The Great Mommy War

Are your romantic problems now your math problems? For women who are married and are marrying men with an ex-wife, they will be affected by the alimony situation that came out of his first marriage. Belinda Luscombe’s article in TIME magazine highlights the struggle between first wives and second wives. 1

The TIME magazine article follows Debbie Leff Israel, who founded the Florida chapter of The Second Wives Club, a group modeled after the Massachusetts Alimony Reform (MAR). The MAR successfully abolished permanent alimony in their state. The Second Wives Club wishes to follow in the footsteps of the MAR and accomplish the same goal. They nearly achieved this but Florida Governor Rick Scott vetoed it over concern that the law could be applied retroactively.

Life-long alimony attaches spouses to each other. Often, individuals are forced to pay someone that they now despise. Leff Israel states “alimony ties you to an unhealthy relationship. You need a clean break.” Additionally, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, an actress of the 1920s, said “alimony’s a system by which, when two people make a mistake, one of them continues to pay for it.”

Traditionally, first wives are mothers and have chosen to make their priorities the children and the household. This is a thankless job that cannot be quantified. This choice creates a large time gap on a mother’s resume. Their skill sets may be diminished and may be dated. Employers are not looking for someone who has a significant amount of time between jobs. Concurrently, if the man chooses to re-marry, the second wife is more likely to be working and have her own source of income. If he has been ordered by the court to pay alimony, the second wife may be on the hook for those payments. If her husband’s economic situation takes a hit, the court may not modify the current arrangement because the second wife has an income. In a situation like this, the second wife is now the payer of the alimony to the first wife.

There is a “mommy war” going on. Second wives see first wives as “sitting around and doing nothing,” just collecting their alimony and doing nothing to support themselves. The Second Wives Club acknowledges that first wives may need something to hold them over. After a period of “rehabilitative” alimony, the Club believes that the first wives should be able to get back on their feet. It’s a generational dispute. The second wives cannot understand how a few years of supplemental income is not enough to get back on your feet.

A myth exists that if you are a stay-at-home parent who gave up your career to raise the children that you have a right to permanent alimony. According to Beverly Willett, Vice Chairman of the Coalition for Divorce Reform, if two parents agree to one parent staying home then that agreement should be legally binding after the divorce. Due to that belief, women all over the country are angry because they have the burden of becoming financially responsible for themselves once the divorce is final or the short-term alimony runs out.2

Jeffrey Landers, a divorce financial analyst who specializes in advising women states: “men in their 50’s will be able to replenish their assets and retirement account. Women typically will have to deplete them for day-to-day expenses.” We must consider if first wives are acknowledging the opportunity cost lost by committing to being a stay at home mother. “Years spent tending the home or kids or buttressing a partnership are also years spent not building a resume, not networking and not honing monetizable skills.”

The most vicious fights during a divorce are over alimony. As there is no formula used to calculate this, the decision is up to the judge. Judges differ from one to the next, resulting in a wide variation of alimony decisions. Marquette University law professor Judith McMullen argues that formula based alimony, as opposed to a kind of couture decision from a judge each time, might actually be to an older woman’s advantage because of its unpredictability.

The Second Wives Club is hoping that Florida which still awards permanent alimony; will follow in the footsteps of other states such as Texas and Mississippi which award alimony only to marriages of 10 years or more and only for a short period of time. Utah will not grant alimony past a time period equal to the duration of the marriage, and Kansas curbs its durations at 121 months.

If you’re worried about an alimony arrangement which will tremendously affect your life in New York. Call us at Bryan L. Salamone and Associates, P.C., 1.631.479.3839.

1 TIME Magazine: The End of Alimony, Belinda Luscombe: May 27, 2013 page 32-39

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