CAROL AND RON
Carol* and Ron, who is 10 years Carol’s senior, have been married for 22 years, and now Ron has filed for a divorce in Florida. The couple has one minor child, Alex. During the marriage, Carol was the primary breadwinner.
Ron moved with Carol all over the country to follow her job opportunities, leaving a successful family business behind. A combination of limited education, skills and abilities, and lack of motivation, though, kept him unemployed or underemployed throughout the majority marriage.
Carol furnished the family with a large family home, a beach house, some property in Vermont, retirement accounts, stock options from various large companies with whom she was employed, and money numerous bank accounts. She also funded several of Ron’s attempted business ventures, and even more expensive hobbies. Of course, they had help to keep the house clean and the yard mowed, which Carol funded.
When their child was born, Ron, chose to stay home with him. Soon, though, the couple hired a full time nanny.
Now that they are divorcing (the result of infidelity on both their parts), Ron wants primary custody of the Alex (whom Ron is trying to turn against his mother), permanent alimony and the family home (though Ron wants Carol to continue making the payments). He also wants one half of all the retirement accounts, insurance coverage (because he is afraid he can’t get coverage due to his age and medical condition) and cash in the bank.
Carol recently lost her job due to layoffs. Her best opportunities for comparable employment would require her to move out of state, which she cannot do because of Alex. She never speaks ill of her husband in front of their child, but will not agree to any less than 50/50 custody. She also realizes she most likely will be required to pay alimony, and child support, and share her company retirement accounts, pensions and stock options. However, she is not in agreement about keeping the family home and paying for her ex-husband to live there with their child.
The two are scheduled for mediation next week, Carol does not anticipate it will go well, because of her husband’s bullying nature.
JOSHUA AND NATALIE
Joshua and Natalie also have been married 22 years. They have two children, one of whom is still a minor for a few years, yet, and, another, just starting college. The couple separated after Natalie found out about some of Josh’s extra curricular activities via his computer—ones that did not comport with their marriage vows.
Since the couple married, Natalie has never worked. She gave birth to the couple’s first child, Tanya, early in the marriage. Josh and Natalie both agreed Natalie should stay home with the children and support Josh in his career—a career with required him to travel throughout the world, sometimes as long as a month at a time—by taking care of the family home. Natalie never hired a nanny or a housekeeper, preferring to take care of everything herself, even after the second child, another girl, was born.
Each month, Josh would deposit a certain amount in the joint bank account, and Natalie would use the money however she saw fit for the children’s needs, her needs and to keep the household running smoothly. This included dropping off and picking up her husband’s dry cleaning, buying groceries for the family, and overseeing and paying for any repairs and maintenance to the couple’s two houses. (One was leased to a tenant.)
During the marriage, while Natalie never wanted for anything and enjoyed the luxuries of family vacations, a nice car to drive and weekly mani/pedis, she never spent the couple’s money extravagantly as Josh only allotted a certain amount each month for Natalie, the kids and the household.
When they separated, Natalie moved into the second home because the tenant had just moved out. The couple agreed that when Josh was out of town, Natalie would stay at the family home with the children. Other times, she would stay by herself in the older, smaller home (which she preferred).
Although Natalie is entitled under the law to receive permanent alimony, and the couple agree on joint custody of the children, Natalie signed a pre-nuptial agreement just before the couple married, agreeing to release any claim she may have not only to Josh’s family property, but property he acquired before the marriage and property he kept separate during the marriage. Josh kept all their property, including real property, cash, investments, vehicles, and retirement accounts, in his name only during the course of the marriage. The only joint account the couple has is the household account.
Natalie has not worked outside the couple’s home since they married. While Natalie’s attorney thinks there may be some room for attacking the pre-nuptial, Natalie knows, if they do, they will be in for a fight. She feels sure, though, Josh will agree to the permanent alimony given the length of the marriage, his ability to pay, and the fact they both made the decision for her to forego her career to stay home and raise the couple’s children.
ALIMONY AND AGENDAS
Attorneys promoting themselves as “divorce lawyers for men only” actively lobby against permanent alimony—or even alimony of any kind—asserting alimony is “unfair” to men. These attorneys often are at the forefront of lobbying efforts for so-called alimony reform. They tell horror stories about how men are forced to work right up until their dying days, unable to retire, because they must keep paying their wives alimony.
As the two stories herein indicate, there are many sides to the alimony issue. Increasingly, as women devote their lives to successful careers, they are the ones who wind up paying alimony when the marriage falls apart. In more traditional marriages, women who devote their lives to supporting their husband’s career and raising children of the marriage, most likely would be left destitute, with little opportunity to make up for lost earnings, without alimony as a resource.
That is not to say there are not alimony cases where men get the raw end of the deal. In most cases, in fact, no one walks away from a divorce “happy.” Successful divorces require compromise, with neither party getting exactly what they want, but most of what they can live with. Just as relationships are complex, so are divorces. There are many facets to the issues, and each relationship is different.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The biggest mistake couples can make is to view the other party as the enemy, or to hire an attorney who views a soon-to-be ex-spouse as though he or she were the attorney’s ex-spouse. A good attorney will educate you on the law and zealously represent your interests without inserting their own personal opinions in the mix. Professional opinions, yes, but personal opinions, no.
Before you decide who should represent you in your divorce, seek recommendations from trusted friends, interview a few, and check attorney referral sites and with The Florida Bar to find out about the lawyer’s qualifications, experience and ethical history. Don’t just hire someone based on a catchy slogan. If you do, you might find caught up in someone else’s political agenda.
To schedule a consultation with Sandra K. Ambrose to discuss the particulars of your case, call or e-mail our office today.
*While these scenarios are based on actual cases, names and other identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the parties.