September 24

Permanent Maintenance? Better Have a Plan B!


Tags

alimony, divorce blog, divorce financial planning


 

Angry woman holding a black umbrella as water dumps on itBloomberg News recently ran an article about a former Wall Street portfolio manager who has been jailed so many times for failing to pay alimony that he now wears a nicotine patch and scrawls important phone numbers on his arm in permanent ink before he goes to his family court hearings. Ari Schochet, who used to earn a million dollars a year, lost his high-paying job, and now works as a part-time, entry level stock transfer agent. After his wages are taxed and garnished, he says he earns about $100 per month. That leaves him unable to pay his former wife the $100,000 per year in permanent maintenance and child support which a court previously ordered him to pay. He currently owes her $233,000 in past due support.

As a result of his failure to pay support, a New Jersey judge recently ruled that Mr. Schochet must spend nights and weekends in jail until he comes up with a $25,000 down payment on his arrearage. He has been jailed at least eight times in the past two years for failing to make his court-ordered payments. “It’s a circle of hell there’s just no way out of,” Schochet said. “I paid it as long as I could.”

Ari Schochet’s case, and others like it, have become a clarion call for alimony reform. Legislators in ten states, including New Jersey, are now considering laws to reduce or eliminate alimony. Rather than debating the question of whether the nations’ alimony laws are good or bad, and whether they should be changed (both of which are topics that could take up several blog posts), the more important question to me (and I suspect to the former Mrs. Schochet) is: given the fact that Mr. Schochet isn’t paying what he was ordered to pay, what do you do now?

You see, the part of the Schochet story that wasn’t played up in the news media is the fact that he and his ex-wife, Sharona Grossberg, have four children. Ms. Grossberg is currently working three jobs to try to support herself and the kids. So, while it is easy to feel outraged by how “unfair” the alimony system is to Mr. Schochet, the bigger question is: what about the kids?

I have no doubt that both Ari Schochet and Sharona Grossberg feel that the justice system has failed them. I have no doubt that each side feels like the laws are unfair and the system is broken. Mr. Schochet probably feels crushed by an enormous support obligation that he believes he can never pay. Ms. Grossberg probably feels cheated by a system that grants her “permanent maintenance” but gives her no way to actually get the money she is entitled to receive. Sure, she can keep taking her ex-husband back to court to enforce the support order. That is exactly what she is doing – with a vengeance. But that’s still not getting her the money to pay her bills. Plus, on top of working three jobs and trying to raise her daughters, she now has to keep running back and forth to court, and is no doubt racking up a sizeable legal bill in the process. So, what’s fair?

The truth is that there are two sides to every story, and often both sides are equally wrong and equally right. If someone is determined to scam the legal system, s/he will find a way to do it. The law can only do so much. The other truth is that the laws aren’t perfect. Sometimes the law, or the lawyers, or the judge, can be very heavy handed and seemingly unfair. It’s not unusual for a judge to order one party to pay support to the other party in an amount that seems unfair, or out of line with the facts of the case — or at least, out of line with that party’s view of the facts of the case! So, that brings us back to the important question: what about the kids?

Regardless of who is wrong or who is right, the fact of the matter in the Schochet case and many others like it, is: the kids need to eat. They need clothes, they need school supplies, and, most importantly, they need to have something close to a “normal” life. Providing for the kids, and for themselves, requires each parent to have a “Plan B.”

The payor parent who lost his or her job needs to step up to the plate and find another way to make money – as fast as possible. Maybe that means taking a temporary job that isn’t part of that person’s overall career path. Maybe it means working two jobs for awhile. Maybe it means using his or her savings to pay support for a while. The bottom line is that the payor parent needs to accept responsibility for supporting his or her ex-spouse and the children and do everything possible to live up to that responsibility rather than shirk it.

As for the payee parent, rather than kicking the payor spouse when s/he is down, you could try sympathizing and cutting that person a break as much as you can. Maybe the payee parent needs to cut expenses, or get a second job for awhile as well. If the payee has no job at all, then it’s definitely time to change that. Anyone who completely relies on someone else to support him or her forever is taking an enormous risk. If something happens to the payor, or, like Ari Schochet, the payor just doesn’t pay, the payee is going to be in big trouble. The bottom line for the payee parent is to accept responsibility for supporting yourself and your children, and to do everything possible to live up to that responsibility, too.

Life isn’t always perfect. The legal system is far from perfect. Divorce is never perfect. If you understand all of that from the very beginning, and you take the time to create a Plan B for yourself and your children, you will always end up better off.
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  • Thank you for posting on this topic while looking at each side. Ari Shochet is all over the papers but no one is talking about the children or the ex wife working three jobs. In fact, Ari is spending quite a bit of his time acting as counsel defacto for others on work release in an effort to free the world. He boats of helping fifteen so far, so when is he actually working? These other parents who have obligations to pay each have a very different story. Some are paying limited alimony and have had motions heard before the court numerous times. His actions have caused more mothers to wait even longer, go into foreclosure or face homelessness in the sake of his mission. I believe he like the celebrity of it all. In the interim, he is planning a wedding while he celebrates his stay; while the mother of four fights to keep her head above water. Hopefully, Ari’s new wife doesn’t have children with him and sees the writing on the wall.

