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Elizabeth Benedict
Don't Sweat The Essay
10:21 AM on 06/10/2012
@Book Queen:
There are very few states in the country that award permanent alimony to an ex-spouse. It is increasingly rare for many reasons, including that people live a very long time now compared to 40 years ago, and because social and economic realties have changed so drastically since 1950, where most all breadwinners were men and most all child minders were women. Many millions of women work and raise children. It is not a rarity. Those who have the resources to stay home without working are privileged indeed. There is small a handful of states that continue permanent alimony, or very long-term alimony. In these states, it is often difficult to impossible for payers to get a modification when they (he) lose a job. In these states, payers often have no right to retire and see their alimony obligation end or decline significantly, even though assets were divided at divorce; and lower earners automatically get a portion of husband's Social Security if the marriage lasted 10 years -- so you have disabled people and people in nursing homes with Alzheimer's paying alimony. Payers with no income must deplete their retirement accounts and acquire massive debt in perpetuity to pay alimony they simply do not have. Were a couple married, they would have to downsize together. But when a payer falls on hard times, the ex- is usually under no obligation to downsize.
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08:09 AM on 06/11/2012
Some perspective on the history of stay at home mothers is provided by a 2010 census report. Barely 1 in 4 mothers are stay at home, half what is was in 1969, a statistic which has remained unchanged since 1989.
"Recent data show the composition of stay-at-home mothers as a group is tilted more toward those with lower levels of educational attainment, the foreign born, Hispanic women, and younger women with young children than the media portray."
11:40 PM on 06/12/2012
I was a stay at home mother for nine years. I happen to be white, hold a master's degree, and had my first child at 33. I am foreign born, though: born in Canada, moved to the US in my teens.

Because I stayed home and cared for my family, I lost not only years of income, but also income growth. While I did laundry and made meals and volunteered at our daughter's school, I fell behind as he got ahead.
He has a career that has progressed over the years, and income that has grown proportionately. After a nine year workforce absence, I feel like I'm starting from scratch. It is humbling.

Do I "deserve" alimony? We agreed to our family structure, but I am the one who pays a permanent price. I can not make up those nine years out of the workforce, and I will never recover that pay, and I'm nine years behind my peers who did not leave the workforce.

I'm a proud woman. I'm trying to do it all on my own, I'm tryign to take as little from him as I can. I do not want to be the stereotypical divorcee draining her ex's bank account. But honestly, I am having a hard time making it, even though I've let my standard of living drop. This is my reality, not fantasy vacations with my rich lover. I'm trying to hold it together, not milk my ex dry.
01:27 PM on 06/11/2012
In most states, judges have free reign to set the amount and duration of alimony as they see fit. In many areas, individual judges can and do award permanent alimony to working women with educations and good incomes.
Former elected official, human rights advocate
09:28 PM on 06/09/2012
Yes, spousal support should not be related to cohabitation or remarriage. But not for the reasons you suggest. It is outdated to think that the next husband or wife or domestic partner is going to take care of that person and therefore they should get less. There should be a fixed amount and the recipient should not be punished for any new relationship or living situation. This would better reflect that spousal support is to compensate for all that the economically subservient partner invested in the marriage: from sacrificing one's own career to have children, to working while the other completed education, to labor that increased the worth of the other's property and more. The whole movement to let one just escape any obligation to another person is just an extension of the whole sociopathic corporate mentality that thinks we all should be able to use and abuse people, destroy the environment, avoid taxes or anything that helps the common good, and just walk away without consequence.
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04:06 AM on 06/11/2012
You wrote, "This would better reflect that spousal support is to compensate for all that the economically subservient partner invested in the marriage: from sacrificing one's own career to have children."

Post-marriage spousal support should not exist at all.

If a wife quits working during the marriage in order to spend several years blissfully enjoying home and family time, that is a benefit, not a sacrifice.

During those years, she is getting lots of money - via the cash that her husband's work brings in - and is enjoying all the best prosperity that his hard labor provides for.

