By Deborah S. Chames
A few months ago, this article gained national attention, calling for alimony reform to help the paying spouses, mostly men, from spending time in jail for missing alimony payments. The article paints a bleak picture for these men who, as a result of post-recession changes in financial circumstances, can no longer afford to make alimony payments and are consequently hauled off to jail. Supporters of alimony reform use these unique situations to push for sweeping alimony reform laws that will negatively impact many women who gave years of their life to support their husbands' careers and raise a family and today have no marketable skills to bring to the work force.
In Florida, and most other states, alimony, including permanent alimony, is modifiable unless the parties agreed otherwise. If the circumstances truly change substantially the law provides for an adjustment. In Florida, no one can go to jail for nonpayment of support unless the Court finds that there is a present ability to pay.
There are many women today that are in long-term marriages who chose (or were encouraged) to stay home, care for the children and maintain the family home and today, those women are getting dumped by their spouses and traded in for a younger model. Usually these women are in their 50s or 60s and have been out of the work force for many years. What exactly should they do at this time in their lives? Even those who have a college education lack the skills necessary to find a job in today's competitive economic climate.
I encounter this scenario every day -- women who get married in their 20s and leave the work force to raise their children, never contemplating that divorce could be on the horizon. Many of these women find themselves, 20+ years later, getting divorced. At the time of the dissolution, most of these women have not worked in 20 to 30 years -- a lifetime in today's evolving workforce. The notion that permanent alimony should be abolished in all cases and that these women should just "go get a job" ignores the reality that many women getting divorced today are simply unemployable and instead chose, or were asked, to forego employment to make significant contributions to the family unit, which enabled their husbands to achieve financial success.
To abolish permanent alimony entirely would subject an entire class of women to a life of poverty simply because their marriage did not last. Moreover, young women who are starting families and who want to (or whose husbands want them to) stay home and raise the children are dissuaded from the outset because if they get divorced when the children are older, if so-called "alimony reformists" have their way, these women will be without money and without skills necessary to obtain employment. Meanwhile, the husband who reaped the benefit of having his wife at home to care for the children and the family unit, will have no obligation to support his former wife. In fact in many instances it was only because the wife stayed home and took care of a myriad of responsibilities which freed up the husband to be able to maximize his earning potential that the husband is as successful as he is today.
Frankly, not only is there a moral and legal obligation to provide for one's children until they are 18, but there should also be both a moral and legal obligation to provide for the spouse that supported the family unit and allowed the working spouse to make money and achieve success. If the law does not insist upon this, in effect society is sanctioning a lifestyle that renders homemakers disposable and discourages women from leaving the work force to spend time at home raising their children. If this is the future of our family courts, entire families will undoubtedly suffer. Not only will the long time ex wives suffer but the children will suffer as their mothers will not want to risk being poverty stricken later in life because they chose to stay home and raise their children!