecting women.
And, against all the odds, so it is today. It was only a few months ago that the State of Massachusetts finally did away with permanent alimony. But even at that, a woman can make out like a bandit by the simple expedient of saying “I do.” Stories abound of women married for but a short time being awarded huge sums for indefinite periods of time. That such an arrangement clearly promotes divorce apparently never occurs to legislators who routinely extol the virtues of marriage and their “family values.”
Alimony laws need to be reformed so that when it’s awarded, if it is, payments are tailored strictly for the purpose of allowing the paid ex time to get back on her feet and start paying her own way. The notion now is that she’s entitled to the same lifestyle she had when she was married even though she no longer is. That just doesn’t make sense. Marriage shouldn’t be a free ticket to permanent financial security. Generally speaking, adults need to support themselves.
Senseless as many alimony laws are, they remain in effect. But if women really do become the ones on the long-term hook paying husbands who chose to stay home with the kids, you can bet they’ll start to complain. And my guess is that when that happens, the sensible reforms that should have been made decades ago will start to come about.
And the same holds true for child support. The list of problems with child support laws is too long to deal with here, but suffice it to say that support levels are set too high to begin with and when a father seeks a downward modification due to changed circumstances, he finds the deck stacked against him. It takes far too long to get a hearing and the federal money that states collect for every dollar of child support taken in militates strongly against any downward modification. Insiders at child support collection agencies in Michigan and Texas have reported to us that, for states, it’s all about the money. The more they collect from dads, the more they collect from Washington, and that simple fact drives everything they do. Not surprisingly, many state practices in child support collection are draconian, to put it mildly. Those things include lying by state attorneys in establishing paternity as well as debtor’s prison for indigent dads who now, as per the U.S. Supreme Court, have no right to a state-appointed attorney.
Again, I’m hoping for the day when the phenomena perceived by the divorce lawyers polled come to pass. And, ever the optimist, I’ll even say that maybe the lawyers have their finger on the pulse of change that’s not yet appeared in the nationwide data. So far it’s mostly been men complaining, but when women start, my guess is that we’ll see the pace of reform pick up considerably.
And sure enough, the divorce attorneys also see that women faced with paying alimony and child support aren’t any happier about it than are the men.
Just as many men grumbled about paying alimony to their former wives, women are not pleased with the turnaround.
‘We see women who are every bit as angry as their male counterparts, maybe more so, when they are confronted with the concept of paying spousal support to a man,’ said [president-elect of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Alton] Abramowitz.