Born in California and raised in Texas, I have always been torn by the question "Where are you from?" I always wondered, are you "from" where you were born or are you "from" where you grew up? As a child, I always said I was from California; it seemed more progressive and cooler for this girl living in Texas. However, now as an adult and in spite of all that I have been through after the death of my husband here in Texas, I undoubtedly consider myself a proud Texas woman. We seem to be a different breed; I find Texas women to be tough, smart, pretty, kind and proud. Pride for me comes in many ways; mostly what I have been thinking about lately is our laws concerning divorce and what we are entitled to.
It is no secret that I have been married twice and will most likely see a third marriage in my lifetime. My first marriage ended after 11 years, despite trying to follow through with the lifetime commitment to each other. After deciding that it was no longer healthy for me to be in the relationship -- and honestly, had not been for years -- I left my husband. When I chose to do this, I never expected for him to have to continue to take care of me. Nor did I want him to. Yes, I took care of his daughter and was a wife and mother and worked full time. Sure, I am certain that at times I made personal sacrifices for the sake of our family and our marriage. But when it was over, I felt the need and desire to be on my own. Which for me, meant living on my own, supporting myself and cutting all ties with my ex in order to move forward with a healthier life.
When I filed for the divorce -- which I did on my own with a book from the library -- I wanted nothing from our marriage. I left my car, my cash and literally started over. For me, the new life that was awaiting me was more important than any material possession. As difficult as this was, I never once thought about alimony, spousal support or any other sort of "due" financial responsibility my ex had to me. Had he decided to file for divorce first, I am certain that would not have been any different. When we were standing in front of the judge for the third time because I wanted my car and he didn't want me to leave and was attempting to use this possession as leverage, I simply said, "Your Honor, all I want is my name back. Please finalize this divorce and I will take nothing but my name back." The power that statement gave my spirit was immense. I walked out of the courtroom that day feeling so much pride, knowing that I had the power and strength to live on my own without him.
Ironically, that same court five years later voided my second marriage to my late husband, fallen firefighter Captain Thomas Araguz III, who was killed in the line of duty on July 4, 2012. (The court voided my marriage based on my sex at birth and transsexual identity; I am challenging the law that was used against me and am currently embattled in a civil rights marriage equality case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.) However, I stand behind Texas's divorce laws.
In Texas, you must have been married at least 10 years in order to even request alimony or spousal support, with a maximum alimony judgment lasting up to 10 years for marriages 30 years or longer. In contrast, North Carolina's laws are much less stringent. There is no determined length a marriage must last in order for a spouse to request alimony or spousal maintenance.
I don't believe that spousal support is something that all people deserve. I believe that you should do everything you can to maintain a happy and healthy marriage, and when that is exhausted, you cut your losses and move on -- not trying to make the other person "pay" financially or emotionally. This is not in the spirit of love that relationships are founded and built upon.
I put all I had into both of my marriages, and while I do believe that I deserve the full benefits of those marriages, I do not believe that my ex-husband should have to pay me for my own life and support. Unfortunately, some women and a few men feel that, regardless of their ability to be self-supporting, they are "owed" and entitled to lifelong financial support, even after the relationship has ended. I personally find this attitude abhorrent and am rather disgusted by it. I believe in due share; however, I do not believe that one should want or expect more than his or her 50 percent. Many hardworking men and women are forced to pay their exes monthly as if it were child support. To those receiving such money, I say get a life of your own. I fully understand the pain and anguish that follows the end of a relationship, but to make someone pay -- indefinitely -- for the other is ridiculous.
Mind you, I am certain that there are exceptions such as medical tragedies that leave a spouse solely reliant on the other spouse. I'm fully aware of the strain that such instances can put on a relationship. For example, my mother had a stroke which left her paralyzed and in need of constant care. Had my father chosen to not stand by his vows and bow under pressure of the difficulties and left her, that would be a situation requiring special consideration.
However, on the flip side, I know of a man who has sole custody of his children from a previous marriage and is the sole provider for those children. He is a kindhearted man and an amazing father. His second wife of only two years, an able-bodied woman in her early 30s, is suing him for not only half of all his possessions, but also going after post-separation support and alimony. She believes that after only two years of marriage, she is entitled to collect money from this hardworking, sole-providing father of two young children for the rest of her life, while he is supposed to also care for his children and support them in a separate residence. This man is not of exceptional means; he is the average, hardworking American man. In my opinion, this is a sad and frustrating abuse of the legal system.
I would like to see the laws in this country be consistent from state to state, creating true equality for all. I believe that we all should be responsible for ourselves, and when we are in a relationship, we should focus on building the other up, rather than relying on their full support. This is what makes a real partner and a happy marriage. The kind of support I am referring to is not at all child support or death benefits; those are separate issues altogether. The men and women who solely take care of their children regardless of the relationship or abilities of the other biological parent deserve special kudos. The people I admire and strive to be like have courage, pride and self-sufficiency and could never imagine relying on someone else to take care of them, holding their exes only responsible financially for the care of their children. I believe that growing up in Texas, and being the proud Texan woman I am, has given me the pride and fortitude to develop this belief as well as ability to not only take care of myself, but to be a supportive partner and wife. This reminds me of the old saying, "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could."