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Is Retirement an Impossible Dream for an Alimony Payer?

Dear Robin:

I found your name through a Google search on alimony and I’ve just spent the past few days reading everything you’ve ever written.  I love your blog!

Here’s my question: I married a man who pays “indefinite” alimony to his ex-wife.  He is 65 and wants to retire soon but if he still has to pay her he can’t.

We keep hoping she will get remarried but she seems to have no interest in dating.  I don’t think she ever even leaves her house, and she is still extremely bitter about the divorce.

We are thinking of trying to get the alimony modified but reading your blog posts on the subject isn’t encouraging.  What do you think the chances are?

Catherine 

Dear Catherine:

I frowned when I opened your email this morning because it reminded me I have much to do on rewriting a proposed bill for the Oregon legislature on this very subject.  

Damn you.

My hopes have been buoyed by the passage of alimony reform and a 50/50 parenting time presumption in Florida, although the ever-creepy and sleazy Governor Scott may veto the legislation as he did in 2013.

Before I dole out my DECIDEDLY NOT LEGAL ADVICE ADVICE I order you to click here and read my disclaimer.

First I’ll need to educate our readers on the dire situation facing hundreds of thousands of aging alimony payers across the country.  Since 97 % of payers are men, I’ll tend towards the male pronouns with advance apologizes to female payers.  

I am not a fan of lifetime alimony, to put it mildly.

Transitional alimony? 

Sure. Absolutely.

But permanent?  

No, except in rare cases.

The failure of a marriage should not mandate that one person must work until their dying breath to support another who (whom?) has already benefitted from years of being provided for.  

Risky Business: The Financial and Emotional Implications of Permanent Alimony

The availability of “indefinite,” or as I like to call it “permanent,”* alimony encourages women to be totally dependent upon their husbands and spend years out of the workforce.

That is extremely risky from a financial perspective.  What happens if the husband dies and there is insufficient or no life insurance?  What happens if you are receiving alimony and your ex simply can’t pay it?  

What then?  What is Plan B when Plan A is dead?

This choice is not simply fraught with financial implications.  Leaving the workforce permanently is emotionally risky as well.  

Once the kids are in school and later out of the home, what will these women do to occupy their time and their minds?

What will this couple have to talk about when the kids are grown and the husband toils all day to support the household?  

Unless the husband does not want his wife to work even after the kids are in school** (a bizarre and imperious mindset, but whatever) isn’t resentment sure to build over the years as he trudges off to work each day, quietly closing the door so he doesn’t wake her up? 

And when unhappy couples finally dissolve the marriage, how can someone move on from a divorce if they are still intrinsically linked to and dependent upon their ex into perpetuity?

parasite-hookworm

(this is a hookworm: a nasty little parasite but sort of adorable, no?)

I think it’s cute you and your husband believe remarriage will end alimony.  I checked the laws in your state and I regret to tell you even if this woman finds another idiot to pay her way, that doesn’t mean your husband is off the hook.  

The retirement problem you described is one I have grappled with countless times as I receive emails from all over the United States on this issue.  

Your situation is especially screwed up because as you told me in our email exchange, your husband’s SW (Starter Wife) has made noises to the kids about possibly seeking more alimony based upon your income.  

Just typing those words is difficult for me.  I can feel my blood pressure rising sharply and as I peck angrily at my keyboard this morning I wonder:

What makes some people so god-damned entitled?

Did this woman raise her two daughters to be as much of a barnacle as she is? Is her lawyer enough of a opportunistic and parasitic billing machine to actually file the legal equivalent of a pile of dog shit?

I need to calm down.  I’ll do that by explaining the alimony payer retirement problem so our readers unfamiliar with adult baby support can understand.  

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical couple:

Steve and Jane

Steve and Jane are married for 25 years, during which time Jane refused her husband’s pleas to find work.  The refusal stood in stark contrast with her promises made early in the marriage to return to work once the kids were all enrolled in grade school. 

Steve has a very demanding and stressful job, but still manages to be there for the family whenever they need him and to provide them with a beautiful standard of living.

Jane files for divorce from Steve, and during the divorce proceeding she is awarded one-half the marital property and one-half of Steve’s retirement.  She is also awarded an exorbitant amount of alimony ($7,000 per month) with an indefinite period.

Steve wants to retire at age 65 and enjoy what is rest of his life with his friends and family.  However, he has no guarantee that the alimony will be eliminated when he retires, or even reduced. 

Conundrum:

How can Steve plan for retirement if he does not know what his monthly expenses will be?  And if Steve cannot plan for retirement, how can he retire?

Here is where it gets truly unfair: in most jurisdictions, Steve will not prevail (and will likely have his motion dismissed outright) until he retires.

Are you with me?  Is the circular logic driving you mad?  

