Free From the Chains of Alimony – So Why Isn't He Happy?

Dear Robin:

I make my last alimony payment on Thursday. I find myself strangely numb and apprehensive rather than arranging for a hooker waiting for me when I come home next to an urn of cocaine and chilled Dom Perignon.

This is the first time in 10 years I will have my full paycheck rather than just enough to scrape by. So why am I not dancing for joy at the end of this onerous obligation?

Free at Last

Dear Free at Last:

Congratulations on the end of your adult baby child support! 

While I do not condone your specific brand of celebratory activities, I do hope reading this blog will give you some perspective and clear the way for you to revel in your freedom from the chains of alimony.

Perhaps just the Dom and a night of marathon watching Orange is the New Black? I pick that show in particular because the characters are stuck behind the walls of a prison, as you were up until Thursday.

Readers Need to Know:

This case was an ugly one.  How ugly?

The case was litigated over 6 years with 5 judges, 2 mistrials, and almost 40 court-initiated continuances and finally a trial.

As if that weren’t awful enough, our writer received a bonus year in Divorce Hell after his ex-wife/barnacle litigated a motion for reconsideration,demanding the judge give her everything she did not get in the original order.

She prevailed on a tiny fraction of her motion for reconsideration but the legal fees dwarfed by a massive amount the win itself. This is extremely common in divorce litigation and something I discuss at length in my book Divorce by Design: How to Split Without Losing Your Mind, Your Money or Your Kids.  Coming soon!

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This divorce was fought almost as long as the 8-year marriage itself and the wife felt entitled to an enormous amount of alimony. This was despite her MBA from a prominent business school and her extremely successful work history prior to her “retirement,” a.k.a. landing a good husband and shooting out a couple of kids from her love canoe.

Finally, the adult baby child support does not simply terminate automatically. Free at Last needs to contact his state’s “Probation Division” (interesting choice of name) to make certain they issue the order to his employer to end the deduction of the PMSP (Princess Mentality Syndrome Payment).

He described this as a “…loathsome task. Like cleaning a toilet without a glove. I could not do it from my office, so I made the call while working from home.”

So What’s Going On?

I checked in with a few of my friends who have been through similar circumstances and I’ve decided to coin a term for the disorder I believe Free at Last Suffers from:

PTLSD: Post-Traumatic Litigation Stress Disorder.

Much as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has a group of symptoms relating to how the mind reacts to a traumatic event (Mayo Clinic PTSD Symptoms), so does PTLSD.  

How do I know this?  Because I discovered the disorder and I’m entitled to assign any characteristics I want to it. This is my blog, after all.

PTLSD: Symptoms of Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood

  • Negative feelings about yourself or other people
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships

Free at Last, look at that list above.  Sound familiar?

In addition, since your case took so long to litigate and had 40 set-overs (don’t get me started because this makes my blood boil) I think you don’t really believe you are free from the alimony.  Your sub-conscience is not allowing you to celebrate until the rubber of the order hits the road of your bank account.

What Else is Happening?

Studies have shown that we often overestimate the effect that either very good events or bad events will have on our lives. This study comparing accident victims and lottery winners is dated but worth a read: 

Is Happiness Relative?

Since I know you won’t take the time to read it, I’ll summarize it for you:

Adaptation theory surmises that we get used to major changes in our lives, both good and bad.  Those changes are usually not as profound as we would imagine them to be before they happen.

Free at Last, I imagine for years as you paid this money to your ex-wife (who stubbornly refused to take part in her own care and feeding) you fantasized about the day you’d be unchained from your former spouse.  

You likely romanticized this date and built it up to be a much bigger and thrilling event than it actually is. Like New Year’s Eve, you will probably wake up the next day with a hangover, a sense of a new start, but the realization that nothing has really changed.

I’m not minimizing the impact this can have on your life in a good way – trust me.  My friends who have been through the same say that when the burden of paying alimony was lifted they felt enormous relief.  But in the end, this is about money – and money can’t buy happiness.

It can certainly lease it for a while (see your celebration idea of a hooker, blow and Dom) but it won’t change your overall pleasure or dissatisfaction with your life.

Advice for Free at Last (at last!):

  • Don’t expect too much from your parole date but let yourself believe that it’s real.
  • Consider speaking with a counselor about your experience.
  • Remember that while waging a war is an awful thing, when the war is over an emotional and task vacuum is created.  Find positive things and people to fill it.
  • Celebrate your freedom in a healthy way that involves neither cocaine nor divorce lawyers whores.
  • Do something to help others in your position. The work I do gratis in this area has been enormously satisfying.
  • Buy yourself a really nice steak and bottle of wine.  
  • Write a letter to your ex-wife saying everything you’ve ever wanted to say to her but didn’t.  Call her names, rail against her laziness, and insult her taste in clothing.
  • Light a fire, throw that letter into it, grill the steak and drink the wine.
  • Do your best to improve your relationship into the future for the sake of your children.  

When we spoke this morning you said she was incapable of having a positive relationship with you but I hope you will at least give it a chance.  When you are ready, write me again and I’ll give you the script.

Please let me know how you end up celebrating your freedom and again, congratulations!

Readers, especially those of you fighting for divorce reform, please share!

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