    • That wouldn’t be a bad idea if the government didn’t have so many of its own problems already! The government still can’t manage to get Obamacare off the ground. Can you imagine what a mess it would make if it tried to get involved in the family law system! (Not that the family law system in the United States is in good shape either! … but don’t get me started on that! I could rant about that for hours!)

  • Just found this researching for a friend of mine. Although I consider the whole concept of alimony sexist, I understand the idea. Women are helpless, feckless, and completely unable to support themselves without a man paying for them. That was the idea when it was created anyway. A remnant of a patriarchal system that declared women inferiors. Why do women even defend alimony?

    That’s an aside. I find it even more troubling that both alimony, and child support, are designed to take money from one parent, to give to the other parent, in some states solely to try and maintain two households as if the divorce never happened. That is about as helpful as a room full of monkeys and typewriters.

    The only logical thing to do is admit that things are not, and will not, be the same. Come up with a cost formulae in each state broken down by region, so that high and low cost areas are calculated, and use that as the new support guideline. Parents are left to work the rest out for themselves. Child support is about the child being clothed, fed, housed, and educated. That’s it, nothing more or less is monetarily counted toward support. The rest is about love, right? No more high support or low support. Just a base level of support. The parents are going to have to agree on anything else.

    Alimony is, as shown above, an outdated sexist idea. At most, alimony should exist as a bridge to new employment. You don’t get a lifestyle if you can’t afford it. This case, well, given the fact he lost his job due to outside forces (financial crisis) she would’ve lost her lifestyle anyway. Now, if she had an incentive (the end of alimony) in the first place, maybe she would have moved quicker in finding better employment or education. I don’t know all the facts of the case, but it certainly wouldn’t have changed much to have her support limited.

    • Alimony is a difficult issue, and many states are currently trying to adopt alimony reform. Some people think no one should ever get alimony. Others think alimony should be allowed, but permanent alimony should be abolished. Still others think that all alimony should be abolished. The problem is that every case is different and it is virtually impossible to create an alimony law that will help support the financially disadvantaged spouses who truly need alimony to survive, while at the same time protecting the higher earning spouse from having to support an ex spouse who is able to become self supporting.

      What is interesting is that, despite its historical roots, alimony is no longer “sexist.” Alimony is awarded to spouses who can not support themselves, regardless of their gender. I have been involved in many cases in which men sought (and received) alimony from their wives. While it is true that more women receive alimony than men, the reason is because they are not earning as much as their husbands, not that they are women.

      In the case I discussed in this blog post, Ari Schochet not only owed his ex wife alimony, but he owed her child support, too. So he wasn’t feeding, housing or educating his kids. While you can argue back and forth about whether it is “right” or “wrong” to have to support your ex spouse after divorce, as a parent, you absolutely have an obligation to support your children.

      • Alimony is no longer sexist???? 97% of the payers are men. Women are hypergamous when it comes to finances so the vast majority of women marry up, not down.
        Thats the same logic women use when they say its the person that asks the other person out on a date that is supposed to pay. Same exact logic. Women know they are much more likely to be asked out then to ask out so its an indirect way of being sexist. Jim Crow laws operated in the same way so your argument is on very shaky ground.

        • There are always at least two sides to every story. It sounds like you have had a bad experience. Unfortunately, no law is perfect, and people (men and women) always seem to find a way to take advantage of each other, regardless of what the laws are. At the bottom of it all is choice and responsibility. You make a choice. It has consequences. Sometimes you get consequences you never dreamed of. Sometimes the consequences seem unfair. No matter what, you live with the consequences — financial and emotional.

          Good luck to you.

          Karen

  • after reading about how disgusting that woman is and how biased the legal system is I WILL NEVER GET MARRIED. Any children I have will be through a surrogate from another country using purchased eggs from an egg bank. I will never risk the hell that Ari went though. Women have no morals at all and the fact that the “good” women have said or done nothing to defend the innocent men while these laws were abused and changed is sick. All women are complicit because they stood by and did nothing. Pump and dump, don’t be the chump that gets married.

    • You are absolutely right. The divorce laws and family court are very sexist against men. It makes absolutely no sense for a man to get married with the divorce laws the way they are currently in place. It is not about “two sides to the story.” It is about FACTS like these:
      *50% of all marriages end up in divorce
      *70% of divorces are initiated by women
      *97% of all alimony payers are men.
      There are no “2 sides to this story.” These are FACTS.
      This is why alimony reform is desperately needed to help keep the divorce laws from continuing to destroy lives.

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