When the husband is the sole earner during the marriage, it is he who is making the sacrifice, sacrificing home and family time.
09:52 AM on 06/12/2012
You cannot possibly have spent much time parenting children if you see it as a blissful vacation. It is extremely hard work, not just because of the massive amount of domestic labor involved, but because of the emotional and intellectual labor that goes into raising responsible productive adults. It's astonishing to me how many people, mostly men, rationalize their failure to participate in parenting their children into an unearned benefit they bestow on their spouse.
12:22 AM on 06/13/2012
Ah, yes, blissfully enjoying home and family time. Joyfully preparing meals from scratch three times a day, doing laundry, scrubbing toilets, chaperoning groups of children at field trips, picking up dry cleaning, grocery shopping.....just one big long walk in the park, every single day.

I loved caring for my daughter as a stay at home mom, reading to her, watching her laugh. I did not love being a household drudge. I did not love the feelings of isolation, or the longing for intellectual pursuits. I do not particularly love peanut butter handprints on my clothes or singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider repeatedly, or helping a child through a temper tantrum.

My husband enjoyed my labors as a stay at home mother. He came home to a happy child, a clean home, a fully stocked fridge, drawers full of fresh laundry, and a hot meal cooked from scratch. His income continued to grow while I was out of the workforce. Now I've returned to the workforce, and I am far behind my peers who never left the workforce...their careers were advancing while mine was falling behind.

And just for the record? Now that I'm a working mom, I can not tell you how I would fall to the floor weeping with gratitude if I came home to a clean house and a child whose homework was complete, with a hot home cooked meal waiting for me. It would be heaven on earth, frankly.
11:11 AM on 06/11/2012
Do what? Wish you owned a business, I'd come work for you. After a few years, I'd find a better job, quit your company and you seem nice enough to keep paying me for all the time and sacrifice that I put into your company, even though I don't work for you anymore.
Shaun Hensley
The American Experiment has failed
04:28 PM on 06/09/2012
Women are fast outearning men, of course they'll be calling for an overhaul now.
04:22 PM on 06/09/2012
It also needs to be stressed, that most married moms are not full-time career women. They work part-time, stay home, or combine a career of staying home, working part-time, and working full-time. Even married moms who work full-time only work for an average of 35 hours/week.

Further, this is what most moms want - to work part-time or stay home. This isn't a relic from the past. This is what life is like now. It's not craziness either, it's based on the realities of child rearing and the workplace for most women.

It's not about rich women either - the women most likely to work full-time are the ones at the top of the economic ladder.

We need divorce laws to reflect this reality for moms. It would be good to have clear rules, but they need to be standards that compensate at-home parents fully.
Shaun Hensley
The American Experiment has failed
04:29 PM on 06/09/2012
for that matter, a 40 hour work week is a relic from the past. We should ALL be clamoring for a 25 hour work week.
06:48 PM on 06/09/2012
Alimony is rare in many states now. It's almost never granted in my state unless the parties agree on it, and sometimes in cases where we have a super high earner and a stay at home mom who had been married for decades. Doctors sometimes pay alimony here. Women seem to be making it even though almost none get alimony in states like mine.

I'd have been furious if I had to pay alimony. I have to pay child support even though I have the kids half the time and pay half their expenses on top of the monthly child support payments. I don't mind that and am voluntarily raising it now because my income has gone up. But, she chose to be underemployed. She chose not to get and education even though I had the money to pay for it. I would have stayed with her forever but she decided to cheat on me and dump me. Thank God I don't live in one of those crazy states with lifetime alimony, because we were together nearly twenty years. I don't mind supporting my kids at all, even paying a lot more than her and helping her stay in a nice house so they'll have a nice place to be on her weeks. But I don't owe her a salary for doing nothing.

Alimony needs to become a thing of the past except in rare cases everywhere. Women just need to be prepared for divorce. They file most anyway.
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11:32 AM on 06/11/2012
~ $10 billion in alimony was paid out in 2009. It is hardly "rare".
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02:38 PM on 06/13/2012
You are a very reasonable and honorable man Ted47. Someone should snatch you up quick
04:22 PM on 06/09/2012
I find myself wondering about how your (Elizabeth Benedict's) personal experience affects your opinions and why you are campaigning to limit the amount of alimony women can get.

From what I can tell online, you don't have children. I think having children profoundly affects women's experience of marriage and career. Children need care and attention. Most careers don't balance well with that. Most moms end up making career sacrifices for the sake of their children. Women's earning potential goes down while men's goes up during marriage. This is a kind of household asset that needs to be fairly divided.

