Bread-Winner: Know The Divorce Laws

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Morghan Leia Richardson offers advice to “bread-winner” men thinking about getting divorced. 

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Gentlemen, let me confirm what you have long suspected: if you are the primary income earner in your family, particularly where your wife has stayed at home, be prepared to pay in your divorce.

For the most part, laws have consistently leaned towards protecting women who do not work, who set aside careers (or never start one) and raise children. These laws favor the idea that there is an inherent value in raising children and tending to the family.

What you have long suspected is generally true: “It is cheaper to keep her.” 

As society changes in the workforce and in our expectations of parental duties, men can still be caught off-guard by somewhat antiquated laws that are slower and more resistant to change. So what you have long suspected is generally true: “It is cheaper to keep her.”

Some examples?

Gil

Gil was a line-cook that clawed his way into a position at a private company, cooking for executives and their clients.  The job was a welcome departure from the world of late-night, high-pressure restaurants, until his new hours put a crimp on his wife’s love affair.

He stumbled and went through months of drinking too much. In mourning the ten-year relationship, he played into his wife’s hands in the divorce: the drinking gave her sole custody of the kids, an order of protection limiting his contact, the marital apartment, and that hard-fought paycheck turned into child and spousal support. During a visitation dispute, Gil’s wife called the police and he was arrested for violating the order of protection—even though he was rightfully having visitation—because of his state’s mandatory arrest for alleged domestic violence violations.

Despite the false allegations, the arrest cost him his job, but the court still found that he should be able to earn as much as he did before, so it refused to lower his support payments. Gil was stuck with an unattainable payment that eventually was reduced years later after much hardship and struggle.

Mark

On the other side of the street, we have Mark, a retired cop. He’d served his country in the military but later moved out of the line-of-fire and into a cushy federal job. A job with perks, including a cute coworker with whom he started an affair.  Knowing that he was unhappy in his 18-year marriage, he started setting aside income—hiding it in cash—crafting a spending pattern and trying to bully his wife into this new, grim financial picture.

Tired of the turmoil, his wife consulted with a lawyer, and the fee went to the couple’s joint credit card. As soon as Mark noticed it, he cut off all the bank accounts and closed her out of their credit cards. She was on the verge of losing her part-time job and was reluctant to get a lawyer. Mark seized the opportunity and moved out. His wife hadn’t saved and had difficulty retaining competent counsel willing to go after fees in a county notorious for stingy fee awards. Without being able to locate the hidden assets, she jumped at a conservative settlement offer to stop the bills and counsel fees from piling up.

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These vignettes illustrate the differences in two cases, both where the men were the primary bread-winner of the family, both subject to the same rules. But subtle differences in the facts of each case can make a huge difference in the application of the law, and sometimes those differences can become crushing.

Understanding the laws of the state where you live is vital when making family-planning decisions. Who will care for a child? How long will mom be out of the work-force and what happens when she refuses to return to work? How much and how long will you be expected to provide if the marriage breaks-down? If you are considering entering into a contract (aka marriage) where you pay all of the expenses, you must plan for contingencies and know your rights.

Finally, my solid advice to everyone: have a stash of money. You buy car insurance and life insurance because you contemplate something catastrophic. Divorce is a similar, unpredictable life event that you cannot afford to ignore. If you are already there, stay tuned. I’ll be writing about more specific situations and issues that might help in your disaster—I mean divorce—planning.

In the meantime, I’m interested in your ideas on ways the laws should change.

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Image Credit: Phil and Pam/Flickr

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About Morghan Leia Richardson

Morghan Leia Richardson is a divorce attorney and mediator in New York City. She is experienced in litigation and family law issues that accompany Divorce, such as Custody, Child Support, Father's Rights and Marital Property issues, including asset discovery and protection. Morghan was graduated from Tulane Law School in New Orleans, during which time she worked as an extern for Federal Magistrate Judge Louis Moore in the United States Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and served as a Managing Editor for the Tulane Maritime Law Journal. She is licensed in Maryland, D.C. and New York. Morghan worked for national litigation firms before starting her Queens-based law practice. She juggles her job as an attorney with her other job as single mom of two preschool-aged boys. Her firm is Richardson Legal PLLC and she blogs at The Divorce Artist.

Comments

  1. I have no issue with having to pay child support to my STBXW.

    The thing that frustrates me about NY State law is that they financially encourage absentee fatherhood if the father doesn’t have exactly 50-50 time with the kids, or better.

    How do they encourage this you ask? Well, if you have the kids a fair amount, say one overnight every week and every other weekend, NY State guidelines have you paying the same amount of child support as the father that never sees his kids at all.

    So, you have to pay for food, clothes, a larger home or apartment, pay extra in gas to run kids to appointments, etc. AND you don’t get any sort of break on child support.

    Personally, I think there should be a sliding scale such that parents who pay child support pay more if they never see their kids and pay less the more time they do have with their kids.

    I’m not going to give up time with my kids to save money. But, I have the ability to survive financially given the payments I am making today. I can guess that not all dads are in m y situation.

    • Gint Aras says:

      This is an interesting idea. If this sliding scale were adopted, would it actually encourage fathers to “take the kids” so that they’d have to pay less? It seems to me that any of these adjustments to our laws and customs can be manipulated by people who are insincere or simply don’t care. I wish there were something we could do about *that*.