Unless he wins the lottery, Steve can’t retire until he knows what his alimony payment will be, but he cannot seek or win a reduction until he retires.

Now remember, Steve and Jane split everything equally

When both begin to draw on the retirement fund they will have the same monthly payout, assuming Steve and Jane have continued to contribute in equal measure to the divided retirement funds in the years between the divorce and when each retire.

Correction: 

When Steve retires.

Jane will enjoy describing herself as “retired” and never appreciate how incorrect that description is.  Her wedding reception doubled as her retirement party, after all.

Let’s say it pays Steve and Jane each $4,000/month.  

Steve worked hard and invested well, didn’t he?  Helluva guy, that Steve.

Steve’s alimony payment is $7,000 per month.  If he cannot get a modification, he will be $3,000 per month IN THE HOLE, while Jane will have an $11,000/month income.

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Even if Steve gets a reduction down to $2,000 per month which can only happen after a long and expensive modification proceeding, he still only has $2,000 per month of income plus the paltry social security he collects. 

Jane, sitting pretty and still not lifting a finger to earn any income of her own, has $6,000 and the same social security payout.

Remember, they split the assets equally in the divorce.

How is this fair?  How is this equitable? 

I am now so worked up that I cannot give you advice today.  I’m going for a run to work off some of this indignation and disgust.

Please click here for Part 2 and my suggestions on how to deal with the shameless and lazy albatross around your necks.

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*Tomorrow’s blog will explain why “indefinite” so often means “permanent.”  Don’t miss it!

**Men who insist their wives not work during the marriage are anachronistic and controlling fools who (whom?) deserve permanent alimony awards.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Keith Stone

    Robin,

    once again… spot on… painfully spot on.

    Motions for modification or review come up along the journey of the “forced adult adoption” train, which can basically “rip-off the nut-sack” of the Obligee. This is another plausible definition of the word “insanity.”

    #FML #Descamp201? #97%wtf

    KS

  2. Dana

    To the subject of remarriage, sadly Robin is correct. We saw our attorney just this past week and was advised very clearly that if my fiancée’s Ex remarried, alimony payments would still be continued and were entitled as part of an original debt. Modifications may be examined by taking her new husbands income into consideration, but it would not cease the alimony.

    These payments were supposed to be a buffer, that’s it. But judges have made them into entitlement discretionary income.

    Retiring? Don’t even bet on it! Because your husband stayed too long in a marriage, either for the children’s sake or working it out, will be punished by the law for the rest of his life. My fiancée has to give $2,000 monthly in alimony for the rest of his life. He has no free will to retire or change his job. NONE!

    But his ex-wife has the right to pursue her life how she sees fit.

  3. "Trevor"

    I was in a miserable marriage for fifteen years longer than I should have been, and that was my mistake because “staying for the kids” earned me the wonderful albatross as you so aptly call it of paying permanent alimony.

    I worked like a dog for 26 years to support someone who said they wanted a career. I even put her through school, but once those kids started coming forget it: she wouldn’t budge.

    She gained 100 pounds, stopped having sex with me, and spent money faster than I could earn it. I will never recover financially from my divorce and I will never be able to retire and enjoy some time off.

    Thanks for writing about this issue and giving me a place to vent. Back to the grindstone…

  4. Larry

    During my Oregon divorce – at age 61 – after some outrageous offers – we “agreed” to indefinite support. The mediator – a retired Judge – seemed pretty confident that at either age 65 or 66 – I would be able to retire and get the support to stop. I hope he is right (he might even be involved if we mediate again and don’t go to court).

    It does seem that I have to pretty much retire before I can ask for it to go away. That is nuts – but I am afraid it will be too easy for a judge to say something like “I see no change in your circumstance”.

    Certainly – when I do retire – it is hard to understand how support can continue. I have already given up half of my retirement savings – and it would be REALLY ILLOGICAL for anyone to argue that any money from my half of the retirement should go to her. She also gets a social security benefit of her own – all thanks to my hard work.

    This whole mess was preceded by her getting a sizable inheritance. Of course – none of that money is figured into the estate – and even though we planned for me to ease into retirement with some small business associated with my hobby – that all got thrown out the window after the DICK got to her.

    Looking forward to part two – and also looking forward to seeing how I can help with legislation.

  5. OregonShareCropper

    Thank you for being a voice for those of us placed in indentured servitude in the interest of the state.

  6. Me too.

    This is very informative, but when is the next Anatomy of a Disaster coming? Sorry for leaving the same comment everywhere but I can’t wait to see what’s happening with Samantha and Sarah and all the other characters.

  7. Larry

    We are patiently waiting for part deux! Just as we are patiently waiting for retirement to happen.

    Would love to have something to sink my teeth into to help affect change.

  8. Pingback: Is Retirement An Impossible Dream For An Alimony Payer? Part 2. | RobinDesCamp.com

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