March 13, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

On Friday, I pointed out Mark Sessums’ bizarre notion of “fairness.” (Orlando Sentinel, 3/8/16)  His theory of alimony is that the higher earner should pay the lower earner half of the difference between their earnings for however long the marriage lasted.  In the hypothetical example I gave, that would have the school teacher wife of a surgeon husband walking away with over $1 million in the family’s assets that were paid for almost entirely by him, plus another $3.5 million in alimony.  In other words, the wife, who earned just $50k per year would end up being worth $4.5 million, despite having been able to save essentially none of that herself.

So, when reading Sessums’ article, it’s good to keep in mind his definition of “fairness.”

But of course what he’s doing is arguing for the status quo.  He doesn’t want the bill, passed by roughly two-thirds of the Florida House and Senate, to become law, so it’s interesting to read some of the comments to his piece.  The women who commented are outraged that he considers them to be, in the words of one, “stupid, weak and helpless.”  Meanwhile, one man describes the reality of the status quo for which Sessums argues.

My ex, who completed her master's degree a few months before filing for divorce, then drained her kids college savings to pay a divorce attorney like Mr. Sessums a phenomenal amount of money in a bid to win the lifetime alimony lottery. The cost of litigation consumed a large percentage my retirement savings. Now I am saddled, for life with a monthly payment to her bigger than the average mortgage in this state, based on the premise that in my elder years I can sustain an income that is only possible in my profession during ages 40-55 (long ago for me...) in order to sustain the lifestyle of an individual with a professional job and a masters degree.... The kids have long since "emancipated", and I cant help them through college. I cant retire, savings are depleted in the litigation, and inevitably those lottery payments will have to be reduced, eventually to nothing. The only winners in this system are the family lawyers, who during my case were being compensated in total at a rate of ~$950 an hour. If this system was designed to protect the rights of "women", or "families", it protects neither, while richly rewarding the people who designed it. Oh, and did I mention, "lifetime" alimony actually extends past your lifetime. I am required to buy a life insurance policy to secure the alimony in the amount of several hundred thousand dollars. So you continue paying long after your own death.

It’s like I said on Friday; lawyers like Sessums just love the current alimony laws.  That’s because they leave so much to the discretion of judges (that’s the “lottery” the commenter refers to).  And when judges have wide latitude in which to rule, litigation becomes ever more important.  Judicial discretion encourages parties to hire lawyers and the lawyers to litigate aggressively.  That means heaps of money for the attorneys, another point aptly made by the commenter.

But beyond Sessums’ selfish motivations, re-read the comment and know that that result is what Sessums considers unfair, not to the paying husband, but to the recipient wife.  Know too that it’s exactly stories like this one that moved the Florida Legislature to pass alimony reform by a landslide.  But to Sessums, the commenter’s sad tale is “offensive to me.”  Truly disgraceful.  Beneath contempt.

Given that level of outright stupidity and disdain for the real sufferings of alimony obligors, it’s no surprise that Sessums doesn’t grasp – and doesn’t want his readers to grasp – the most basic of concepts.

More than 96 percent of alimony recipients are women. Many of these women have given their life blood to care for their families so that the men could earn higher incomes to support their families.

Their life blood?  I doubt it.  But beyond his hyperbole, can Sessums even read what he himself writes?  Sessums suggests a scenario in which a woman opts out of paid work in order to care for the family’s children and, presumably to provide services – cooking, cleaning, bookkeeping, etc. - to her husband.  Her husband goes to work and pays for it all.

Now, according to Sessums and the usual feminist narrative, the wife’s decision to do that is entirely altruistic and the husband’s entirely selfish.  Gone from that narrative are the facts that the huge majority of mothers really do want to play the maternal role.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, millions of mothers stay home to care for kids and not work or earn.  Millions more would do so if they could as reported by Forbes.  Both are true of women from all walks of life, all levels of education and earning ability, as many studies reveal.

That’s no surprise.  Human females, like those of all other mammal species come equipped with sex hormones that bind them to their offspring and virtually command them to give care to their kids.  But to Sessums, mothers who care for their children aren’t doing a thing for themselves; they’re doing it all for their husbands.  Really.

