FORGET KAFKA. Welcome to Massachusetts. In the 1980s, it was known as Taxachusetts. These days, it's known as the state whose divorce laws are so out of date that many people decide against marrying here - or marrying anyone anywhere whose alimony obligations originate here. I'm one of them. Two divorce lawyers tell me that the state's laws are so extreme they have "a chilling effect on marriage." Prenups offer no guarantees. Judges routinely ignore them.
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Cathy Ortiz, a secretary in Fairhaven whose husband is out of work, was ordered in 2007 to make alimony payments from her own paycheck to his ex-wife - who has a full-time job with benefits. The husband, Ernest Ortiz, is suing the state, arguing that these laws are unconstitutional. Oral arguments were heard yesterday in Appeals Court.
Alimony law is largely case law, not statute. Many legislators are shocked to hear the feudal details, unique to Massachusetts. But not shocked enough to reform the law.
The laws are gender neutral, but the facts are not: 96 percent of alimony payers are men, who often must give 30 to 40 percent of gross earnings to educated and sometimes employed women. Alimony does not automatically end or decline at retirement, even after an ex-wife has gotten an equitable share of marital assets. This applies in no-fault divorces, to the middle-class, and to millionaires.
Alimony is usually ordered until the recipient dies or remarries, even for couples in their 30s and 40s. Judges who set time limits may be overruled on appeal. When children are involved, the court usually awards only child support, about 30 percent of a father's income, which ends when children turn 23. Then mothers frequently receive alimony at the same or higher levels, for life.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
This Boston Globe article points to the chilling effect that Massachusetts case law has on marriage. Of course the impact of making divorce more expensive may not only be to reduce the number of marriages it could also prevent divorce as well. And thus the law will likely lead to more extra-marital sex.