April 12, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Here at National Parents Organization, we argue for equality in parenting time for Mom and Dad when they divorce. We do that for many good reasons. Equality is good for kids, good for fathers, good for mothers, good for society and good for the public purse. I’ve said that many times, but there’s another reason to argue for equality. Generally speaking, equality under law and as a matter of public policy is better than inequality. After all, just what is the argument in favor of bias, particularly bias based on sex?

That brings me to this article that, in addition to its many other shortcomings, has a very difficult time grasping the concept of equality between husbands and wives (Brides, 3/16/18). As if that weren’t enough, it also fails to notice the screamingly obvious.

The article was written by one Lea Rose Emery. It’s about alimony. But what’s really put a burr under Emery’s saddle is her discovery that sometimes women have to pay it to men. She cites the fact that 97% of alimony payers are men, but, on the basis of no data whatever, contends that “a woman being obligated to pay alimony to her former husband after a divorce has become more commonplace.” Actually, Census Bureau data on who pays and who receives alimony has held remarkably stable over the years. But Emery believes that women are making huge strides toward earnings equality with men, so, well, it must also be true that more of them are paying alimony. How she figures that given the stability of the wage gap from year to year, I have no idea. I suspect Emery has no idea either.

In support of her contention, she cites utterly misleading data.

As of 2010, only three percent of men received alimony or some form of spousal support but, with women being the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children, that number could soon change.

The problem with that 40% figure is that it obscures far more than it reveals. As researcher Margaret Ryznar pointed out four years ago, the main reason so many women are the primary breadwinners in their households is that they’re the only breadwinners there. Their only competition for that status is their kids, i.e. there’s no man around. Stated another way, the rise in women as primary earners reflects the rise in single motherhood. Period. As Ryznar pointed out, in families in which there’s a man and a woman living together with kids, only 13% have the woman out-earning the man. That’s an increase of five percentage points since the early 60s, i.e. not much.

In order to get the above information right, Emery would have had to actually do some reading that challenged her cherished notion that big things are happening in sex roles. But her next jaw-dropper is even worse:

[T]he 1985 book The Divorce Revolution reported that men had a 42 percent increase in standard of living the year after a divorce, where as a woman had a 73 percent drop.

That of course was the absurd claim made by Lenore Weitzman. At the time researchers in the field of the financial impact of divorce questioned it and demanded Weitzman’s data. Tellingly, she refused to produce it for an astonishing ten years. When she did, it became apparent that she’d simply read the wrong figure on her computer printout. The correct figure was 27%, i.e. right in line with what the other researchers had repeatedly found. Now, we’ve known for 23 years that the figure cited as authoritative by Emery is utterly without foundation. Does Emery know it? It she doesn’t, her ignorance is inexcusable. If she does, she’s intentionally misrepresenting the issue.

More amazing still is Emery’s pique about the issue of alimony. The fact that, in the rarest of instances, a woman will end up paying a man simply flummoxes her. It’s an outrage!

A lot of women don’t like it—somehow it feels backwards. But even though it might give us a knee-jerk reaction, is it really wrong? “I feel so conflicted,” Andrea, a woman who was faced with making alimony payments during divorce mediation, told Elle. “On the one hand, I want to be like, ‘Sorry, it’s not my job anymore to support your lifestyle.’ On the other hand, if a man was speaking of his wife that way, we’d be like, ‘What an asshole.’”

It feels backward? No, Ms. Emery, it feels fair. It feels like equality. It tastes like sauce for the goose. That’s how equality under the law works; if it applies to one person in a given set of circumstances, it applies to another the same way when the situation is the same. When a wife earns more, she has to pay. The reason there are so many male payers is that, for the most part, especially in marriage, it’s the man who earns more.

Emery and the women she quotes don’t have a clue.

Still more remarkable is Emery’s entire failure to consider whether we should have a system of alimony at all. We live in a society in which women are free to earn as much as men and are encouraged at every turn to do so. Lean in, ladies! So why does either sex need to be supported by an ex-spouse long after they’ve divorced?

As I’ve said before, I can accept limited exceptions to a no-alimony rule. A short period of alimony can be appropriate to allow a stay-at-home parent to get back on his/her financial feet post-divorce. A person much advanced in years who has no reasonable prospect of employment should be able to expect assistance from an ex. Ditto for someone who’s physically or mentally disabled.

But beyond that, we don’t need alimony and its continued existence once again suggests an attitude that we don’t trust women to take care of themselves. It is, in short, an artifact of bygone days.

Emery never even considers the possibility of simply doing away with most alimony. And that of course suggests she’s comfortable with women continuing to be supported by the men to whom they no longer wish to be married.

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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