Unseen as well by Sessums are his own words.  In his scenario, men “earn higher incomes to support their families.”  That’s right.  They do.  And what that means is that the woman who stays home with the kids benefits from his labor the same as his children do.  She has a roof over her head, food on the table, clothes on her back.  Her medical needs are insured, the water, electric and gas bills get paid.  Etc., etc.  All of that costs money and none of that money did she earn herself.  He did.  In effect, her labors on behalf of little Andy or Jenny and her husband are compensated by him.  She never applied for a job, but got paid anyway.

So why, when she divorces him, should she continue to get paid by her ex, despite doing nothing for him?  Sessums prefers to ignore the obvious question in favor of the pretense that, in some way, she received nothing for her work.

Beyond that, Sessums actually descends to a form of hysteria.

Now, late in the marital history, women are told they aren't equal partners and shouldn't have their constitutional right to court access because it is "too complicated" to decide a just and equitable result for each family.

Seriously, Sessums is so desperate to find some criticism – any criticism – of the just-passed alimony reform bill that he feverishly imagines it to constitute a deprivation of the constitutional right to access to courts.  He’s a lawyer and, if he knows the first thing about the law, knows that to be absurd on its face.  Actually, assuming Governor Scott signs the bill, women and men alike will still be able to request family courts to grant them alimony under the formulas supplied by the law.  Sessums surely understands that, but again, when you’re desperate, you grasp at straws.

Sessums’ final flourish of his broken sword comes in his offhand swipe at the other part of the bill – the equal parenting provision.

The pending bills aim to make timesharing of children equal for the same reasons. More timesharing equals less financial support. Timesharing would be equal regardless of whether the child is more emotionally bonded with one parent or one works long hours or one had a drug or an alcohol issue.

Never mind that literally none of that is true.  The bill does not mandate equal parenting time.  Read the language of the bill; it just doesn’t.  And in the case of parental unfitness and other considerations judges still have discretion to order differing amounts of parenting time or none at all. 

But Sessums’ claim that fathers want greater time with their kids just because they’ll pay less is false and known to be so.  Both social science and common sense give the lie to the claim.  But again, the feminist attack on any bill that would give fathers even slightly greater parenting time always includes this particular canard.

It’s bunk.  When fathers are asked what they want from divorce or what they found deficient in the divorce process, they invariably cite the loss of time with their kids and never the loss of income.  Overwhelmingly they say that the child support wouldn’t be important if they could only see their children more.  But that’s not part of Sessums’ narrative, so he ignores the facts about fathers and their need to stay connected to their kids.

I suppose I don’t need to add that he says nothing about the well-being of children forced to sever their relationship with their dad.  That children are seriously damaged by the loss of a father to the divorce system matters no more to Sessums that does the fact that virtually the whole point of all equal parenting legislation is to ameliorate that damage.  Like every anti-shared parenting screed ever written, the welfare of children takes a backseat to the power of mothers.

But we don’t need science to debunk the notion that fathers want more time with their kids in order to save money on child support.  Frankly, it doesn’t pass the smell test.  Just consider:

The usual custody order has Mom with the kids around 75% - 80% of the time.  Equal custody would reduce that to 50% - 60% of the time.  On average, men are ordered to pay their ex-wives about $500 per month, according to Census Bureau data.  Now, if 50/50 custody were granted and Mom received no child support whatsoever, do you suppose her decreased parenting time would afford her the opportunity to make up the loss?  Of course it would, plus considerably more.

What about Dad?  Yes, he’d pay nothing in child support, but his earnings would probably decrease as well, since he’d be doing so much more childcare.

So, if all Sessums cares about is money (and that appears to be the case), it looks like mothers would se a net benefit from equal parenting and fathers would see a net loss.  And yet fathers argue for equal parenting.  It’s almost as if seeing their kids is more important than $500 per month.  But in Sessums’ world, that’s not possible.

I enjoy reading what opponents of sensible reform of laws on alimony and parenting time have to say.  It’s always encouraging to see how utterly threadbare their arguments are.  They never come up with anything that hasn’t been debunked a thousand times before.  And as usual, if they had anything worthwhile to say, don’t you think they’d say it?

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