April 1, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
This article is two weeks old, but it’s too powerful and too accurate not to mention (Town Hall, 3/14/16). It’s by Rachel Alexander, editor of the Intellectual Conservative. She’s telling Florida Governor Rick Scott in no uncertain terms to sign SB 668 that would reform both alimony and parenting time in the Sunshine State.
Interestingly, Alexander points out that SB 668 isn’t about the sex of the spouse in a divorce or custody case, but about justice for each and the well-being of their kids. On that note, please also see this website that reminds us that 18 of the Florida representatives voting in favor of SB 668 are women. If, as family lawyer Mark Sessums claimed, SB 668 is an exercise of male power over women, someone needs to explain why those 18 women voted “Aye.”
A bill has passed out of both the House and Senate in Florida that would greatly reform the unfair and outdated child custody and alimony laws. SB 668 would make the default when parents split up nearly equal timesharing of children. It is a commonplace reform that is gradually being implemented around the country, to reflect the reality that children need both parents and most women work outside of the home. It would also put more limitations on alimony, by taking significant consideration of the length of the marriage and both divorcees’ incomes. SB 668 passed both houses by wide margins, and polls show 70 percent of the public support the reforms.
Unfortunately, powerful special interests, like the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, are lobbying Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) hard not to sign it — even though family law attorneys themselves generally support it.
That’s the background, from which Alexander moves on to show how current law affects women and how those detriments will only get worse in the future.
One woman told me she was ordered to pay lifetime alimony to her ex-husband based on a 14-year-long marriage. Many couples who were only married for 10 years are now in their 20th year of alimony. Some didn’t have any children, or if there are any, they’re often grown.
It’s one of the standard defenses of alimony that women sacrifice their careers to care for children and therefore should be supported for the rest of their lives by the husband they just divorced. But that makes little sense.
First, few mothers see staying home to care for children a sacrifice. It’s what they want to do and countless mothers make that clear in surveys and individual testimonials. The fact is that, having been pregnant and given birth, the parenting hormones their bodies produce make it likely that they’ll devote themselves to caring for their children.
Second, whatever else staying home may be, it’s a choice women make. We know it’s a conscious choice because so many mothers make the opposite one. Women who stay home are those who can do so, usually because their husbands earn enough to support the family alone. They make the choice, so why not ask them to take the consequences of having done so?
Third, 70% of divorces in the U.S. are initiated by women. They do so because the system of family law encourages them to. Almost certain child custody is one enticement, but alimony is another. A woman who can be assured of living for the rest of her life off the earnings of the man she divorced is a woman more likely to divorce.
Finally, and most importantly, there’s not one word in the current alimony statute directing alimony only to parents who stayed home with children. As Alexander points out, the couple may have no kids at all, and one partner still be required to pay the other.
The current unfair alimony law is starting to hurt women as much as men. Approximately 50 percent of students in graduate schools are women, which could mean eventually 50 percent of alimony payers will be women.
Aye, there’s the rub. Soon women will be the better-educated sex as older generations die off. And better education generally means higher earnings. And higher earnings, as things stand now, mean alimony paid from the higher earner to the lower. Those who support the status quo claim to be protecting women, but it’s not so, as Alexander and many, many women know.
Then there are the second wives.
Rose Carbone, who has no children of her own, got married when she was 51. Her husband had three boys with his ex-wife, and was initially ordered to pay $90,000 year plus an extra $300 per month in rehabilitative alimony — which his ex never used — unfairly based on his highest year of earnings. Even though he is now around age 60, and his boys are all well into their 20s, he is still required to pay $5,200 per month and maintain a $1 million life insurance policy. When he tried to object, he was warned to back off or Carbone’s income would be taken into consideration as well.
That’s right. Carbone of course was never married to her husband’s ex-wife and likely hasn’t much of a relationship with her. But she could still be ordered to pay alimony to her. How that make sense is anyone’s guess, but that’s the way it is under current Florida law.
And speaking of the status quo, I’ve mentioned many times that opponents of reform never offer their own ideas for making family law better and more equitable. That means they like things as they are. To its credit, the state’s League of Women Voters finally admitted just that.
The League of Women Voters is supposed to be a nonpartisan, civil organization. But in a letter to the Florida legislature last year, the organization said no new laws are necessary, the existing ones have worked for 200 years.
They’ve worked? How so? Alexander’s equally mystified.
Carbone said that’s like saying slavery worked. That kind of mindset would have prevented women from getting the right to vote.
Good points. But current alimony laws encourage divorce by rewarding women (mostly) for opting out of their marriages, and discourage re-marriage by ending alimony when the recipient remarries and threatening the second wife’s income to pay the first. How is that “working?”
And current alimony laws encourage unemployment. After all, why get into the corporate rat race when your spouse will do it and, if the marriage becomes less than optimum, simply move on. Your ex will be required to support you, so why go to the bother of contributing to the economy? Why produce when you can just consume and on someone else’s nickel?
Again, how does that constitute “working?”
Finally, alimony law discourages taking responsibility for your own choices. Perhaps spouse A has a law degree but decides he/she would prefer to stay home reading slim French novels and eating bon-bons. Spouse B is a neurosurgeon, highly educated, hard-working and bringing home a fabulous income. Alimony law tells Spouse A loudly and clearly that gold-bricking is just fine. Spouse B will support A during the marriage and afterward, possibly forever, and in high style. Why get a job? Why behave like an adult? Why contribute anything to anyone?
Of course most people aren’t as lazy and uncaring as that, but why encourage them to be? What’s the sense in offering rich inducements to glide through life while others work? How is that “working?”
Those are all questions Governor Scott might want to ponder when he decides to sign or veto SB 668.
But there’s more to the bill than just the alimony provision. And Alexander has a thing or two to say about that as well. I will too, next time.
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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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