It needs to be stressed that the women are in fact working, not being lazy. They are not evil dependents who need to learn to be self-sufficient. They're just moms trying to figure out how to do what's best for their children. If the marriage breaks up, there's no reason they should lose out more than their husbands financially. (And the same applies to at-home dads.)
Shaun Hensley
The American Experiment has failed
04:30 PM on 06/09/2012
alimony and child support are two completely different things
04:56 PM on 06/09/2012
Alimony advocates always try to blur the lines between child support and alimony. That helps them keep the antiquated sexist and unfair system in place. Luckily, people aren't falling for it anymore.
10:55 AM on 06/10/2012
Bingo. Nobody is arguing that both spouses have an absolute obligation to the kids. But to each other? No. Once the divorce is final, they have no obligation to each other. Certainly not to keep each other in a manner to which tone spouse would not be able to do so otherwise but ha sbecome "accustomed".

That's just immoral and loathsome and repugnant on every level.
07:14 PM on 06/09/2012
It's not that hard to take care of kids. My ex wife was always going out and going on trips and I took care of kids and worked as a lawyer. Now I have them half the time and do just fine without her. People today have microwaves, dishwashers and washing machines, prepared food products and pizza delivery. We don't grow our own food, make our own soap, etc. I realize it's not super easy to raise kids, but it's nothing like it used to be to be a housewife.

These days about half of all marriages end in divorce. Women file most of them. If they don't get an education, that's their choice. If they are unemployed or underemployed, that's their choice, and we have to live with our choices. In this day and age a woman who does not prepare for divorce, have a Plan B, is foolish. This is the 21st Century and men are not signing up to support their wives for the rest of their lives even if there is a divorce anymore (especially with women cheating about as much as men these days and filing most of the divorces.) Alimony is becoming rare, thank God. Those holdout states won't hold out much longer, because men are tired of getting screwed, and now we have more and more women paying alimony and they aren't too happy about it either. Like it or not, alimony is slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past.
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02:46 PM on 06/13/2012
You are absolutely 100% correct Ted47. I made the choice to sacrifice a career for a low paying job so I could be home for our son when he got off the bus for 17 years.

And now I AM living with this choice. I am not gonna "get him" with alimony.

Karma will get him though.
03:55 PM on 06/09/2012
"Instead of his alimony going down, it's gone up, while his ex receives monthly funds from her boyfriend and "loans" to purchase real estate."

But if he gets any money from a new wife, can he keep it?
12:45 PM on 06/10/2012
Yep, because he is not dipping from two cookie jars at the same time. Though some states calculate the new wife's income for child support and alimony. So you women not only want your ex's money, b ut his new bride's as well-LOL and it looks like you think it is right.
03:53 PM on 06/09/2012
"Divorce is about the end of a relationship, and alimony is about its continuation beyond the finish line."

Marriage is a complicated relationship and ending it isn't always as simple as we would like it to be. If there are children, the relationship goes on as you raise them. If the couple was married long enough to make joint financial decision, the relationship may have to continue after the divorce. Things aren't always simple or nice.
11:00 AM on 06/10/2012
But not in perpetuity. Absent a disability, the "disadvantaged" spouse is every buit as capable of training/getting educated, etc., as the other. In which case 3-5 years of support is ample time to do so. If the spouse is incapable of doing so to teh same level as their former spouse, that is not justification to keep the gravy train going (e.g. a Doctor's former spouse who would never have been academically capable of getting into med school regardless of marriage and couldn't do so even if given 5 years of support should not be entitled to keep receiving the benefits of a doctor's salary just because (s)he used to be married to one).
03:50 PM on 06/09/2012
I do want to say explicitly - I do not think people should get alimony just because they were married. Alimony should be related to having made some kind of career sacrifice or building up your partner's career. Things like raising children, putting someone through school, or moving for your partner's job.

Alimony should not just be for women, either. Men who stay home with kids should get it.

But alimony should not have any arbitrary ending point. It's just the partner who gained more financially from the marriage giving some of it back to the partner who lost earning potential. Sometimes it can be short and not much money. Sometimes, particularly if one partner is older, it will need to go on forever.
04:57 PM on 06/09/2012
And what of the sacrifices the man made? Working like a dog for decades, only to be told what he did not only doesn't count, but now he has to pay because his wife never worked? Talk about a punishment for doing well!
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04:11 AM on 06/11/2012
You wrote, "And what of the sacrifices the man made? Working like a dog for decades, only to be told what he did not only doesn't count, but now he has to pay because his wife never worked?"

