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Fred Silberberg Headshot

What's Good For the Goose...

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A while back I was in court with my female client defending a request by her husband that she be ordered to pay him spousal support. My client was irate over the fact that her husband would even think to make such a request, notwithstanding the fact that her net worth and earnings significantly outgrossed his. As we argued the case to the judge, my client kept telling me that this was ridiculous, a man should not be seeking spousal support from a woman. I told her that in my view, what is good for the goose, is good for the gander and while as a principal I, myself, was opposed to spousal support, if one spouse could get it from the other, it had to go both ways.

This conversation reminded me of a similar one I had at an earlier time with a female colleague of mine. Her husband sought spousal support from her and she was equally outraged over it. As she put it "it's not something you bargain for when you get married". I reminded her that most people did not bargain for divorce at all, and that, while I was sympathetic to the fact that she did not want to pay the support, there had to be equal treatment under the law. If she could get it, why shouldn't he also be able to?

In my more than 23 years of practicing family law I have heard just about all there is to hear when someone comes into my office. These were not the first times I have heard this complaint from women about spousal support. It also is not the first time I have heard similar statements when it comes to custody. Just last week a female client told me that she did not understand why her husband had a right to share equal time with their children when she was the mother. She complained to me that if they were still married, he wouldn't have equal time, he never spent that much time with the kids before. I told her that this is one of the consequences of divorce, if you want to get divorced, you have to understand that the other party has rights just like you do and that one of those rights, is the right to spend equal time with the children if their father is willing and able to do so.

These talks in my office really emphasize the double-standard that seems to exist in the minds of many women caught in the midst of a divorce. It is totally acceptable to have the man pay spousal support, but not the woman. It is totally acceptable to have the mother raise the kids, but not the father. All of this makes me wonder, what was the point of the battle for equal rights? In this day and age, these women are the daughters of some of the same women who I remember burning their brassieres in the 60s, the daughters of women who stopped being stay at home mothers so they could go out and work, the daughters of women who went back to school to get advanced degrees. In many cases, these women themselves are the embodiment of the example that their mothers set for them. Some of them are overachievers, who can and have accomplished major feats in the business world, but somehow still see it as appropriate to be treated differently in the arena of the family law court. In the context of a child support dispute, one of my female clients lamented that "so I went out and built this successful business and my reward is I have to pay child support to him?".

For years men bore the brunt of fallout of a divorce proceeding. They built businesses and professional practices and then had to buy their wives out of those businesses, or trade their homes for the businesses in the property settlement. They had to pay spousal and child support on top of it. And, to add insult to injury, many of them were relegated to visits with their children on alternating weekends and one night per week. This situation was commonplace in the days when men were the primary breadwinners and women stayed at home with children. However, times have changed. It has taken years of lobbying by father's rights organizations to the state legislatures, lots of time spent educating judges about the benefits that fathers can provide to their children if given the time to spend with them, and yet, it seems, that to a large percentage of the female population, this change to a more egalitarian legal system is somehow unjust. Society has changed and the family has changed. The traditional role models are not what they used to be. Women are out in the workforce, are often the breadwinners, and provide the same function in many families and in society that were primarily the province of men up until recent decades. It is only appropriate, therefore, that women and men be treated in an equal manner when it comes to the painful subjects of support and child custody that arise in divorce proceedings.

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