November 27, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
It’s by now no secret that the tax bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives includes a remarkable approach to alimony. Specifically, alimony payments will no longer be deductible by the payor. Apparently they also won’t be income to the recipient. That’s produced a small flurry of concern in certain quarters. This article from the Associated Press is pretty much par for the course (NBC-2, 11/26/17).
I say that because it considers mostly the recipient’s point of view, quotes mostly pro-payee sources and almost entirely ignores the pain caused to payors should the measure be enacted into law. Coincidentally, 97% of alimony payors are men and 97% of payees are women. So the measure can be accurately read as a further attack on the pocketbooks of men, but that’s not how the article spins the story.
A national group of family law attorneys, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, announced Thursday that it is against the proposal.
"Alimony is an essential tool that has enabled countless spouses to adjust to a dramatically altered economic reality," Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, president of the academy, said in a statement. "The financial security provided to families by spousal support is a valuable resource that needs to be further strengthened and not diminished by our representatives."
Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women, said the tax change could make it more difficult for divorcees to get the support they need because their ex-husbands would have less money without the deduction.
"It's something that's really important to women," Van Pelt said. "We are really concerned because it would make tough, tense negotiations between couples even worse."
Now, it’s a good rule of thumb that, if a bill is opposed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, it’s probably a good thing, but this seems to be the exception. The state of alimony law in this country is outrageous in several ways; Congress musn’t make it worse.
The AAML and NOW assume that removing the tax deduction for alimony payments made would reduce the amount ex-wives would receive. I call that a dubious proposition at best. Judges may well look at the non-deductibility of payments in calculating their amount. Or they may not. Certainly they should, but of course family court judges should do many things they seldom get around to, so the moral obligation, the reasonable requirement clearly holds little sway with them.
Perhaps more important is that, under the House bill, recipients would pay no taxes on alimony paid to them. That truly makes no sense. In few situations I know of is money transferred from one person or entity to another not considered income and taxed. Why we should pretend alimony isn’t income defies logic.
It also defies the position of NOW and the AAML. Clearly, if women receiving alimony don’t pay taxes on it, they’ll have more money than under present law that taxes it.
Meanwhile, there’s this:
Manhattan divorce attorney Steven Mandel said eliminating the alimony deduction could make divorce negotiations tougher. He said many of his clients are concerned about the proposal.
"If they realize they might not get the deduction, they might not be willing to pay so much," he said.
Let’s, as they say, unpack that statement. Mandel is a divorce lawyer and presumably one who’s prominent enough that the AP called him up for a comment. “If they realize…” Does that mean he might not tell his clients about the change in the tax treatment of alimony should the bill become law? “Might not get the deduction…” They either will or they won’t. There’s no “might” to it. “They might not be willing to pay so much…” Mandel is here telling AP readers that, in some way, it’s up to divorcing men how much they pay in alimony. The fact of course is that a judge orders them to pay a certain amount and the men have nothing whatsoever to say about the matter.
Surely Mandel knows all this, which raises the question of just what he’s talking about.
As I’ve said many times, with a few very narrow exceptions, alimony should be done away with entirely. In the United States of the 21st century, there is simply no reason for one adult to be required to support another adult. The exceptions are if the second adult is disabled and can’t support herself or is too old to be reasonably expected to do so. In all other situations, we should recognize the fact that every adult should look out for themselves. All of us are capable of doing so and the American value placed on individual responsibility demands that they do so.
Alimony as it stands now discourages marriage and encourages divorce. It further encourages women to think of themselves not as capable, autonomous adults but as dependent children. That is a message of incompetence and dysfunction that we shouldn’t be sending to anyone.
That NOW finds alimony acceptable demonstrates one of the major changes in feminism since the late 70s. As former feminist Hildegund Sunderhauf said at the NPO conference on shared parenting last May, the feminist movement then decided to replace its call for greater male involvement in childcare with one for greater transfers of wealth from men to women via divorce court. That’s still the tune they’re singing. No functional society should pay heed.
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