March 16, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
A Massachusetts judge did the right thing, and high time too. It took almost two years to do what should have been done at the first hearing. Because it wasn’t, two people paid two lawyers large sums of money and everyone’s time was wasted. The judge took that long to decide that the Bay State’s 2012 amendment to its alimony law (that the National Parents Organization was instrumental in drafting and getting passed) means what it says.
I first wrote about Bob Schwartz’s case here. He and his wife Debra divorced in 2005 after 24 years of marriage. Bob co-owned a medical services company and Debra didn’t work for a living. So naturally the probate court ordered him to pay her alimony, in the hefty amount of $63,000 per year.
But the 2008 recession hit his company hard and everyone there took a pay cut. So Bob’s alimony payments were lowered to $52,500. He kept paying all that despite the fact that, three months after their divorce, Debra moved in with her boyfriend who was earning $177,000 per year. So, whatever the law was then, Debra didn’t need Bob’s money.
Supposedly the whole point of alimony is to prevent one former spouse from leaving another spouse high and dry at the end of a long marriage. That can be sensible in cases in which one spouse is very old or disabled and unable to support him/herself. But of course that wasn’t Debra’s situation. She didn’t earn anything, but her new boyfriend earned enough to keep them in some style, which he did. At that point, any sane system would have stopped Bob’s alimony obligation.
But this was Massachusetts. Need I say more?
Bob was still on the hook for a whopping $52,500. But the decline in his business meant he didn’t have the money to pay his ex. Therefore, as happens all too often, his new wife’s earnings went to pay Debra. No, his new wife never had a relationship with Debra, but she still had to pay for her upkeep. Such was the evil genius of Massachusetts alimony law at the time.
But in 2012, along came the NPO-backed amendment to that law. Among other things, its aim was to end farces like the one in which Bob Schwartz found himself playing the lead role. The new law said that, when one person receiving alimony cohabitates with a new partner for longer than three months, alimony “shall be suspended, reduced or terminated.”
That looks pretty clear. For the benefit of Massachusetts Probate judges, and other ESL folks, let me point out that the word “shall” indicates that action is mandated, not discretionary. But the judge had a hard time with that simple concept, taking almost two years to make a decision.
But now he has, and it’s the right one. The judge ruled that Bob Schwartz’s alimony obligation ended on the day the new law went into effect in 2012. And, since he’s been paying right along, Debra owes him almost two years of the alimony he paid her. That’s roughly $100,000 and the order is what’s called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO. That means the amount owed will be transferred from her retirement account to his, so she won’t be able to weasel out of paying. Plus, it’s not income to him for tax purposes and it’s not deductible by her.
So, delayed as it was, justice has finally been served for Bob Schwartz.
And it’s with no small amount of pride that I can say that the National Parents Organization played an important role in that. But for our effort, and that of many others, to change a plainly unjust law, Bob Schwartz might still be paying a woman he’s no longer married to a sum he can’t afford for the purpose of keeping her living much more affluently than she had any reason to expect based on her own efforts.
Small steps for mankind are sometimes huge ones for individual men.
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Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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