Quite true, and he sacrificed home and family time during those decades.
07:38 PM on 06/09/2012
I think my ex wife should pay me then, even though I make several times what she makes. I did not want to stay in the town where we live. It's a dying town. The average household income here is a little over $36,000 a year. Unemployment is high. Our factories are closing. People in my profession make a fraction of the national average. I could be making a lot more somewere else, but I stayed because she wanted to be close to her family, and now I can't leave because of my kids, and will be in my fifties when my kids are grown and that's really kind of old to start a law practice somewhere else. Shouldn't she compensate me for the rest of my life for my lost earnings potential?

And what about her lost earnings potential? She could have gone to school, gotten on the job training where she works for a higher paying career. She partied too much and failed out of college and never went back even though we had the money. This lost earnings potential nonsense is so speculative. Most people won't be wildly successful even if they don't have kids. If my ex wife hadn't married me she still wouldn't have ever made any money. Her career plan was to marry somebody with money. We'll never know hat somebody could have arned. Chances are most divorced women would have only made enough to get by, like most everybody else.
12:47 PM on 06/10/2012
Just a little bent
03:28 PM on 06/10/2012

You make some excellent points that people seldom talk about.
03:46 PM on 06/09/2012
I think you're missing the point of alimony. Alimony should not just be about supporting someone who can't support themselves, although that is important. Alimony should also be about fairly compensating partners who've stayed home or made career sacrifices for the family.

Marriage is a partnership. The members of the team don't always have to do the exact same things and fill the exact same roles. If one person moves or takes time off or works part-time, they will be less able to earn as much in the future. If they did this for the family, then they should not lose out because of it. The partner who put more into developing their career should give back some of what they gained to their ex.
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Single Dad, Blogger
10:47 PM on 06/09/2012
BookQueen, I'm afraid you are living in a fairytale. I've been on both sides of that fence and have witnessed it numerous times in others. The moment the decision to divorce is made it is always about the money and the well being of the children is normally the last thing on either's mind.

Instead it is always about 'getting mine'. There seems to be this notion that the father wants to pay the mother as little as possible and the mother is just wanting enough to keep food on the table.
03:41 PM on 06/09/2012
"But even with no children involved, being forced to support two able-bodied adults is a bitter pill to swallow."

Does this actually happen? How common is it for someone to pay so much alimony that an ex and a new partner can live on it? How often does anyone do this?

If you're pushing for reform, we need to know what alimony really does. We don't want to cut off all the people who really need it out of concern for something that may never happen or is rare.
11:31 PM on 06/09/2012
Look Book Queen. You clearly have no clue about alimony. Again, ALIMONY IS NOT CHILD SUPPORT.

In Colorado, the MAJORITY of alimony is paid to women with no children. Read the link I provided earlier about the woman who was not even married who got alimony here. No children either, of course.
02:43 PM on 06/09/2012
What's your evidence of gender bias? Are there any studies showing that women who earn as much as their husbands get alimony? Women who worked full-time throughout their life and never moved or took a lower-paying job and still get alimony? What are the stats on who gets alimony - not just gender buy age, length of marriage, job experience, whether or not they raised kids, etc?
02:41 PM on 06/09/2012
I don't see why alimony should change because someone is cohabiting or even re-married. That sounds like an old-fashioned sexist idea that the new guy should support the woman.

Does the alimony payer have to include the income of their new spouse or partner when deciding how much they can pay?
04:59 PM on 06/09/2012
But it isn't old fashioned to say the former man should support the woman? Your logic is tortured. I bet you LOVE your monthly check, book queen. What an appropriate name, since you see yourself as entitled to be supported by someone else, just like a queen.
11:03 AM on 06/10/2012
"I don't see why alimony should change because someone is cohabiting or even re-married. That sounds like an old-fashioned sexist idea that the new guy should support the woman."

It's even more sexist to say the old guy should continue to support the woman. If she can support herself, neither guy should be doing so. But if some guy has to pay for the feed, it should be the guy getting the milk.
10:52 AM on 06/09/2012
06:58 AM on 06/09/2012
Thanks for an illuminating article Ms. Benedict.
03:01 AM on 06/09/2012
Great article!