Alimony Reform Coming?

by W.F. Price on March 5, 2012

The forced servitude to ex-wives known as alimony is coming under increasing scrutiny in a number of states as reality is finally catching up to the courts. Alimony was originally based on the idea that women were dependent on men to survive, and that a husband had an obligation to support a woman he had married. It was also based at least in part on fault; if a man broke his vows the sentiment was that he should pay for it somehow.

Since the introduction of no-fault divorce and laws guaranteeing women’s equality on the workforce, there is no justification for it whatsoever. A woman who leaves her husband without demonstrating fault should have no right to claim any of his subsequent earnings. However, in a number of states women may still receive lifetime alimony awards despite obtaining a “no-fault” divorce so long as the marriage lasted sufficiently long.

A NY Times article highlight efforts in Florida to change the law to address some of the egregious injustices that result, such as professional women with six-figure incomes receiving $50,000 annual alimony awards:

Dr. Jose A. Aleman-Gomez, a Cape Coral cardiologist who was married for 21 years, said he must pay $50,000 a year, or about 25 percent of his salary, to his ex-wife, a practicing dentist with a solid income. And Dr. Bernard R. Perez, a Tampa eye surgeon with throat cancer who was married for 20 years, said he had been ordered to pay his former wife 85 percent of his income; for the last three years, he has lived in his brother’s garage and is near bankruptcy, he said.

However, some people are fighting changes, most notably family law attorneys and their representatives.

David L. Manz, the chairman of the Florida Bar Family Law Section, said his organization opposed the House bill because it was too loosely written and would remove too much judicial discretion. In remedying the plight of a small number of men, Mr. Manz said, the bill could leave more divorced women vulnerable. He said he was negotiating to change parts of the bill.

Even today, Mr. Manz said, divorce is more likely to hurt women. They are still the ones who typically give up their jobs to focus on raising children. Even when they do not give up jobs, their child-rearing responsibilities can sidetrack their careers. Returning to jobs after long absences is difficult.

“For every guy, there is a wife or former wife who got the short end of the stick,” Mr. Manz said. “Look at the standard of living of most people in a long-term marriage: divorced men’s standard of living goes up, and the women’s goes down. That happens every day.”

“We are not in favor of disenfranchising someone who has given up her career,” he added. “What you are hearing about is a very vocal, persuasive minority.”

How thoughtful of Mr. Manz to stick up for the poor, downtrodden wives of the upper middle class. I wonder whether he’d spend any time demanding alimony for the girls working at WalMart or the local fast food joint? Of course not. Attorneys defend alimony because it allows them to jack up fees, plain and simple. If they can put in the extra hours to stick it to a high-earning guy, then their clients (wives of the professionals) will be perfectly happy and able to pay off the excess fees with the alimony that’s coming in.

Alimony, like so much of family law, is a racket. It does little more than pad the pockets of high-stakes divorce lawyers, who contribute exactly zero added value to the economy. If it weren’t part of our court system, it would surely be considered organized crime.

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