August 17, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
It’s nice to read a piece that says what I’ve been saying for years (Forbes, 10/29/14). It’s by Emma Johnson and it’s about alimony. More to the point, it’s about Johnsons’ strong belief that, with rare exceptions, we should abandon alimony. Sound familiar?
Johnson takes note of the movements in various states to reform alimony. The National Parents Organization was part of the successful move to change the alimony laws in Massachusetts. Since then, several states have tried to bring their laws into modern times.
The concept of alimony is essentially alien to contemporary life in the United States and other Western countries. There was once a time when women’s ability to work and earn equally to men was limited. Women were considered “queen of the house” and not expected to earn as much as men. What married women earned often came under the management of their husbands who were required by law to support all family members. That tended to mean married women seldom mastered the skills of money management.
But, as they say, that was then and this is now. Now women have equal opportunities to work, earn and earn equally to men. In fact, women have been the majority of college graduates in the United States for over 30 years. That should mean that women generally have greater opportunities to earn than do men.
Of course, on average, women are still not doing so. Year after year, the wage gap between men’s and women’s earnings changes very little, a fact that reflects two major tendencies on women’s parts. First, women generally work fewer hours at paid work than do men. That’s true even of women and men who work full-time. “Full time” work is defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as 35 hours per week or more. So a woman who works 35 hours a week is considered a full-time employee just the same as a man who works 45 hours.
That women on average do fewer hours of paid work obviously means they’re paid less. But it also means they’re less likely to be promoted into management positions, further reducing their opportunity for greater earnings.
The second major reason for women’s lower earnings is their choice of jobs. Jobs typically held by women fall into the Nursing, Teaching, Secretary/Clerical and Retail Sales categories. Those of course are all honorable occupations but not usually high-paying ones.
The question becomes, “why do women continue making those choices in light of their tendency to pay less?” The answer to that is “children.” Overwhelmingly, women take time off work to care for their children and choose occupations that allow them to do as much childcare as possible. Again, those are honorable choices on women’s parts, but Emma Johnson points out that, in the event of divorce, they don’t redound to women’s benefit.
But alimony — once considered a feminist coup since it supported women who otherwise had few financial opportunities — today hurts women...
An end of alimony would force each able-bodied person to be financially responsible for themselves. Suffragists and feminists before us fought bitterly (comes responsibility. You choose to be financially dependent on someone else (like a husband), you take a risk. If that marriage ends and you have little career equity and low earning potential as a result, you must pay the consequences of the downside of that risk.
Take alimony out of the career-planning equation and we force women to take full responsibility for their careers and finances from the beginning of adulthood. This is critical if we are going to close the pay gap, which has little to do with workplace sexism, and more to do with women choosing lower-paying professions and stepping away from careers to devote to family life. This will also address the issue of female financial literacy. One study found that women’s involvement in household finances is directly proportionate to their contribution to family income.
It’s nothing but common sense. Society offers women a vast array of opportunities to be financially self-reliant. Given that all households need money to support them and their members, shouldn’t we expect women to contribute equally? As Johnson points out, even with men who are top earners there’s no guarantee of a paycheck tomorrow or next year. Accidents happen, people die or become disabled. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if the woman of the house were there to cushion the blow should disaster strike?
In state after state, though, women’s organizations are at the forefront of the movement to resist alimony reform. That directly contradicts what feminist organizations have always claimed to promote — women’s independence. Johnson’s right; the continuing prospect of alimony does the opposite. It makes women dependent on men long after every other aspect of their relationship has ended.
What Johnson barely touches on is perhaps worse; the prospect of alimony encourages divorce and family breakdown. We’ve long known that families are the backbone of society. The less stable families are, the more vulnerable we become as a society in any number of ways, including to drug and alcohol abuse, crime, early pregnancy, lower education standards and the like. Committed relationships between adult men and women who are caring for their own biological children are vitally important to the well-being of any society. We undermine them at our peril.
But that’s exactly what alimony does. Alimony sends a couple of clear messages to everyone. The first is “you don’t need to work for a living, because your partner will be required to support you even when you’re no longer married.” The second is “go ahead and divorce; there’s no financial downside.”
Both of those messages are detrimental to society and the kids we’re raising. Substantial alimony reform won’t stop divorce and it won’t miraculously send every able-bodied person into the workplace. But continued alimony, in its current form, constitutes a major roadblock to encouraging women to do their fair share of the earning and to slowing the divorce rate.
And of course, to the extent women step up their earnings game, men can step up their childcare. The more women earn, the more men will be freed to earn less and form stronger, more complete bonds with their children. What’s not to like?
Alimony reform: it’s good for everyone.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
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:
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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