Morghan Leia Richardson offers advice to “bread-winner” men thinking about getting divorced.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Image Credit: Phil and Pam/Flickr