June 13, 2013

Spousal Maintenance: First vs. Second Wives

Categories: AlimonyCollaborative LawDivorce

First vs. Second Wife

Wow, the phrase “First vs. Second Wives” makes me cringe.  There is so much wrong with it, or at least so much to dislike or be uncomfortable about.

Let me count the ways (Keep in mind that this is in the context of Spousal Maintenance).

It implies that there will be another wife after the first, which is a fair assumption, but still.  It implies that the first and second wives will be at odds with each other over money, which is unfortunate and sad to think about.  It implies that the husband, at least in his first marriage, is the breadwinner.

In our culture of perceived independence and self-sufficiency, it may strike us as dependent and therefore inconsistent with current cultural standards.

It uncomfortably reminds us that many spouses, most likely the wife and often for good reasons, give up career and educational advancement, and so their future financial independence and self-sufficiency, to stay at home with children for the benefit of the greater family. Then, if they divorce, they are in big financial trouble without consistent and lengthy financial support from their ex.

I’ve seen many couples divorce where the breadwinner doesn’t want to or just won’t acknowledge the homemaker’s non-financial contribution to the family and opportunity cost of being out of the workforce or taking a lower-paying, more flexible job.  I’ve also seen many cases where the homemaker never left home after the kids were older, when it would have been more appropriate to find employment, because re-entering the job market was likely the original marital intent.

There is an interesting article in Time magazine’s May 27, 2013 edition titled “The End of Alimony” and a short radio segment, along eerily similar lines, on NPR titled “Alimony Till Death Do Us Part? Nay Say Some Ex-Spouses.”  The basic premise of each is that there is growing momentum (but I’m not aware of any such movement in Minnesota) to limit Alimony court awards, or what we in Minnesota call “Spousal Maintenance.” The irony cited is that while ex-husbands used to be the only ones against Alimony, now second wives are also organizing to do away with Alimony, which their husband’s are paying to their ex-wives.  The result, it is argued, makes for a pretty large constituency which legislators ignore at their own political peril.

There is no Spousal Maintenance calculator in Minnesota.  Instead it is a case-by-case, facts-and-circumstances analysis.

One of the hardest, and grayest, part of the law in divorce is Spousal Maintenance.  It often feels like pulling teeth to get a higher-earning spouse to even acknowledge that the lesser earning spouse has any reasonable financial need.  Striking a balance to reach a fair outcome is the key.

Traditionally trained attorneys, in my opinion, often do a terrible job addressing Spousal Maintenance.  Just bringing it up is likely to start a battle that is out of proportion to the reasonableness of the request.

That’s why Spousal Maintenance is a great issue to address with a Collaborative Divorce, because at the beginning of a Collaborative Divorce the attorneys and other professionals help the spouses identify their financial resources and shortfalls by analyzing their budgets in relation to their incomes.  They also help the lower earning spouse explore their future career options (including going back to school) and therefore their reasonable financial need.  The answer is not usually “yes” or “no”, in black and white.  The initial answer is almost always “let’s evaluate this”, which is appropriate given the complexity of the question and the importance of the answer.

Carl ArnoldABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carl Arnold
Collaborative Attorney and Mediator, Arnold Law and Mediation, PLLC

Minnesota collaborative family law attorney and family mediator Carl Arnold enjoys helping people related to legal issues including divorce, unmarried parents, custody, parenting time and child support. From his office in Northfield, Minnesota, Mr. Arnold provides clients with great alternatives to the traditional court process such as Collaborative Practice Divorce, Mediation, Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE), Parenting Time Expediting (PTE) and Parenting Consulting. He offers a free initial consultation to help you understand your options. Learn more at www.ArnoldLawandMediation.com

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