July 25, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Are courts clamping down on alimony cases? Are they limiting the time during which payors have to pay? That’s what this article claims is happening in courts in the United Kingdom (Telegraph, 7/20/16). This one agrees (AOL, 7/21/16).
The end of the 'meal ticket' divorce is nigh. Courts are increasingly choosing to limit the length of time that the ex-wives of rich men (or ex husbands of rich women) can pick up a hefty monthly payment from their former spouse. If they want to maintain the lifestyle they had when they were married, then they'll have to get a job...
Elizabeth Hicks, a Partner and family law expert at Irwin Mitchell's London office points out that this meets one of the basic aims of the courts. She explains: "It is important to remember that the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 – which is the statute which governs how a family's assets and income are divided on a divorce – makes it plain that the Court must look at bringing a married couples' financial claims against each other to an end at the earliest possible opportunity." Increasingly, she says: "The courts are now making this more of a reality."
It’s interesting that the statute was passed in 1973, but only now, 43 years later, is it “more of a reality” that courts are limiting alimony periods. So why do the articles say this is happening? After all, it’s one of the salient features of divorce cases that few jurisdictions make any effort to track what actually happens. For that we must rely on the occasional study.
And sure enough, the “evidence” the articles rely on is nothing but family lawyers’ opinions on trends in alimony awards.
Rich wives are increasing being told to go out and get a job rather than rely on maintenance from their ex-husband as judges lead what amounts to a clampdown on “meal ticket” divorces, according to lawyers.
Divorce lawyers say they have seen a marked increase in cases in which family courts agree maintenance only for a limited period rather than traditional indefinite settlements.
Of course the problem with that claim is that, while the lawyers may have a visceral take on the situation, that’s inevitably grounded only in their own experiences. So, if a lawyer’s had six of his/her last eight alimony cases time-limited by a judge, he/she might well conclude that there’s a trend toward limiting alimony. But that may have nothing to do with the reality of the matter. That type of anecdotal “evidence” gathering is notoriously inaccurate, so we should take the claim with a huge grain of salt.
However, both articles cite the case of Ian and Tracey Wright. Ian apparently had been paying alimony to Tracey since their divorce in 2008, but recently went to court requesting modification or termination.
The trend apparently moved up a gear last year, when Ian Malcolm Wright successfully applied to cut the amount he had to pay to his ex-wife Tracey. He had been paying maintenance since 2008 - during which time Tracey had chosen not to work - and argued that as he approached retirement they would be increasingly difficult to afford. The court decided that the payments were to reduce over a five year period leading up to his retirement - at which point they should stop. The judge in the case added the opinion that divorcees with children over the age of seven should expect to work for a living.
The important thing about that decision is that it was handed down by a court of appeals which means it has value as precedent for other courts under that court’s jurisdiction. Two things stand out.
The first is that “Tracey had chosen not to work” from 2008 to the present, a period of eight years. That points up one of the main problems of alimony. Tracey was perfectly capable of holding gainful employment, but chose not to because she was living well off her ex-husband’s earnings. I suspect a lot of people would happily forego the corporate grind if they were receiving a good living from another source. The lesson is that alimony removes capable workers from the workforce and rewards non-contribution to the economy. It also encourages recipients to allow their marketable skills to erode so that, should they want a job, it’ll be harder to get.
The second is the judge’s statement that “divorcees with children over the age of seven should expect to work for a living.” Finally, a voice of sanity rings out amid the bedlam that is the discourse on alimony!
The fact is that there’s no reason for a parent to opt out of paid work if there’s not a child at home. As long as the kids are in school, off at college or grown, nothing prevents both parents from contributing to their own financial well-being or that of the family. For everyone’s sake, they should do so. The family will be better off if they do and both will be contributing to the economy of the locality and country in which they live. They’ll be teaching their children the value of work, plus that goldbricking is not an acceptable alternative. And of course, in the event the parents divorce, both will be fully capable of earning a living, obviating the need for alimony.
Alimony of course encourages divorce and discourages marriage, which are detriments to society. Alimony is a direct financial inducement to one spouse to divorce and the loss of the payments that occurs on remarriage discourages doing so. And of course the prospect of having to pay alimony discourages marriage in the first place.
Amazingly, one routine justification for alimony is that the lower-earning spouse shouldn’t have to undergo a change in his/her standard of living just because of a divorce. But why not? If, throughout the marriage, John has earned $200,000 per year and Jane only $40,000, why shouldn’t Jane expect her income to decrease if she divorces John? No rational person would be surprised by such an outcome, but family courts are dead set against it.
Basically, adults should take care of themselves. They should be responsible for their own upkeep. If one person wants to write poetry, that’s fine, but he/she shouldn’t expect to live like a lawyer or doctor. There are consequences to actions. Understanding that is part of being an adult.
I’ve said before that there are certain exceptions to the rule of no alimony. One is a disabled ex-spouse and the other is one who’s very advanced in years. In neither case should we expect the ex-spouse to get a job, so it’s appropriate for the other to contribute to the ex’s living expenses.
But the rule should be that no one owes anyone alimony post-divorce. The exceptions should be narrow and usually of short duration. We say we value gender equality, but 97% of payors are men. At long last, we need for alimony recipients to grow up and go to work.
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