      Thanks for your comment and idea, WhoDat.

  2. John Anderson says:

    I think visitation interference should be criminalized in every state. If someone can go to jail for failure to pay a child support order, someone can go to jail for willfully violating a visitation order.

  3. Great straight-talking article, well done

    Quick note on the sliding scale idea, we have it in the UK and the way it’s exploited is that mums are advised that it is in their financial interests to restrict the amount of time that dad has the kids —- I came across several cases where mums would reduce the time dad had in order to increase their money—and then once the money was coming in at the new higher level the mums would start to let the kids see the dads more again —- so the sliding scale approach is also imperfect

    Important conversation to have this one—check out the post “four ways great dads are discriminated against and what we can do about it” too if you haven’t seen it:

    http://goodmenproject.com/international-mens-movement/immfour-ways-great-dads-are-discriminated-against-and-what-we-can-do-about-it/

  4. John Schtoll says:

    IMHO< the first step that MUST be carried out immediately is a presumption of shared parenting on divorce. Just like in criminal law where there is a presumption of innocence so should there be a starting point in child custody laws.

    There should also be a legal requirement for both parents to financially support their child because what a fair number of people don't understand (or want to understand) is that by law the custodial parent is not legally required to support their own children. The custodial parent can be on welfare, be married to someone else who is making the money or if the non custodial parent makes enough, they don't even have to provide any support whatsoever and live off the CS received from the non custodial parent. This would go a long way to fixing this problem.

  5. Good article – lots of great info.

    If we really wanted to do something about all of this, we’d make it MUCH MUCH harder to GET married, and easier to get divorced. Some good premarital counseling, a bit of psychotherapy, and perhaps a mandatory parenting class for everyone BEFORE marriage would help.

    Also, the law should be that it is PRESUMED that parents are 50/50 automatically and then up to the parent who wishes to GIVE UP parenting time to prove WHY they should have less, not more time.

    The fathers I represent are generally more upset over not having enough time with their kids than not having enough money to live on. It’s a disaster for everyone.

    • Gint Aras says:

      David, people would just avoid marriage if we put legal restrictions on it. There’s the rub. People have kids and start families without any state or church or “overseer”. We have a cultural mess on our hands.

      • I actually think that it should be a little harder on the front end to get married. And, people need to realize the protections offered by marriage that are not available to a couple who simply cohabits (regardless of how long they live together). These two huge cases were just won for same-sex marriage and sadly, it didn’t bring the valuable rights that were won to the forefront of everyones attention (after all, what do you think they were fighting for exactly? Rights most of us are taking for granted). Even the children of a married couple have more rights than kids of parents who never tie the knot.
        The other thing that I see happening across the board: people just aren’t living intentional lives.

  6. I am absolutely appalled at this article. And even more appalled that “The Good Men” would post such a thing.

    The way this reads to me, is a lawyer advising men that you’re screwed if you do the right thing (using poor Gil as an example) so what you should do is be the one who does the screwing, like Mark – screwing the cute co-worker and then screwing his wife through bullying tactics, abandonment and robbing her of their joint savings.

    Very nice. Hardly the standard of “The Good Man” I’d want to share with my sons.

    • John Schtoll says:

      That is a good point Jill that he is screwed if he does that right thing, but the rub is that it is also TRUE and REALISTIC.

    • John Anderson says:

      @ Jill

      “On the other side of the street, we have Mark … These vignettes illustrate the differences in two cases, both where the men were the primary bread-winner of the family, both subject to the same rules. But subtle differences in the facts of each case can make a huge difference in the application of the law, and sometimes those differences can become crushing.”

      She doesn’t say that Mark did it the right way nor do I see her advising men to follow Mark’s example. It’s funny how you assumed that every man on this site would see that as advise. Maybe you need to examine your own biases before you started making assumptions about who’s a good man.

      What she does advise is “Finally, my solid advice to everyone: have a stash of money. ” and that is advice that she gives to everyone. She makes it not so that you can screw someone over, but so that it makes it more difficult for someone to screw you over.

    • Jill,
      The article does set forth extreme examples taken from real life. Perhaps the overall message is not that men doing the right thing get screwed, so much as people, when they do not know their rights and do not prepare for disaster (such as divorce), they get screwed. In Gil’s case, he got screwed. In Mark’s case, his wife got screwed. Perhaps that is too real or frank, but people tend to ignore fluffy blogs on this subject.
      I firmly believe that everyone needs to know their rights and should have a savings account that only they can access (I say as much in this blog: http://buff.ly/YgkEwa).
      I have two boys. I hope that they never experience divorce. I hope that they do the right thing for their families and themselves. I hope that they encourage whomever they marry to also be self-respecting and forth-right. And I will teach them to plan for contingencies.

  7. I am a little late to the party, but one thing I think should be pointed out:

    Man getting screwed: Transfer of money from man to woman. (“meant for the child” debate aside)

    Woman getting screwed: No transfer of money from the man to the woman. In fact, no transfer at all.

    I guess I do not see how it is deemed being “screwed” if someone doesn’t get to take assets that were earned by the other person.

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