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February 27, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Hard on the heels of Anne Dias-Griffin demanding that her ex pay her $1 million per month in either spousal support or child support depending on when you ask her, comes this article (Daily Mail, 2/23/15). American judges could learn a thing or two from the two British judges who ruled in the case. Specifically, they could memorize the words “Get a job.”

It seems that Ian Wright and Tracey Wright were married for a time and have a couple of kids. Its being the U.K., of course she has custody of the children and he pays her child and spousal maintenance. That turned out to be a very, very good deal for her because he’s a top-flight veterinarian whose specialty is surgery on racehorses. That means his clients are wealthy enough to own racehorses and have them operated on when the need arises. Good work if you can get it.

But what’s even better work is being his ex-wife. That’s because, if you’re Tracey Wright, you don’t have to work at all and still get paid remarkable sums of money. Specifically, since their divorce in 2008, Ian has paid Tracey £75,000 per year to support her and the children. That’s $100,000 American give or take.

It’s also in addition to the £650,000 she received from the sale of their family home.

So Ian’s been paying Tracey for going on seven years, and what’s she done with the opportunity? Some people would view several years of an all-expenses-paid lavish lifestyle as a chance to upgrade their skills so they could support themselves. Not Tracey. She viewed her ex-husband’s payments as an opportunity to do nothing besides see to their children who of course attend school most of every day.

And — lo and behold! — when Ian went to court to have his payments lowered, he found a sympathetic audience. Amazingly enough, the judge at the trial court and at the appellate level voiced the opinion that Tracey really ought to get out of the Barcalounger and lift a finger on her own behalf. She was counting on being supported for life by the man she chose to leave and whose children she took.

It’s a remarkable concept this “Get a job.” In the United States, where we pride ourselves on being hard-working and self-sufficient, judges utter the words rarely if at all. Well, they utter them all the time at non-custodial parents unable to find work to support their kids. But when it comes to alimony recipients, the idea that they ought to take a vacation from goldbricking and do something for themselves never seems to be aired in court.

So it’s refreshing to hear a judge utter the words, even if it’s thousands of miles away. Truly, American judges ought to try it some time. They might learn to like it.

At the time, Judge Lynn Roberts agreed that the payments should come to an end since there was no good reason why Mrs Wright had not taken up any paid work in the six years since the divorce.

Mrs Wright, who lives with the couple’s two children in Newmarket, Suffolk, challenged the ruling, claiming that having to care for their 10-year-old daughter 'was an inherent restriction on her ability to develop any kind of earning capacity in the next five years.'…

She opted to remain a stay-at-home mother following the split and has so far refused to take up any paid employment.

It prompted Mr Wright, who runs a cutting edge equine hospital in Newmarket which carries out life-saving surgery on top-class horses, to approach the High Court to seek a reduction in the hefty maintenance bills he was paying his former partner.

He protested that it was not fair that he was expected to keep supporting his ex-wife indefinitely, even after his retirement, while she made 'no effort whatsoever to seek work.' 

The court heard that Mr Wright steadfastly made the payments, but was worried that supporting his wife would be unaffordable after he retires at 65.

Ruling in Mr Wright’s favour, Judge Roberts agreed last year that there was no good reason why Mrs Wright had not taken up work and criticised her for being 'evasive on the subject of her own earning capacity.'

'The world of work has innumerable possibilities these day...vast numbers of women with children just get on with it and Mrs Wright should have done as well,' the judge said.

'I do not think the children will suffer if Mrs Wright has to work, and indeed a working mother at this stage of their lives may well provide them with a good role model.

'It is possible to find work that fits in with childcare responsibilities. I reject her other reasons relating to responsibilities for animals, or trees, or housekeeping.

'Mrs Wright has made no effort whatsoever to seek work or to update her skills...I am satisfied that she has worked on the basis...that she would be supported for life.

'It is essential...that she starts to work now.'

What a concept. Can it really be that courts will start to require custodial parents with school-age children to become productive members of society? Heaven forfend!

Of course, I’ve long argued that alimony should rapidly become a thing of the past, an anachronism that has no business in a day in which no barrier real or imagined exists to women entering the workplace and supporting themselves independently of their husbands, fathers, etc. The only exceptions to the no alimony rule should be for the very old and the disabled who are unable to support themselves. I would also allow temporary alimony of no more than two years to allow a long-out-of-work spouse to re-train for the job market. But beyond that, there is simply no good reason why one person should be able to walk out on a marriage and yet still be supported by the person she left.

In case lawmakers might be interested in public policy and its real-world ramifications, alimony encourages divorce and family breakdown. It’s literally a financial incentive to break up families. As such it is pernicious in the extreme on top of being an artifact of bygone days when women had a harder time supporting themselves without the help of a husband.

American judges should listen to Judge Roberts and Lord Pitchford. They should start cutting off alimony payments after a couple of years and let divorcing spouses finally go their separate ways.

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

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