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Women, Work, Divorce and Alimony
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: My husband (age 47) and I (age 45) have been married 24 years. Because I recently found out that he has been having a long-time affair, we are in the early stages of divorce. I have worked part-time since our children were born (now ages 21, 17, and 11). Before I knew my husband was sleeping around, I took another part-time job with a good company which has offered me a full time position (only $24,000 per year, but more than the hourly wage I make now). But with the divorce pending, I don't know if I should because my husband makes about $80,000 and my support and alimony might be reduced.

My lawyer tells me that I should not live for divorce, and that if I want to work full time, then I should do it. He also told me that it would look better to the judge – if it comes to that – that I am willing to work full time. In addition, my husband knows that I was intending to work full-time before his secret life was exposed. Please tell me the advantages and disadvantages of going to work full-time. Thanks!

Answer: We agree with your lawyer – No one should live for divorce. In addition to “looking good to the judge,” there are several important reasons why you should not turn down full-time employment:

1) Since the job market for women in their forties is not the best, the economics of your future – chances for advancement, benefits, health insurance, contributions to your Social Security, chances for raises, etc. -- are much more important than trying to get more from your husband.

2) If you don't take care of yourself economically and take advantage of what appears to be a good opportunity and if you receive good support payments from your husband, should he die, become disabled, or lose his job in this uncertain economy, you and your children could really be in hot water.

3) A good lawyer representing your husband would go to your employer during the discovery process and find out that you had turned down a full-time position. As your lawyer has told you, this is not a good way to meet the judge.

We suggest that you use your talents, take the full-time job, and begin your new life by empowering yourself to face the future.

Question: I am sick of these “poor wives” who -- in addition to the house, the furniture, the car, the children, and big shares of their husband’s property and retirement -- get an over-generous piece of their husband’s future income. Alimony is nothing more than these judges doling out private welfare and unemployment. They are making marriage the only “job” available where a person can stop working and still get paid. Since alimony was created when women did not have the equal job opportunities they have today, it should be abolished –-- or at a minimum, limited in duration. Women should not be allowed to remain leeches on the hides of their spouses. Instead, they should go out like men, get jobs, and live their lives without a guaranteed income for the rest of their lives.

Answer: We believe that you are misinformed. First of all, most state legislatures have authorized the courts to award a number of different types of alimony to fit various situations: Periodic alimony (which can be paid until the remarriage of the supported spouse or the death of either spouse), lump sum alimony (which is payable in one installment or periodically over a period of time), rehabilitative alimony (which can be awarded to provide for the rehabilitation of the supported spouse pending the completion of job training or education), or reimbursement alimony (which can be awarded when the court finds it necessary to reimburse a supported spouse from the future earnings of the paying spouse for past contributions).

In addition, most state support laws consider not only a parent’s income, but also the ability of a parent who is not working to earn. Based on recent studies we have read, the job market for women in their 40’s and 50’s is anything but terrific. While we agree that a spouse who is capable of working and contributing to the support of himself or herself and his or her children should work, where a spouse has been removed from the workforce and dedicated years to the family, alimony is still an essential ingredient of equity in matrimonial matters.

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