Twenty year marriage. Two children, both still under the age of eighteen. Husband has worked throughout the marriage. Wife has been a stay-at-home mother, raising the children and maintaining the house. That was the agreement, way back when the couple had their first child.
Couple is now divorcing. Husband has advanced his career over the past twenty years and makes a pretty good salary, but the divorce is putting a financial strain on everyone. The couple had a temporary hearing where the Judge ordered Husband to pay both child support and alimony. Instead of having a little bit at the end of each pay period to nest away, there is a collective holding of breath several days before each pay day. Such is the case when there are now two rent payments, two light bills, two gas bills, and two refrigerators to stock.
Husband exclaims, “Why doesn’t she get off her lazy ass and work!” “She’s bleeding me dry!” “I’ve been asking her to go back to work for 15 years!” Every visitation with the children is punctuated with some comment about how Mom is using them to get to his money. “It’s my money, I am the one who busts his hump for it, maybe I just won’t pay it. No Judge can order tell me what to do.” “She held you all hostage to get more of my money.”
Firstly, income earned during the marriage is marital property. It doesn’t matter whose name is on the paycheck, it’s marital property. It is no more Husband’s than it is Wife’s. Husband gets no more “say” about what happens to it than does Wife.
Secondly, decisions about employment made during the marriage are marital decisions. Maybe the agreement was for Wife to return to work once the youngest child started kindergarten. Maybe the agreement was that Wife would continue in her role as homemaker and being able to remain involved with the children during the week both after school and by volunteering at the schools. To put it bluntly, it doesn’t matter what the agreement was or was not. The Judge is not going to try and discern what, or if, there was an agreement. The fact remains that Wife has not worked in twenty years. That’s a long time to not build a career. That’s a long time to go without work experience to put on a resume. Very rare are the situations where Wife is going to snap her fingers and become financially independent just because there is a divorce.
Thirdly, yes, the Judge can tell Husband (and Wife) what to do. In an intact marriage, families enjoy immense privacy when it comes to finances.. Wife can be a spendthrift; Husband can spend every penny the moment it is realized. The Court is not going to get involved. This all changes when a divorce is filed. The Court now takes over to make sure that children are provided for and that spouses aren’t left homeless.
Finally, shame on Husband. Shame on any parent who discusses the financial impact the divorce is having on them with their children, regardless of the children’s ages. Shame.
Rare is the divorce that does not financially impact a family. It is all but impossible to maintain the same standard of living enjoyed in a two household family that was once a one household family unless there is a drastic increase in income between the two spouses. The math simply does not work. Unfortunately, I see far too many spouses, male and female, make these same arguments that Husband makes above. And unfortunately, I see far too many attorneys who are more than happy to feed that animosity and assist in perpetuating the myths that Husband holds onto in the above example, knowing full well that the world will work far differently once the case has made its way to a final trial. I’ve represented plenty of “Husbands” and plenty of “Wives” in the above scenario. And I much prefer to be the bearer of truth to my “Husbands” and explain the way things will shake out at trial than for “Husband” to spend his money to take these myths to the bitter end. Because the income will be marital property and the Judge will divide it as such.
It is what it is. The sooner each party realizes it, the sooner they can put their hard earned money to better use.